Review by Halron2
"'Keeping information from me is the sixth most dangerous thing in this world!'"
For some reason, that really doesn’t matter here, although it certainly isn’t lack of quality, most Sega games never achieved the success of other companies’ games, not even in the days of their most popular system, the Genesis. Even the ones that were successful at that time tend to become forgotten now. If that fate is what awaits Phantasy Star IV, it will be a true shame. One of the best, most complete and absorbing RPGs ever, the game was a huge hit when it was released and brought back the glory of one of the most important series of its genre, both in terms of innovation and quality. The third game hadn’t enjoyed the same kind of success as the others in the series, but this game seemed to bring back together all the important elements that had made the series a hit. The game wasn’t exactly a real innovator, but it summed up the best qualities and the overall feeling of the series.
In the game you control Chaz, a young hunter (a kind of mercenary), apprentice under the famous hunter Alys. Both are sent to investigate the appearance of monsters in the basement of a big academy. One thing leads to another and the characters soon get involved in a battle that spans throughout the whole solar system. If the story in itself isn’t that special, it does relate to elements from all games of the series and it saves some intriguing plot twists for the players. Also, there’s an epic feeling that remains unique to this day, because of the magnitude of the events that take place in the game. It’s interesting to note that, because of the third game’s failure commercially, the story ignores all that happened in that game and the main reference is the second game, even if there are elements from number three in this game (there’s Wren, for starters).
Actually, what makes the plot look good is the cast. Phantasy Star IV presents us with what could be the strongest cast in any RPG. Not only the controllable characters are interesting but also the supporting cast. Even characters that only appear once in the story (like Grandfather Dorin) are memorable, all of the villains, even early ones, are impressive and all of the main cast are great, deep characters. All of them have interesting backgrounds, interact intensely with the plot and most of their personal dramas are what really keeps the player interested throughout the game. There is so much interest in the characters that the questions of where they are going to and where they are coming from are raised all the time. They become so adorable that even the robots are charming and interesting. All surprises and twists about the characters are very well inserted in the game, with such a good thing that it would be hard not to get involved in the story.
The setting of the game is the same as other games in the series, the Algo solar system. Only this time it’s like an expanded version of the whole place. The world maps are larger, more complex and offer more locations to explore. Not only that, there are actually more space locations to visit, including a new planet! It’s interesting how the story of the setting itself is told in the game. It still has the same ‘futuristic but not tragic’ feeling of other Phantasy Star games, giving players a positive impression about the locations, but showing that, behind the apparent development, a tragedy of immense proportions is taking place.
In terms of gameplay, the game may not be really groundbreaking as previous Phantasy Star games, but it is so well done that it’s impossible not to be delighted by it. It borrows a lot from the previous games of the series, like the space travelling, abilities (techniques) being learned by leveling up, commands in combat being input before the actions happen and so on. There are some new elements in the gameplay, like skills (abilities that don’t consume TP – technique points – instead have a fix number of times that can be used), macros (saved attack strategies), the combination attacks (if certain abilities are used in a specific order, the combination attack will be used) and the use of special vehicles to travel on the planets, but the basis of the gameplay is made of classic elements of the series.
A great addition to the gameplay is the opportunity to apply for jobs in the hunters’ guild. The jobs act as the game’s side quests and, besides doing the job in itself - earning money by completing them – a lot can be learned about the story in them and some of the game’s secret weapons, skills etc. can only be accessed through them. Also interesting is the fact that the robots don’t learn abilities by leveling up, they must find parts that can be installed in their bodies and they become capable of using them. Another interesting feature of the game is that, even if the party can have up to five characters, not until the very end of the game the player can choose what party he wants to use. The story itself determines the party for each part of the game, so that all characters have to be used and players will have to know how to use their skills well to complete the game.
In terms of graphics, Phantasy Star IV can easily be considered one the Genesis’ best looking games. All graphics are really clear and well done. All locations look great and there’s a good deal of diversity in the backgrounds, enemies and NPCs you meet during the game. The designs themselves are pure Phantasy Star, with weird looking bio monsters and even weirder robots, with lost of high-tech environments sharing space with little cozy villages. Besides, following the tradition of the series, all characters (NPCs included) the humanoid characters look much more realistic than in other games at the times, keeping real-world proportions. The attention to detail in this sense is so great that each character is of a different height and some walk faster than others.
It would be impossible to comment on the game’s graphics without talking about the cut-scenes. In Phantasy Star IV, instead of using terrible, emotionless animations to do these scenes, the developers came up with a concept that recalls comics. In each cut-scene, squares start showing up in the screen, telling the story through still images like in comics, while the dialogues are featured below. The drawings themselves are extremely good and convincing. It may sound like a simple addition, but it really is a very inventive and effective storytelling mechanism, creating a whole new dimension to the game and making it much easier for players to relate with the story and its characters. Also, these scenes are so well-done, so well directed that they have real dramatic impact by themselves, something rare in games, specially back then.
The sound department of Phantasy Star IV is actually an extremely pleasant surprise. Actually, the previous game, with all its faults, had an excellent soundtrack and the feat is repeated here. The soundtrack is one of the most extensive in the Genesis catalogue, with a big number of tracks, covering well all kinds of situations, from the most tragic to the happiest, most innocent ones. The diversity of styles is quite vast, including techno-oriented beats, epic songs, subtle tunes and even a rag. But the best thing is that all this is done with a rare sense of quality. The melodies are memorable, tunes are long and varied and avoid being predictable or repetitive. To complete, the limited resources of the Genesis sound are used to their max and the arrangements of the tunes are extremely convincing. Overall an excellent example of great videogame music.
Overall, Phantasy Star IV isn’t the most groundbreaking game in the series. Actually, it could be the one that offers less new, groundbreaking elements. But it ties so well together all the best qualities of each individual game of the series that came before it that it becomes the most fun and, in a general way, the best. Its greatest quality, besides the exceptional gameplay system, is the storytelling, that reaches a level of excellence rarely attained (or maybe never attained), proving that a combination of good story and gameplay is everything an RPG really needs. This is the most solid, complete and, as a whole, absorbing traditional RPG I’ve ever played. Because of that, I can also consider it the best.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 07/25/02, Updated 05/19/03
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