Genre: Turn Based RPG
System Released On: Sega Genesis
Release Date: 12/16/1993
This is a tough decision, as there are a few games in contention for my favorite of all time, but ultimately there’s never been another game I’ve lusted after with quite as much enthusiasm as Phantasy Star IV.
When I was younger, I wasn’t much of an RPG fan. I didn’t have time for experience points, character classes or any of that foolishness. Having to read through a thick manual in order to play a game almost seemed like I was being forced to learn (when I wasn’t even in school!) To hell with that. I sampled the Final Fantasies and the Dragon Warriors, but they didn’t appeal. Even the relatively light RPG action of Zelda was enough to turn me off. All this would change when I discovered Phantasy Star IV though.
I’d stumbled over a preview of the title in a gaming magazine (heck, it might have been the old dead-tree version of Diehard Gamefan for all I know) and later rented the game on a whim. Not expecting much, I popped the game into my Genesis and was immediatley entranced. By the end of the weekend rental I’d played through about half of this 40-hour game and my ass had to be surgically separated from the couch.
About a week later I tried to rent it again to continue my adventures, but the game was gone. The store had cleared it out and it was no longer available to rent. I searched high and low, but couldn’t find anywhere else to rent or buy it. I’m not sure what I did to anger God, but apparently he had seen fit to reach down and erase this amazing game from existence only days after I’d discovered it. For months I’d keep a close eye on every video game case in town, hoping it would finally show up. Christmas came and went and in one of those classic crushing Christmas morning moments I ripped open a Genesis game sized gift only to find Phantasy Star III in it instead of IV. Anyone who knows Phantasy Star knows what a kick in the nuts that is.
Finally though, a ray of light, a miracle. I found a copy of the game, a used copy, for 80 bucks. I didn’t care, I collected up every dollar, piece of change, arcade token and pog I could, ran down to the store with my stuffed pockets jangling and bought the hell out of that bitch. Was it worth it? Fudge yeah.
Phantasy Star IV was a remarkable Genesis game in every aspect. Its graphics were amongst the best on the system, as they were rich, colourful and varied with detailed well-animated monsters and eye-popping attacks. Its soundtrack was amazing, epic yet futuristic all at once. The battle system is deep enough to allow for some solid strategy, but it isn’t bogged down my excessive complexity. The story, told through beautiful anime-style art (at a time when we North Americans weren’t yet drowning in a tsunami of Japanese animation and comics) was expertly constructed and paced. You start humbly and the game sets before you a series of adventures and antagonists to defeat, each one bigger and more threatening than the last. The game escalates perfectly, culminating in perhaps the best final boss battle I’ve ever encountered in an RPG (and I’ve encountered a lot). The characters all feel alive, unique and likeable in a way video game characters rarely are. The dialogue is sharp and at times the game is just plain funny as hell (apparently main female protagonist Alys has slept with half the NPCs in the game). Oh, and yes, since this is a Phantasy Star game there is a tragic death, and when it happens it’s a genuinely affecting moment (unlike say, in Final Fantasy IV, where there’s so many pointless “heroic sacrifices”Â and deaths the characters just start to come off as either incompetent or suicidal).
Some wizened and cranky old hardcore gamers turn their nose up at PSIV, citing the original Phantasy Star or Phantasy Star II as the best in the series. In later years though I’ve gone back and played the first two games in the series and my opinion of IV has not been changed. In fact, playing the earlier games only made me love PSIV all the more as I now noticed the myriad of callbacks and references to earlier games found in PSIV. Phantasy Star IV was no longer just an amazing stand-alone game, but the climax of a groundbreaking 100-hour plus trilogy (I’m not including PSIII as that game is really more of a side-story). As sad as I am that we’ll probably never get to see another true Phantasy Star game, in a way I’m glad. This was one of the few RPG series that was allowed a true, satisfying final chapter to it’s story. As much as I’d like a new PS game there’s really nowhere else for the series to go, Phantasy Star IV ended the saga in near perfect fashion.
Sega has already released Phantasy Star II and III on the Wii Virtual Console. When PSIV hits, buy it. That’s not a suggestion, that’s an order. Maybe if enough people buy it Sega will pull their heads out of their asses long enough to give Rieko Kodama the go-ahead to design a new RPG (The poor girl is currently stuck making Brain Age rip-offs, an absolutely apalling waste of talent). Come on, the game’s got half-inch tall 16-bit strippers! I know you can’t say no to that.