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Phantasy Star IV (Genesis) artwork

Phantasy Star IV (Genesis) review


"Going out with a super nova."


This is it. The end of the line, the "final" installment, the grand finale... At least that's what we were led to believe in the early '90s. Phantasy Star IV would serve as the brand's last chapter until the next game, and we were going to be treated to a fulfilling sendoff. But we all know how these series conclusions go nowadays. Most of the time, they either cap off with an anticlimax or throw out a counter-intuitive ending, hoping to defy expectations. But for every five or so "Game of Thrones" finales, we get a "Breaking Bad."

This title falls into the latter category...

SEGA brought their A-game this time. They cut out all the junk from the weak third installment, but simplified their rules systems and added a more in-depth storyline. In other words, this sequel plays more like a contemporary J-RPG than its predecessors, complete with anime art style and typical Japanese roleplaying plot structure. Because of this, you receive more direct instruction regarding your objectives. You no longer have to walk around town, chatting with every NPC to figure out what to do next. Not only does the game tell you where to go during scripted cutscenes, but it offers you an option via in-game menu that initiates a conversation with your party that details your goal. Yeah, it's a bit "hand-holdy," but it's also nice to pick up your file after a long absence and actually know where you are in the proceedings.

This system also allows the writers to pack more flesh onto their characters. Because of this, the protagonist Chaz isn't some average hero, but a youth learning the hunting trade and growing with each plot beat. Yeah, he's cut from that "young, eager swordsman" cloth, but he tends to wear his emotions more on his sleeve. Plus, he's got a fairly short temper, though he never reaches a prickish levels of anger. Mostly, he doesn't have patience for being teased, which a supporting character named Rune is happy to do. Chaz's journey eventually sees him rolling with the punches, both those thrown by Rune and by the dire situations he faces.

Granted, Rune and the other allies may not develop into deep characters, but they provide enough details that they aren't merely profile pictures with weapons. For instance, Rune starts off as a bit of a smart ass, but eventually fills a mentor-like role for Chaz. Then there's Rika, who enters the adventure as a biological humanoid who has little to no knowledge of the world outside her birthplace. Over time, story hints at a romance between her and Chaz, rather than turning it into a center-stage affair.

In fact, the tale overall isn't all that overblown. There's more chatter than in previous entries, sure, but it's short and to the point without sacrificing quality or charm. You don't sit through long, tiresome mutterings or drawn out, needlessly dramatic conversations. This title realizes you're here to play, and it knows just how much story to give you to bolster campaign events and make them feel more meaningful, without burying you beneath a mountain of theatrics.

This adventure also consists of more than chunks of chit-chat and the occasional battle. You journey to some awesome and wondrous places that take full advantage of series' sci-fi trappings and fantastical realms. Rather than your standard RPG dungeons, you'll explore a lot of hidden facilities built from ancient technology. One college near the beginning, for instance, holds a secret lab full of mechanical embryos, crawling with horrific, biological freaks. Later on, you'll slice your way through a long-forgotten weapons plant run by faulty AI, a couple of ominous satellites and even some classical fantasy levels. After all, this wouldn't be much of a roleplaying game without the occasional sinister fortress or mystic towers designed to test your might and courage.

The creatures that haunt these grounds aren't the pushovers you faced in the third outing. All manner of foes come at you this time, including alien birds, giant worms, scythe-armed demons, muscular warriors and sorcerers dripping with black magic. They all appear before you, rendered in the toughest, most intimidating sprites. You get the impression that you're not just fighting standard goons, but taking on potentially life-ending forces.

But you don't command a group of dithering idiots yourself. You'll find that Chaz is an accomplished swordsman, while dudes like Rune and Raja and sling spells called "techniques" like no other. Wren, who returns from the third game, also blows the opposition away with a combination of heavy firearms and impressive special attacks called "skills." If you're fortunate, your allies will even combine their skills, transforming them into devastating nukes. Wren and Rune, for instance, combine a cluster of rockets and a fire spell to create a party-wrecking meteor shower that'll reduce the opposition to scorch marks.

Even with all of the upgrades, enemies aren't going to let you walk away unscathed. You'll lose a bit of your hit points and heal up between rounds, but overtime the strain on your resources adds up. Don't be surprised if you often find yourself exiting a dungeon via spell or item, then teleporting to the nearest inn to restore your health, magic and skills. The good news is that dungeons you explore are pretty lean, so you won't spend an hour picking up where you left off. Still, they efficiently pack enough of a bite to register as a bona fide challenge and not a stroll in the park.

The campaign hits many high and somber notes along the way, properly building up events with terrific dungeons, challenging boss encounters and either bitter or sweet storyline events. Friends leave and new ones join your entourage, all eager to see the group through another nail-biting plot beat. You bask in awesome victories, but also watch in horror as heartache befalls your troops. You'll battle a savage cult, struggle against a cosmic nightmare, investigate a deep cave system overflowing with monsters, travel through space and attempt to prevent the age-old calamity that always befalls your planetary system.

SEGA knocked it out of the park this time, when it counted most. Phantasy Star IV exemplifies balance, offering a strong mix of science fiction and fantasy, providing players with a challenge factor that's neither overwhelming nor over-easy. It hits the right notes at the proper times, giving us a climactic RPG that's stood the test of time. Folks, this is how you go out with a bang (even if you don't technically go out).

4.5/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (December 01, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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