Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom, released in Japan as Toki no Keishōsha: Phantasy Star III (時の継承者 ファンタシースターIII?), is a traditional console role-playing game that was released for the Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis) in Japan in April 1990 and in western countries in 1991. It was also released in three different compilations known as The Phantasy Star Collection for the Sega Saturn and Game Boy Advance, and The Sega Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 2 and PSP, and later re-released on the Virtual Console. It was featured in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Phantasy Star III is a sequel to the previous game in the series, Phantasy Star II, although the connections to other games in the Phantasy Star series are not immediately evident. Gameplay is similar to the games before it in the series, with combat still being turn-based and battles randomly occurring. Players must explore both overworld maps and dungeons in order to progress through the game.
Phantasy Star III mostly follows the traditional roleplaying game formula seen throughout the series, with exploration of several 2-D worlds, character recruitment, and random enemy encounters using a turn-based battle system. Unlike previous games, the series staple of "techniques" play a diminished role in combat, which is ironic considering the role they play in differentiating the game's two major factions - with techniques being exclusive to Layans and viewed as "evil magic" by the Orakians. New features in the combat system include the auto-battle feature and the icon-based menu system.
The feature that mostly separates Phantasy Star III, however, is that the story spans three generations of characters. At critical points throughout the game, the main character is given the option of marrying one of two women he has encountered during his travels. This choice determines the new main character of the next generation—the child (or children) of the previous lead. The choice also affects the gameplay, as the main character may be Orakian or a mix of Layan and Orakian, which differ in their ability to use techniques and their level of proficiency with them. Two paths in the second generation in turn lead to four paths in the third and final generation, and depending on which of the four main characters is played, the ending will vary.
Phantasy Star III appears at first to take place in a medieval fantasy setting, in contrast to the science-fiction settings of previous games. A thousand years prior to the start of the game, two factions — one led by the swordsman Orakio, the other by the sorceress Laya — were engaged in a bitter conflict. An attempt at peace was made when the two leaders met for an armistice, but soon afterwards they both mysteriously vanished. This placed the two factions in a precarious situation, as each blamed the other for their leader's disappearance. All communication between the Orakians and Layans was suspended, travel between their respective worlds was prohibited, and the two groups teetered on the brink of war.
Players take control of Rhys, Crown Prince of the Orakian kingdom of Landen, on the day of his wedding to Maia, a mysterious amnesiac who washed up on Landen's shore two months earlier. During the ceremony, a dragon — identified as a Layan — suddenly appears and snatches Maia, in what seems to be an overt escalation of the Layan-Orakian conflict. During Rhys's search for Maia, he recruits various characters to his cause. Ultimately, it is revealed that Maia herself is Layan — Princess of the kingdom of Cille — and that her kidnapping was actually a rescue attempt by her people, who believed she had been stolen from them by the "hostile" Orakians.
It becomes evident that the Layan-Orakian conflict has been one of relativism, with neither side good nor evil, sustained by a mutual prejudice. It is a conflict that prevails until the characters of Phantasy Star III - spanning three generations - come to shocking revelations about their worlds, about Laya and Orakio, and ultimately, expose the true root of evil.
Praise was given to Phantasy Star III for its unique "generational" gameplay and characters. Others thought it was just too "different" in style from its peers. Critics cite the only subtle differences between the endings, lower quality battle animations, and the fact that it did not resolve the perceived cliffhanger ending of Phantasy Star II.
Computer Gaming World in 1991 praised the game's graphics and its "plenty of plot twists and turns". The magazine concluded that it was "a rewarding epic tale which should be told on every Genesis system". The game was reviewed that year in Dragon #176 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4 out of 5 stars. They noted that they "didn't like it as much as Phantasy Star II" but still praised Phantasy Star III for being "creative in many ways," including the choices of who to marry, the different possible endings, and the "longer play life" that this allows. Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the game a score of 8 out of 10. Nintendo Power named it the series' "lackluster third installment" and noted that series co-creator Rieko Kodama did not work on it. The game's icon-based menu system later inspired a similar menu system in Shining in the Darkness (1991).