Review by Phaeron
"A very decent RPG from Sega."
Phantasy Star IV will remind you very strongly of Final Fantasy IV (FF2US) -- the plot-driven exchange of characters over time, battle between light and dark, the look and feel of the game is similar. Unlike Square's games, though, PSIV is a turn-based battle system similar to Capcom's Breath of Fire series, where you assign all characters a command and then all friendly and enemy actions fire. One very nice feature, though, is the ability to set up macros of commands, making it very easy to set up complete attack or recovery sequences that are accessible from a single menu item. This takes much of the tedium of fighting random battles with non-trivial commands (i.e. not all-fight), and in addition running actually works most of the time so you don't even need to fight battles when frustrated or in a hurry. Also, like Breath of Fire I/II, you can warp between towns, which can save considerable time. The final touch is that a Talk menu item causes the game to list your current objective. In short, you will never be left wondering what you are supposed to do, and you will never be forced to fight zillions of random battles to reach your destination if you don't want to.
One ding, though, is a lack of variety in battle -- there is not a strong elemental element to attacks, nor are there interesting status ailments or varied attacks other than magic and non-magic. This is further compounded by a terrible menu translation, leaving you to wonder which option out of Nares, Foi, and Ryuka are your cure spell and often just resorting to a couple of core commands. Fortunately, random battles is not as big of a part of PS4 as in other games so this isn't a major deal.
The other ding is saving and recovery in dungeons. In short, you cannot save in a dungeon at all -- some of which are rather complex -- and there are rarely recovery points. Dungeons must sometimes be raided two or three times of items before going in for the final kill because of this, which is stupid. Some of the basic recovery abilities you expect from an RPG, such as resurrecting a fallen member, are unavailable or highly restricted for much of the game, adding a life-or-death element to the game that offers little except additional frustration.
What redeems the game, however, is that Phantasy Star IV can be completed in as few as two days, without skipping major plot elements and without resorting to ridiculous tricks. Sega did a good job of not unnecessarily wasting the player's time with chores, and this alone makes up for most of the dings.
Phantasy Star IV drops you into the role of the apprentice Chaz, learning under your mentor Alys. You carry out a routine monster clearing job with her, only to learn that more is going on in the world and gradually get sucked in as the hero. The story will make sense even if you have not played any of the earlier games in the series, and has greater depth than just ''you must save the world.'' It is not an over- or under-emotional story, but the plot decent enough to be more than just support for the game elements, and fortunately the hideously bad menu translation is not reflected in the dialogue. Some say the game is short, but in the PS4 story is better described as concise.
Phantasy Star IV's ending is not the longest or most fulfilling, but it is rather detailed for a cartridge game and does impart a sense of closure -- you will not be cursing at the programmers for not having finished the game, and you will relax to more than scrolling credits over a landscape.
Again, I would say the sound is comparable to Final Fantasy IV, both in effects and in music. The music lacks the depth of Square's later works, but is adequate to support the mood of various scenes in the game. Visually, it's harder to say. The battle system has nice backgrounds and sprites, and in particular nice character animations during attacks. Some of the dungeon graphics, however, use color cycling way too much and just flash annoyingly, the worst of which looks like an animated Mandelbrot set.
What makes up for this minus, however, are the character portraits during major plot events. Characters become much more believable when you see faces and bodies rather than just 24-pixel sprites, and if you like Japanese animation you will like the style of the images (one character is a dead ringer for Nuku Nuku!). The ending, in particular, benefits significantly from being displayed in windows rather than being animated using the field system.
As with many RPGs, not much unless you skimmed the game the first time and want to try again for secrets. You are allowed little freedom in your party choice, and due to an anemically short item list and few significant differences in equipment, there will be little change in play the second time through. There are side adventures, but they are ancillary and do not reveal any insight into the story or characters, as they did in, say, Final Fantasy VI (FF3US), and thus one time through is enough to reveal the whole story.
Buy. It's not the best RPG, but it's a good one with a good story, and a decent breath of fresh air from Square and Capcom.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/11/02, Updated 02/11/02
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