Malik (7/6/04)

Phantasy Star IV (Genesis)

From Sega

While this game is an oldie that most of us can no longer play, I still like to cater as a source for info on everything geek, including the classics that can now (for the most part) only be played by the hardcore geeks. Anyway, I was wanting to get in the mood for a good RPG (ToS), so I picked up this gem again recently (by again, I mean that I've played this title off and on for the last...well, how ever many years since it first hit the Genesis...damn, I'm old). 

Before I start, I just want to throw out a ran-damn fact that many people don't realize; Did you know that this Genesis title hit the U.S. shelves with an insane $99.99 price tag? It did. Makes you wonder why it sold pretty poorly for it's first few months (until the price was dropped to a more respectible $50-$60 range)...actually, it makes you wonder why Sega was stupid enough to charge so much for a RPG in the U.S. back at the pre-FFVII days when RPGs and U.S. audiences did not usually see eye-to-eye...ok, enough of my ramblings. 


Back in the 16-bit days, RPGs usually had a more mediocre plot than what we expect in today's CD/DVD media world. However, PSIV was able to, with some damned strong authority, actually deliver a plot worthy of being the final PS standard RPG (that could change with PS Universe, but only time will tell on that). 

You start the game as Chaz, an apprentice hunter serving under Alys. Alys is like a cross between your big sister, boss, and almost maternal influence. When Chaz was a child, he was a bit of a trouble-maker and Alys took it upon herself to mend your wicked (and whiney) ways. So, as the game starts, Alys has just accepted a job (hunters would be free-lance bounty hunters and general muscle-heads) for the Motavian Academy to eliminate some monsters that have infested the basement of the academy. Along the way, you pick up one of the students, Hahn, who thinks that by helping you (by helping, he doesn't expect Alys to charge him for his "help" in tagging along) he can discover the whereabouts of one of his AWOL professors. 

As you eliminate the monsters in the basement of the Academy, you come across some startling revelations of the nature of these vile monsters...I wont explain, since if you don't know, and want to know, there is always a simple solution; play the damned game. 

For those who had played previous PS games, this one continues the plot of the previous 3 (well, more so the plot of PS 1 and 2) games in the series. You are still living and doing your civic duty in the Algo star system, which consists of 2.5 planets. By two and a half, I mean you have Dezolis (the third planet which is a bit far out from the sun, so the climate is along the artic scheme), Motavia (which is a bit more of a desert since the climate control systems have gone out of whack), and the half planet; the remains of Palma/Parma (the name changed with translations of the PS series). Palma/Parma was once the main Earth-style planet of Algo, but this all changed in PS2 when you and your companions (of that game) accidentally blew up the planet with the help of the embodiment of evil; Dark Falze/Dark Force (just like with Palma/Parma, the translations were a bit funky on the master of evil's name). 

So, a quick run down of the setting; Dark Force is a master of evil who is reborn once every 1000 years and tries to destroy all that our heroes hold dear. Usually, Dark Force is not quite as open about his role until some time passes in each game (you usually are facing a minor master of evil before Dark Force pops in to say hello). His evil influence is felt on all the planets of Algo, and it is up to one chosen individual in each millennium to end his threat (this time, it's Chaz). 

Unlike many other RPGs of this era, character development is key. You are not just given a group of standard classes with unique faces; instead you are given strong characters who will differentiate themselves as you play through the game. Also, each character will tend to evolve in their mannerisms as the story progresses (for example, if you're worried about Chaz always being a whiney little ass clown, you are in luck; he will soon start to play the hero that we expect of the protagonist of a great RPG). 

Sadly, I cannot go into too much detail on this plot since it is something that needs to be played through to be appreciated. Almost every action in PSIV (well, all PS titles, but PSIV in particular) will carry a reaction to the plot a few hours down the road. So, I'll just say this; for PS veterans (like if you've been playing PS Collection on GBA; which has PS 1-3) this game will give you a rewarding conclusion to this four part epic. However, if you're new to PS games, PSIV will still give you enough background to keep you interested and you'll still be rewarded with an amazing story and game play experience...speaking of which; 

Game Play 

Classic console RPG through and through.  This is seen in the classic world map that is purely 2D, to the 2D mazes of dungeons, to the classic turn based combat. So, to start, we have the world and dungeon and town maps. They are presented in that classic top-down perspective that made Dragon Warrior, FF, and PS series all stand out from their PC counterparts. You walk around on the map and can see people and bosses (but not random encounters), shops, signs, houses, etc. Basically, it's like anything else with the good old 16-bit RPGs of it's day. However, while many studios, most notably Square, like to throw innovation into the mix in today's RPGs, there was none involved in PSIV, and that was definitely a good thing. 

