Phantasy Star IV (Genesis)
While this game is
an oldie that most of us can no longer play, I still like to cater
Geek-Asylum.com 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
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
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)...in 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
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 approach...like 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...
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"...to 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.