SEGA Genesis7.60
Overall 7.60
I missed out on pretty much every 16-bit JRPG, I am more of an action game guy and I had a Genesis, that sealed my fate. There was one big RPG series on Genesis, Phantasy Star, I rented one of the games, could have been 2, hated it and had it returned quickly, thus my experience with JRPGs pre FFVII ended there. After FFVII I have gone back and played many of the classic RPGs of that era but I never returned to Phantasy Star (even though I am a massive PSO fan). I heard Phantasy Star 4 is easily the best of the series and one of the better RPGs of that time and hey its in my Genesis collection so why not try it. I am very happy I did as Phantasy Star 4 is still to this day an immpressive game filled with memorable characters and a thrilling story.
Like most every JRPG of the time the game is top down view as you navigate a world map that takes you to various towns and dungeons. Random encounters happen anywhere outside towns at a rate that is borderline annoying, thankfully this version of the game comes with a fast foward button so I sped through most of the garbage fights. You gain exp, level up, gain new powers, buy new gear at the latest town and so on. Clearly the mold wasn't broken with this game, its as traditional as it gets, where it succeeds is how well executed all aspects are.

The most compelling reason to play PS4 is definetly the story and characters that accompany Chaz throught the adventure. During cutscenes comic book style windows tell the story. They aren't real time animated or anything but it feels like reading a well draw comic book. Seeing the party members close up during these scenes adds a nice layer of connection to them as they have a face, you can see their emotions, they arent just a tiny sprite you see from above. While I didn'y play the previous Phantasy Star games I did do a quick summary to catch up, which is important because Sega managed to create a 4 part epic where each game is a subsequent generation of heroes battling the same malevolent force that dooms their solar system. A few long living characters survive across multiple games, stories are told in this one about the heroes of the past games and the impact of a major moment in PS2 has changed the way all species living in this solar system has lived for a hundred years. I didn't see many interconnected storylines back then, I was hugely impressed how this grand finale to the story managed to incorporate those storylines into this and have it work for new comers and those who played the entire series.

I love world maps in these older games, I always feel like I am on a grand adventure if I hop on some airship and explore a full world. Go town to town, discover strange new species and customes. Phantasy Star takes it a step further as you visit multiple planets, sure its just a swap of a map screen but the game feels huge in scope even though it isnt. It takes the usual 30 hours or so to beat this game and do most side stories, maybe today that sounds short but back then that was a massive game.

Sense of adventure is key and so is the push to keep the quest moving and being interesting location after location, this game excels in both of those areas. Its so well paced with big story beats coming after every new dungeon or new party members jumping in or out of your party. I love a large varied cast in these RPGs and this has a bunch of great characters, all well realized with small yet impactful story arcs. One of the most shocking story moments comes about a third in and is something another very famous RPG is known for, well here is this game doing that same scene many years earlier, now I feel this game was the bold one. It is not all drama, this game has a great sense of humor, there is this underlining sense of poking fun at RPG tropes throughout. Certain townsfolk will say the most cliche sayings and a nearby NPC will comment and make fun at how cliche that person is being. There will be observations of the absurdity of breaking into homes and just stealing peoples items. It never takes itself super seriously and yet still hits the right tone for all the heavy emotional stuff. I loved the characters, story and world of Phantasy Star 4.

The gameplay is where I found it lacking compared to a FF or Chrono Trigger. For one there is basically zero party customization, not until the literal end of the game do you get to choose a party member, and even then its just one. The party is always picked for you, characters come and go and level up on their own when they are away. With no space to customize the party there is no real room to develop unique combat strategies. Instead you will fall back to the usual using of the strongest attack, healing when needed and using support spells for bosses
The presentation of the fights is extremely well done with large sprites filling the screens and some good attack effects. I wish there was a way to know what order the party and enemies will go in, instead you pick which action every party member will do and then it plays out however it decides to play out. So sometimes an attack you think would be helpful to hit multiple enemies at once ends up useless as that becomes the final attack in the turn and most enemies died from the other characters attacking. One of the more unique gameplay elements is the ability to combine spells from different characters to have a combination attack. The game never tells you these, you are supposed to discover them by experimenting, problem is these spells have to be chosen in a specific order, and since you dont always know the order of the attacks its almost random if the combo attack works or not. I used a guide to see the different combos, I would have never found them out... also they arent really needed.

Speaking of guides, I needed one just to understand what every spell and technique in the game does. The words used for these skills might as well be random jibberish and nowhere in your in game menu is there a "description" option. You learned "saner"! Great what in the hell is Saner and what does it do?! At least when you cast it it tells you, that doesnt happen with many attacks as you will use a power and many times nothing happens. I come to read from a guide that some attacks are instant death attacks that have a lower success rate, some are status attacks that only effects certain types of enemies. Does the game tell you any of this, nope. Now I know every game had a manual back in the day, but i also had the manual up and not every spell or skill is in the manual so that didn't help.

Like every JRPG of the time the game suffers from boring trash fights that serve as grinding tools. I never had to grind because I explored nearly every inch of the world which meant so many random battles. At least dungeons had a few enemy combinations that made me think, break up the bordom of hitting attack attack attack. Boss fights of course is where actual strategy comes in but rarely did they really require any interesting process to take them down, it was usually just use your strongest attack. When I compare this game to Final Fantasy V, which I recently just played, its extremely apparent how basic the combat character building is, so because of that I cant say this game ever reaches the highs of that franchise.

I am glad I got around to playing this so called forgetten gem, I wish i gave it more of a chance back in the day as I could have used more variety in my Genesis collection. Do I think its an all time classic, no, maybe for its time, I could see an argument but it shows its age where the true best from back then still offer plenty of quality gaming even today. It's the presentation, story and well paced adventure that really made this a hugely enjoyable experience.
Posted by Dvader Fri, 02 Feb 2024 06:24:19
Wed, 07 Feb 2024 16:24:35
I remember when this came out and it was being sold for $99.99. I didn't buy it.LOL
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