As for battles, it is just like the previous 3 PS games and similar to the FF games of it's day. Battles were entirely turn based, with no system of real time involved...once again, this is a good thing. In a fight, you can select to attack (obvious what that does), use an item (obvious), run (obvious), use a skill, or use a technique. Skills were special abilities that could imitate "magic" on other RPGs, but did not cost MP (or an equivalent) to use. Instead, each skill had a set number of uses before you needed to use an inn to restore them. This number of uses goes up as you level and in the same manner you can learn new skills (which start at 1 use per inn visit) other words, think of attacks on Pokemon or magic from FF1. The techniques are more like the magic that we see in current RPGs. Each use of a tech requires some TP (PS equivalent to MP) and once the TP pool is dry, a visit to the inn will refill them (along with one of a certain character's skills...which refills a small amount of TP). These techs and skills can do a wide assortment of actions from healing, to offensive abilities, to stat boosts, to dropping stats on enemies, to killing enemies outright, to teleporting out of a dungeon or to a town (tech only for this ability). Lastly, you can set up macros in battles to arrange the specific order of attack (instead of the most agile going first) and set up quick tactics to save time on the random battles. This also works to your advantage since if certain abilities are used one right after another (sometime up to 4 in a specific order), a combo attack can be used. This combo will inflict more damage than the sums of it's parts, but is almost impossible to use without a specific macro to ensure the order of letting loose you abilities. 

Also, some weapons give the ability to attack all the enemies instead of one target. These are found in certain ranged attacks (guns and boomerangs). When this is combined with the fact that each character has two hands to equip, it can work out to your advantage. While you could do the standard tactic of equipping a shield in one hand and a weapon in the other, you can always put two shields on a mage to keep them safer in combat, or equip a two-handed weapon or two one-handed weapons on a tougher character to make them more offensive. This ability to control your offensive and defensive balance is important for keeping your mages alive through a dungeon to let them let loose on a boss. 

Your party will be made up of several races as you play that all tend to have unique abilities. The religious Dezolians are experts with "cleric"-like abilities (healing), Motavians are more ferral in nature and have offensive boosting abilities, Parmians who are human like and can do a wide variety of abilities, and Numans, who are genetically engineered humanoids who imitate Parmians. Lastly, there are cyborgs, who are tough and quick but lack the ability to use techs (like in PS Online). Also, Cyborgs cannot be healed with a healing tech. They get their HP back from an inn visit, a special Cyborg only skill, and repair kit items. 

Lastly, on the theme of traveling across the world from town to town or dungeon, you get some help in the form of three unique vehicles. Each one has a specific obstacle it can eliminate; the ice digger can break up jagged ice formations that block your normal walking, a hovercraft can go over water, and a special dune buggy can handle quicksand formations. While in these vehicles, if you encounter an enemy, you will fight from the vehicle. Each vehicle has a specific set of special abilities (they follow the rules for skills) and a set attack power, defense power, and HP. The HP gets refilled after each fight, so this works out to usually be a good method to gain experience without having to visit the inn as often. 


The visuals are nothing to outstanding. However, this is not a bad thing by any means. The visuals are pretty standard for a Genesis RPG of it's day. However, in combat, you can see all your attacks and spells in real time (including your if you swing with a sword, you don't just see a character wave a sword like in FF2 or 3, but you instead see the character run up, take a mighty swing, etc). This goes for the attacks of your foes, as well. Also, the battles are presented in a different view than with FF games of it's age. Instead of a side view combat arena, you see things from the perspective of your team, and thus only see your characters when they run forward to attack. This also means you can see the grizzly face of your enemy, instead of their profile. This is a definite breath of fresh air when compared to the standard side-view battles of the more popular FF games. 

The last important note on the visuals is how dramatic cut-scenes are presented. Instead of just seeing your characters converse on a standard map screen, the screen will fade to black as comic-book style windows pop-up to show a still frame of the action in a manga style drawing. Even looking at the more modern RPGs that use CGI cut-scenes, this still seems to add drama to the situation at hand. The visuals, also, in these comic style pop-ups are amazing in quality for a game of PSIV's day. 

In a nut-shell, while PSIV has nothing to brag about visually, the developers at Sega used what tools were available and re-invented them and their use to make a great visual experience. Like with the combo attacks, the visuals in the end far exceed the sum of it's parts. 


Well, the music is quite good and fits the mood almost every time. That's about all I can say about the audio. The sound effects are the same crap that filled 16-bit RPGs, and the music is a midi-mess. However, like with FF games on the SNES, the music is able to fit the mood quite accurately. If you wanted more details...sorry, but there is not much to say in regards to the visuals...that's it...


Considering the lack of quality RPGs in the last year or two, PSIV is definitely a game that should be looked upon for a second time by the RPG geeks of today. The game play and plot were deep and involving without crossing into that dreaded land of "innovation" me innovation usually means something new that wont be used again and wasn't used before because it was just a crappy idea. PSIV shows how before Square threw innovation down our throats, things were just simpler and more fun. The visuals are of a style that, without using anything technologically new, it was a breath of fresh air back then, and even now. Sadly, the audio doesn't do much for the experience, but there isn't anything here to take away from the experience. So, in conclusion, I give PSIV a 9.25 out of 10. Going back to play this classic now, I still have fun and the old technology of PSIV's day doesn't ruin this experience one bit.