Genre: RPG Developer: Sega Enterprises Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1994
It’s a wonder what $10 can buy you these days. Whilst shopping for Playstation stuff at the mall recently, I perused the used Genesis rack as I am often prone to doing (primarily to find a copy of M.U.S.H.A., but also keeping my eyes open for anything else good.) Lo and behold, I come across Phantasy Star IV. Though I was a Sega Master System fan back in its day, I had never played the original Phantasy Star, and a screwed up save game caused me to give up on Phantasy Star II years ago. I picked up Phantasy Star IV , given that the game usually goes for high prices online, but finishing it, I realized what a truly great game it was. Since then I’ve played the other games in the PS series, but found Phantasy Star IV to be on the top.
Like most RPGs, the plot starts off small and grows from there. Chaz and Alys are a team of bounty hunters recruited to investigate strange happenings in the basement of an academy on the planet Motavia. Along the way, a curious biologist named Hahn also joins up to help your search. In addition to the bizarre monsters, you find strange breeding capsules way in the depths of the basement. You soon learn about an expedition team that found these things, brought them to the academy, returned to their archaeological dig, then disappeared. Curious as your characters are, they journey off to find out what happened to the dig team. Mysteries unfold with a strange wizard named Zio and his worshipping of…yep, Dark Force! You’ll venture onto space stations, explore other planets in the Algo Star System (Parma was blown up but there’s still Dezolis, which is having climate control problems similar to PSII) and save the world as we know it from all evil. Though it’s a pretty standard plot on the outside, there’s enough neat twists to make it worth playing.
Everyone who was disappointed with Phantasy Star III‘s departure from the series (both in storyline and style) will be pleased to note that it’s been fixed in Phantasy Star IV. The graphic style of the overhead world and towns very much resembles PSII, but much more detailed and colorful. The battle scenes are also the behind-the-back view, with backgrounds rather than that silly grid. The monsters look and move quit a bit cooler than their wimpy PSIII animations. They tend to move quite quickly, so battles really don’t seem too repetitive or annoying. While fighting, you can assign attacks individually or set up a macro for each character (you can have as many as five at any given time) to execute a certain action (attack, defend, technique, etc.) There are also combination attacks vaguely similar to Chrono Trigger, where two or more characters combine their attacks to form a super weapon. However, you need to discover these attacks on your own (or cheat and find them on the Internet)…they aren’t handed out to you.
There are little other bits that distinguish the Phantasy Star series from other popular RPGs. There are a few cyborg characters like Wren (who should be familiar to Phantasy Star vets) that can’t be healed by normal conventions, but instead regenerates his life with every step. You’ll also find a few vehicles to play around in, like a Sand Rover or Ice Cruiser, plus the spaceports to travel to different places in the Algo star system. There are still techniques that most characters can use (the equivalent to magic) but there are also special powers, unique to each character, that can only be utilized a certain amount of times. Luckily, this number grows with each level and is replenished at inns.
Vital storyline points are explained through the use of still anime panels. It’s nothing like any of the Working Designs games for the Sega CD, but they’re still quite good for the cartridge. I’ve always found that seeing a character other than walking or in battle tends to give more to their personality. The characters themselves are pretty cool as well…the protagonists Chaz and Alys are cool characters, Rika is a naive numan (biological experiment similar to Nei in PSII) that wields a mean claw; Gryz is a powerful, blue-furred, axe-wielding warrior; Kyra is a powerful esper magician; Rune is an arrogant yet handsome wizard (some females I’ve met online utterly adore him); Wren and Demi are the two cyborgs mentioned earlier; and Raja is a wise-cracking Dezolian priest (who serves to lighten the mood with incredibly idiotic jokes.) It’s a great cast of characters, certainly better defined than most RPGs on the market. Heck, there’s even an option for the party members to talk amongst each other and discuss the current objective!
The music here is very impressive…since it is one of the later Genesis titles, the sound technology had advanced quite a bit farther than the previous installments. The drums all sound very cool and complement the music well. And no good RPG would be complete without a good battle theme (since you have to hear it so often.) Phantasy Star IV definitely has this…the main battle theme is awesome, plus the other fight tunes (inside a vehicle, the various boss music) are full of fury. When you beat the game, you can even access a sound test (press B when highlighting the continue options.)
People annoyed with the walking speed in other RPGs will have no qualms…everyone moves quite fast and with the vehicles, move even faster when out in the open. There is one control problem I had with the menus though. The blinking cursor seems to be a bit too sensitive, moving down two notches instead of one. It’s not my controller either…as long as you take it slow, it won’t be a huge problem, but it can get irritating in battle scenes when you wish to choose Macro but instead hit Run .
A lot of people have complained about the easiness of Phantasy Star IV; on the contrary, I think it’s just the right difficulty. You’ll need to spend plenty of time building up levels, as there are certain really tough spots that require strong characters. But there’s not so much level-upping as to annoy most people. I do think that the combination attacks are a bit too powerful and probably contribute to the reason why everyone says it’s too easy, but I honestly prefer something that flows well as opposed to a game where I constantly get killed.
Of course, there’s still the question: will there ever be a sequel? The box exclaims that Phantasy Star IV is “The Explosive Finale!!”, which is both good and bad news. Sega never made any PS game for the Saturn, just a Sega Ages disc with all four games on the same disc. But if this is the last true PS game, at least it went out with a bang. Because Phantasy Star IV is, quite simply, one of the best 16-bit RPGs out there… right up in my book along with the Lunar and Final Fantasy games. Everyone owes it to themselves to own a copy of this game, certainly one of Sega’s best.
SCORE: 9 out of 10
Want another opinion on this game? Read our Double Take article!