Every week, we will present a new game to be nominated for the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame. These nominations will occur every Monday and Friday, respectively. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote “â€ with a minimum of four votes “â€ will be accepted or thrown into their respective Hall.
Who Nominated the Game: Me, Diehard GameFAN’s eternal newbie.
Why Was It Nominated: The original Phantasy Star game introduced players to the Algol Star System, a setting that successfully combined elements of fantasy and sci-fi into a unique mix. Phantasy Star II took the turn-based combat system of its predecessor and refined it, adding animated sprites for both enemies and player characters for good measure; then the game added a more fleshed-out story on top of that. Phantasy Star III tried, among other experiments, to broaden the scope of the game’s story by spanning three generations’ worth of playable characters, but the results met with a mixed reception that has lasted to this day. Then Phantasy Star IV blended together the stronger parts of the previous three games, and then included its own additions and refinements along the way.
What happened? A can of awesome opened, that’s what.
Few games can claim to have mastered the art of pacing between gameplay sections and story scenes, but Phantasy Star IV did just that. Each cutscene was just as long as it needed to be “â€ no more, no less “â€ and illustrated in clear and colorful comic book-style graphics. They were also in equal parts intriguing, humorous, and emotional. The party line-up wasn’t always the same, but even the characters who came and went stuck around long enough to endear themselves to the player either because they kicked that much butt in battle or because they had a memorable line of dialogue. From the humble beginning where Chaz and Alys go to investigate the mystery at Piata Academy, to the varied Hunter’s Guild side quests, to the final battle in a maw of madness, every new face leaves a mark. All those who played the game were more than happy to follow the loveable characters to the very satisfying conclusion of not only the game, but the entire original series. The numerous callbacks to the previous games were just icing on the cake.
On the gameplay side of things, the difficulty increased at a good clip. Players could pick up the items and equipment they needed without requiring too much level grinding; boss battles were challenging but not punishing; each character’s move pool consisted of both techniques and skills that could be combined to create stronger moves or customizable attack plans; and every dungeon had at least a few offshoots from the main path, none of which would cause the player to become hopelessly lost. Having a technique that could teleport the party out of a given dungeon helped a great deal, but it was just one of many useful moves the characters would acquire over time. The turn-based battles were interesting in that the encounters came with some variation: aside from the classic party-beats-up-teams-of-monsters setup, the game also allowed players to use vehicles in order to fight. The bosses were often two-fold challenges because reaching them was as much of a puzzler as defeating them. They were tough, all right, but the possibility of achieving victory and making new progress was always within reach. All of the just-mentioned points ensured that the game, while not as difficult as its predecessors, was more accessible by far.
Then there was the music. The Genesis may not have had the best-quality soundcard for the 16-bit era, but the Phantasy Star series had plenty of catchy tunes, and IV was no exception. From a couple of remixes from the original game to a myriad of astounding pieces of its own, the music had a way of entrancing players from beginning to end without their being aware of it much of the time. The next thing you knew, you were hooked, and that was that.
Whether it was the story, the gameplay and design, the music, or the smashing combination of all three, Phantasy Star IV instilled in many gamers a plethora of wonderful memories. This was an experience few would ever forget.
All in Favour:
Mel Ngai: As the person who nominated the game, I’ll lead off with my reasons for choosing Phantasy Star IV. I can think of very few games where it’d be easier to ask myself who I don’t like among the cast of characters. PSIV is one such game. Chaz, Rika, Rune, Wren, Alys… I obviously haven’t mentioned them all, but you can bet I remember them fondly. They’re still some of the most endearing people ever shown in a video game.
Why else do I like this title? PSIV title also has the music track, “Laughter,” which is still one of the best pieces of boss BGMs I’ve ever heard. And that’s just one of the many great tracks the game has! To go on would likely cause me to repeat what I’ve written above, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Phantasy Star IV is still one of my most favorite games ever.
Alex Lucard: For my money, the Sega Genesis was the best system for RPGs in the 16-bit era. The SNES had Squaresoft and, well, that was it for stateside RPGs. The TG-16 had Might and Magic and Ys. But the Sega Genesis? You had Shining in the Darkness, two Shining Force games, Shadowrun (the best tabletop-to-video-game conversion ever), the little-known but incredible Warriors of the Eternal Sun, Langrisser, Landstalker, Sword of Vermillion, Beyond Oasis, Light Crusader, Rings of Power, Super Hydlyde, Master of Monsters, and more. That’s not even factoring in the Sega CD with games like Lunar, Popful Mail, Vay, and Dark Wizard. But there’s still one series I haven’t mentioned yet, and with good reason “â€ Phantasy Star.
I’ve never really been a fan of turn-based RPGs. Selecting attacks from a menu and watching a character take a step forward, swing a weapon, and step back for half an hour straight to beat a final boss has never been my thing. However, there are exceptions to this rule and it generally has to do with an amazing plot. The first three Phantasy Star games did just that “â€ it made me care about the characters and the worlds these games took place in. So when Phantasy Star IV was announced, I knew I had to have it.
Of course, I was seventeen at the time when it was released and the price tag was insane. The only place that had a copy was K-mart and it was at $99.99! A hundred dollars for a new video game. Wrap your head around that, people who bitch that games are $60 this generation instead of $50. So I started saving. All the while, I was hearing that people had paid up to $130 for the game and I was like, “No game is worth that!” (I think I’ve only paid that much for Shining Force 3 Premium) and I still feel that. Still, I really wanted PSIV, so I kept saving and hoping to God no one else saw that K-Mart had it for “so cheap a price” or that K-Mart didn’t knock the price up. Finally, when I had saved up, I went in to buy it and “â€ surprise, surprise “â€ it was on sale for “only” $89.99. A very Shadowrun experience if there ever was one for me. (I used the remaining ten bucks to buy a Generation 2 Sideswipe Transformer, if you’re curious).
