Review by Artreyis
For the classic RPG lover, this is your game.
After having just gone back and playing this game again, I felt compelled to write a review for it. In truth, this is less of a review and more of a tribute to a great masterpiece. You might say that I'm a bit biased because I enjoyed this game so much; however, I assure you that as a tremendously experienced gamer, I can state with confidence that my bias has nothing to do with the praise I'll be giving this title in my review.
And with the intro out of the way:
The gameplay is simple, like any good RPG. In recent years companies have forgotten that the reason we play this games is because we get immersed in the story. Thankfully, the makers of Phantasy Star 4 didn't concern themselves too heavily on gameplay and focused instead on what truly makes a great RPG. That's not to say game-play isn't important, because even the most fantastic story will be lost on its audience due to unwieldy mechanic. Phantasy Star 4 is not one of those games.
Combat "magic" is broken up into two categories: Techs and Skills. TP (tech points) is your traditional RPG "magic points" system, with techs that can be used at the expense of a pool of TP each character has amassed. Skills, on the other hand, are granted a certain set number of each one that increases with leveling up. Making use of skills does not cost TP, but are limited in how many times each individual skill may be used before resting up at an inn.
That being said, there is a combo system built into combat involving techs and skills, where certain characters can execute their moves together for an increased -- or altered -- effect. Using it can be a bit tricky, as the moves must be executed consecutively (if a monster or another character were to attack between two characters joined in a combo, the two characters will execute their moves separately). Thankfully, they implemented a programmable macro system which will force party members to execute their attacks in whatever order you wish, leaving monsters' moves the only impediment to your combo execution.
My only beef with the game-play is minor. I feel the world map is traversed too quickly, even on foot. The game would last twice as long (and without at all being annoying) if they halved the walking speed and halved the speed of the vehicles.
There are some songs in this game that really just clung to me, and others not so much. I'm grateful for the main battle theme, which was interesting enough without being too generic. Also, the music while fighting Dark Force actually gets stuck in my head from time to time. These are just two examples, and there are others. Le Roof's music, for example, was enchanting. I would love to hear these songs performed by an actual orchestra instead of the Genesis's bloops and bleeps.
As I stated above, the Phantasy Star team delivered a very nice story. It's not so involving that you get lost in it, but immersion isn't hampered by utter boredom like some of the newer Final Fantasy games.
Phantasy Star 4 follows the adventure of Chaz Ashley -- a young, blond-headed swordsman paired up with a renowned "hunter" named Alys Brangwyn. As mercenaries for hire, the hunters accept jobs all over the planet Motavia as people see a need to hire them. As they venture into the Piata academy for work, they discover the beginning of a mystery that shakes the very foundation of the Algo solar system. I'll leave it at that, so as to avoid getting too far into a plot synopsis and spoiling something you'd rather have not known about.
Bear in mind, this is the Sega Genesis. This game came out back when we all thought 16bit graphics were amazing. Yeah, the world-map character art isn't all that detailed. However, the monster designs were interesting, colorful, and animated. Spell graphics / Skills were brief, but interesting. However, what really made this game score a 10/10 in graphics, for me, was the ingenious idea of supplementing dialogue scenes with comic-book like frame art. No other game I've ever played has done that, and I thought it was excellent. The execution of some of the scenes -- things you would see when no one is talking, for example -- was wonderful and really added a lot more emotion to the story. Really, it just feels like I'm not saying enough about that...
I'm not including this in my grand total, because it's an RPG with one single ending. You pick it up, you get hooked into it, you play it through, you beat it, and then you set it aside. Then, years later, you pick it back up and play it again due to your fond memories of it.
... Then, ten years later after you've grown up, gone to college, and gotten a career going, you find you're bored one week-end and you remember Phantasy Star 4. You pick it up, you play it through, and you beat it yet again. Then, you sigh a big one of relief, as you realize this game really is every bit as awesome as you remembered it being from so long ago.
So yeah, 10/10. If only the later Phantasy Stars had been as wonderful.
Thanks for reading.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Phantasy Star IV (US, 12/31/94)
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