Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Fantasy Zone (Playstation 2)

Checkpoints ON
3 Difficulty levels
12 Stages
Ship speed by icons
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Developed by Sega
Published by Sega / 3D Ages in 2003

When Sega decided to bring its most famous games back to the spotlight with the Sega Ages 2500 discs for the Playstation 2 in Japan, fans were not exactly sure what to expect. The 3D remakes proposed by the series were promising on paper, yet didn't always reach the standards everybody was hoping for. I still can't vouch for the quality of the rest of the games in this collection, but what I've seen so far is enough to agree with the opinion that Vol. 3 is probably one of its best regarded outings. It presents a nice makeover of Fantasy Zone, the classic torus cute'em up we've all come to know and love.

For those who might be a little confused, there's also a Fantasy Zone Complete Collection, which was the last Sega Ages 2500 release as Vol. 33 and consists of a compilation of all major games and ports in the series plus a few arrange modes that are quite interesting on their own. However, Fantasy Zone as presented in Vol. 3 is a standalone game that's not included in Vol. 33, and a mandatory one for lovers of the franchise because it comes with four brand-new exclusive levels and bosses. Another highlight of this particular title is the cell-shaded redesign applied to all graphics and the nice 3D sections and transitions it allows during the game itself.

Note: this edition of Fantasy Zone also saw release as part of the Sega Classics Collection compilation, which came out in different regions other than Japan.

Meet new boss Skarotten of the Dawndusk stage

In the start menu you can select from three different modes. Normal is the main game and includes all new material exclusive to this port. Arcade is a faithful rendition of the original arcade game, only retouched by the cell-shaded graphic overhaul. Challenge mode is a special section where you're allowed to play individual stages in order to collect gold coins and use them to purchase new options, weapons and stages (this is how you unlock the extra levels for Normal mode only).

Controls are the same for every variation of the game. One button shoots and another drops bombs. Each stage consists of a closed area where ten evil generators spawn most of the enemies and hazards. The player's mission is to destroy all generators by flying left or right and then kill the stage boss. Scrolling speed can be affected by how close you are to the sides, but you can also land Opa-Opa on the ground and completely halt scrolling. Enemies will, however, approach from all sides and in the most diverse formations, so there's no fixed behavior for anything you see except for the fact that most enemies will leave behind gold coins when destroyed.

Gold coins collected are to be used in the shop accessed by touching a floating balloon that approches from the top of the screen. Some items are essential, such as twin missiles a choice for speed-up. Others might have timed ammo (20s) or are limited to single use only (you can buy more of the same though). Before leaving the shop you can still choose which item within a category (speed, shot, bomb) you'll be using. Dying strips you off of everything you might have purchased, so you need to buy them again – just note that except for speed-ups all items suffer inflation and increase in price for each consecutive purchase. Gold coins and extra lives are converted into a huge bonus upon completing the game, so the main objective when playing for score is to get to the end by no-missing with lots of gold collected. This bonus totally outweighs any milking you might be inclined to make during the levels, unless your idea of scoring higher is to spend countless hours shooting and dodging stuff for peanuts.

The main differences of Normal mode, which is the main game mode of this Fantasy Zone iteration, consist of a brief special entry for Opa Opa in every level and the game switching to a rail shooting point of view when bosses are defeated. They will then spit out gold coins for 20 seconds before exploding into coins as they would in the original game. Every extra weapon and resource unlocked in Challenge mode will also be available here. However, if you haven't still unlocked all extra stages you'll get a bad ending when beating the game. Another important feature of Normal mode is that it doesn't loop.

Plaleaf redesigned
(courtesy of YouTube user MorayAbiss)

Extra stages in Normal mode match the tone of the original game perfectly. Graphics, music and bosses are colorful, catchy and original. It doesn't take long to unlock them in Challenge mode, and that's equally the case with other very precious unlocks such as "auto rapid" and "barrier". Auto rapid gives you a fixed autofire rate that lets you breeze through the game if you're familiar with it. That's great to amass the highest amount of gold possible because the longer you take to destroy your enemies the lesser value you'll get from them gold coins (I almost felt guilty for wielding such a copius firepower level though). Barrier appears as an extra item in the shop and is self-explanatory: it gives you a shield that can withstand 3 hits from regular bullets. It doesn't protect you from collisions though, so watch out for touching what you absolutely shouldn't.

As a glorified arrange mode of Fantasy Zone, I can definitely say I had great fun with this port. I particularly liked the fact that Normal mode ends after you beat the final boss. Once I unlocked the extra levels and got barrier and auto rapid I didn't bother with Challenge mode anymore. You can still get other stuff like "continue" and "infla", which does away with all the inflation when purchasing items the shop (!). However, if you fancy extras such as design and character models, watch out for red coins when playing Challenge mode. Each red coin unlocks one game character in the Gallery mode. Everything is automatically saved to the memory card, with high scores duly registered in separate tables for both main game modes.

My general strategy for Normal mode was to get the jet engine and twin bombs in the first stage, 7-way shot in the Pocarius level and 3 heavy bombs in the boss rush of the final level (one for boss KobaBeach, another for boss Pickon and a final one for last boss Opapa's final minion). The best results I got on Normal mode are below, playing in the normal difficulty with game region set to Japan, auto rapid activated and barrier unlocked:

And now for my final results on Arcade mode, Japan setting, normal difficulty. I reached stage 3-4 (round 21) and adopted pretty much the same strategy described above, except for boss Pickon.


  1. Sega Classics Collection is how I first experienced Fantasy Zone and I really enjoyed it. The stage grind between bosses, music, weapons, graphics and overall quick flow of the game go together so well. Clearly a 10 out of 10 and also the game that opened my eyes to the fact that cute-'em-ups can be as good as hardcore STGs.

    That reminds me, even though you don't like the idea I'll strongly suggest you start adding a numeric score to the bottom of each entry from now on. ;)

    1. Great insight on how you first approached cute'em ups, Justin. You're not alone in doing it through Fantasy Zone, believe me.

      You're also not the first to tell me about numeric scores. Thing is my perception opver time tends to drift a lot when it comes to video games, so I don't think it's really fair to judge them on the basis of an exact score. :D

  2. First played Fantasy Zone courtesy of the lovely Saturn port but I've picked this one up too. The Normal mode is a pleasant upgrade. This and Super FZ on Megadrive gives me all the variations I want. :)

    1. Yeah, the Saturn port is indeed a lovely one, I had a great time with it a while ago.

      Thanks for the comment!