Ah. What we have here is three old-school (class of '87 in the case of PS I) turn-based RPGs with more random battles than Square has packed into 10 whole Final Fantasies, and a B-movie-style sci-fi premise (the game is set in "Space Century 342", and the government drones are called "Robotcops") which doesn't take itself too seriously.
So for whom are we actually reviewing this for? Clearly, anybody who played them back in the days of the 8-bit Master System and 16-bit Mega Drive and fancies a stroll down memory lane needs to know just one thing: how's the port? Otherwise, we're mostly addressing RPG fans and new-age PS enthusiasts, wondering how these generic frontrunners stand up to the likes of…well, to Golden Sun. Anybody else should probably head straight out the door - there are much better titles for inducting gamers into the world of heavy set role-playing games.
Nostalgics: you'll be pleased to hear that the ports are very accurate, almost to the point of being too accurate. Simple translation errors have endured many years of opportunity to fix them, the music is tinny and rather lamentable, and message boards claim there are crash bugs which affect saving (although we've not seen these ourselves). Other than that, you're probably dead safe picking this up.
RPG fans and Phantasy Star Online fans who want to see where their heroes sprang from: this is really quite something. It really is a window into where turn-based RPGs came from. It's all about wandering around, fighting random enemies (in a third person view, although you can't see your actual party in PS II battles) and talking to a lot of people, in order to get to the bottom of whatever mystery it is you're solving.
Starting on Palma [RPG masturbation jokes removed -Ed], PS I has the young heroine Alis trying to overthrow her planet's nefarious ruler Lassic (with a 'c' on the end, bitch), whose Robotcop forces murdered her brother in cold, er, engine oil(?). Alis quickly allies herself with some typical RPG-style characters (remember, this was very early in the day for RPGs) including a warrior and a telepath. Then in PS II things get more cinematic and raunchy (inasmuch as they can with now 16-bit visuals), as players try to topple planet Mota's out of control Mother Brain (same old, Samus). It all sounds fairly trite, but it throws up enough surprises.
Long and hard [damn -Ed]
Phantasy Star III makes some real progress though, with another new cast of characters, another new setting, and a character development system to be savoured. You play three different generations of characters at different points in the game, and your decisions affect who you end up controlling, which means (you guessed it) more replay value than the Forest section of Phantasy Star Online. You may even repeat it voluntarily, instead of just having to play it in fourteen different iterations of the same game. The graphics take a step up too, and as the games are self-contained in a Final Fantasy sort of way, you could reasonably expect to play PS III straight from the get go.
OK, random battles can be excruciatingly tedious, and they certainly are here for the most part, but if you can stomach them, then the tenuous but enjoyable plot and enjoyable locations (which have aged surprisingly well, retaining a lot of their lusciousness) will almost certainly keep you going. And between the three games there's easily upwards of 50 hours - and I mean way upwards. Bad news for reviewers, good news for people who find €45 / £30 too expensive for the average GBA game which ends in 6-10 hours of tapping and bashing.
There are of course other, more serious problems. You can't really claim that PS Chronicles stands up to Golden Sun (or even Breath of Fire I and II, which will both be available on the cheap by now we're pretty sure) in terms of graphics or gameplay variety, but there isn't much of anything going on in RPG land on the GameBoy Advance at the moment (with Golden Sun 2 a ways off and Zelda already in everybody's collection, we should bloody well hope), so if you want something to last you many, many car/bus/train/plane journeys and it has to be an RPG, then this might just plug a gap. But those of you with Zelda on the mind best ferret off elsewhere - this is a very different sort of Link To The Past.