Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: Phantasy Star IV (Genesis)

Phantasy Star IV
Role-Playing Game, Sega Genesis
1995 Sega

My first exposure to the Phantasy Star universe was Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast. I never owned a Genesis as a kid, so regrettably, for classics such as this I have to go back to retroactively experience them. At the time, I wasn't even aware of the original 4-game series of RPGs at all. But at the request of many other classic game aficionados, I've gladly taken some time to go back and experience the game that is considered by many to be the best RPG on the entirety of the Sega Genesis - Phantasy Star IV.

Our hero Chaz has just been initiated into the Hunters: a group of bounty hunters that completes tasks for money in the land of Motavia. He and his partner Alys venture across the arid landscape to complete contracts and help the citizenry, but soon find themselves fighting an evil sorcerer named Zio, who appears to be behind many of the strange monsters that are showing up.

Magic? And spaceships? In the same game!?

When it comes to RPGs, I get the most enjoyment when I feel a sense of major character development. I want my heroes to start as poor nobodies, and end up becoming the saviors of their respective world. From the dopey humble start town to some sort of giant dungeon ruled by an enormous beast. From broken wooden equipment to 9999 damage-dealing super weapons. And Phantasy Star IV is a textbook example of doing just that. Continuing in the tradition of the series, not only are our heroes saving the world, but they're saving an entire solar system.

For a sizable first chunk of the game, Chaz's party is in a pretty standard fare "complete a task then go to the next town" type RPG on a barren desert world. It's pretty digestible and nothing too unexpected. Party members come and go through a revolving door. But then strange technological and futuristic dungeons start popping up the further you go. Next thing you know, the characters have their own spaceship and are traversing between entire planets. How's that for awesome?

This game is so polished it may blind you with its shiny splendor. The worlds are gorgeous. Battle sprites and animations are some of the best among 2D games. No static pictures of enemies here - when something attacks you, it actually attacks you. When your characters engage, they're fully animated with moves specific to whatever weapon they are wielding at the time. And don't let me forget the cutscenes. Though I'm not a big fan of generic JRPG-style artwork, having high-resolution portraits of the characters and their expressions as they talk enhances the player's emotional connection to their plight. No corners were cut. Anything that deserves a cutscene, a detailed sprite, or an animation - it has one.

Really, what sets this game apart from others in the genre is not its innovations, but its quality. The general game mechanics are not special in any way, but everything has been fine tuned by the knowledge gleaned from all the games before it. All the math is spot on - experience points, damage, and the economy are perfect. You never feel too poor or too rich. Never too strong or too weak. Enemies are dispatched easily for the first few quests, and ever-so-gently increase in difficulty as you get stronger, so by the time you're actually feeling challenged you feel very prepared. The art is a feast for the eyes and it brings surprises at every turn. Even today, this is a game that any RPG fan can get a lot of enjoyment from.


  1. Good review. The Phantasy Star games are pretty sweet.

    1. Thanks, Tom! The original 4 are very different from Phantasy Star Online to be sure, but I really enjoyed this one.