Sure the game had some localization issues; and items, characters, and references didn’t have the correct names that they had in previous Phantasy Star games; but those were minor quibbles. The overall experience was simply amazing: whether it was the depth characters had, the plot twists and turns, or the ability to attack enemy monsters with armoured assault vehicles, Phantasy Star IV was worth it and more.
I waver between which Phantasy Star game is my favorite (II or IV), but both definitely deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Hell, the first one does, too. I still think that the PS series is Sega’s crowing achievment as a developer “â€ even more so than Sonic (Shining Force is Camelot’s legacy and Sakura Taisen is Red Company’s). It may be the last in the official series, but it definitely deserves entry regardless of the order the games are inducted.
Aileen Coe: I’ll admit that I was a late arrival to this series, as I never had a Genesis in the house growing up, so I didn’t have the chance to play any of the non-online Phantasy Star games when they first came out. But thanks to Chris’s giving me the means to do so, I’ve gotten the chance to experience this game and the rest of the original series, even if belatedly. I’d heard much extolling of the game (and the rest of the quadrilogy “â€ well, less so in III’s case), so I was eager to try it out. Once I started it, I could immediately see where all the accolades came from. Even by today’s standards, the plot is engaging both in presentation and in content (even if the premise has been seen umpteen times before), the characters have their endearing qualities, and nothing feels superfluous or dragging. While the graphics do show their age a bit, the overlapping panel-style cutscenes still help draw you more into the story. You can lengthen the experience by taking on Hunter’s Guild quests or just go straight through the game, if that’s what you prefer. The soundtrack is a pleasure to listen to as you’re going about your adventure. It certainly ensured the original series went out with a bang.
Sean Madson: Even though Phantasy Star II holds more nostalgic value to me (I have that damn battle music stuck in my head as I write this), I will admit that Phantasy Star IV is the more well-made game. The fact that I played it well after its initial release just goes to show how timeless it really is.
There was a time as a kid where I would read strategy guides just for fun, because I was curious as to the lore of a video game, but didn’t have the money to actually purchase the title in question and play it. That, and rental stores in my proximity had a really limited selection of games. Phantasy Star IV was one of the first games I had done that with, having been covered extensively in GamePro magazine when it was first released. I had always wanted to play the game since then, even before I had a chance to experience PSII.
Phantasy Star I & II were both quite excellent, each in their own way (though I preferred PSII‘s overhead dungeons over the first-person perspective of the original), and despite the poor reviews it had been given, I decided to give Phantasy Star III a go. Big mistake. The game had enough decent ideas going for it that I was able to see it through to its conclusion (the whole generations concept was a really cool idea at the time), but the dull presentation and grating soundtrack coupled with some really generic combat and exploration almost killed my enthusiasm to play the fourth.
Despite my poor reception of PSIII, I managed to take the plunge into Phantasy Star IV and was glad I did. Story-wise, it was able to tie itself back to its predecessors while simultaneously introducing new and interesting characters. I was always curious as to what followed PSII‘s somewhat vague ending, and while it is still quite vague as to what exactly happened, it was interesting to see what happened to Motavia as a result of Rolf and co.’s actions.
On the gameplay side of things, the battles are just as enjoyable as they were in PSII while being far more visually striking this time around. Not only that, but you could set up macros this time around that prevented the tedium of flipping through your menu to select the same attacks each and every time. Throw in a manga style presentation and sidequests in the form of Hunter’s Guild quests that you can accept for money, and you have a total package of a game that was the perfect send off for the turn-based generation of Phantasy Star games.
As much as I enjoy some of the newer titles, such as Phantasy Star Online and its various spinoffs, they can’t hold a candle to the legacy this one left behind.
Mark B.: To borrow, again, from my observation of Phantasy Star IV back when we wrote about it for its Virtual Console release:
“I started my first part-time job in 1995. At the time, I was working at a local fast-food restaurant for what passed for minimum wage while going to high school, and while my grades weren’t exactly stellar (which can be blamed equally on laziness and apathy, unless we’re talking about trigonometry, in which it was because I was awful at it), they were high enough that I could safely justify holding down said job without bringing my grades down any. Some kids get part-time jobs to buy themselves cars, while others get said jobs to save up for college. I got a part-time job because I wanted to be able to buy my own video games, which is an explanation so lame in hindsight I want to reach back in time and give my teenage self a swirlie.
“My very first paycheck was a thing of beauty to me, and shortly after cashing it, I found myself standing in the local KB Toys, staring at the wall of video games, wondering anxiously what I should buy. After perusing the selection of games for the better part of ten minutes, I finally settled on two games, one because I had been wanting it for forever, the other because I was vaguely curious about it. The latter ended up being one of my ten favorite video games ever in the lost Hideo Kojima classic Snatcher, while the former would, of course, be Phantasy Star IV.
“Needless to say, I didn’t regret either one.
“Now, here’s the thing: Phantasy Star IV isn’t the greatest RPG ever. It might not even be the greatest Sega RPG ever. I’m also not exactly sure what Alex means when he describes it as the first truly epic RPG ever, either, but I don’t even know if it’s entirely that. But it IS the culmination of all of the events of the series up to that point, done in such a way that both casual players with little to no knowledge of the franchise and die-hard fans of the games alike could sit down, play through the game, and walk away from it satisfied that they’d experienced something wonderful, and over a decade later, it still is. The plot, clichéd though it is, is done in such a fashion that it works not only in spite of but also because of its clichéd nature, and the end result is compelling and enjoyable. The gameplay is largely what fans of the genre would expect from such a game, though it has its own interesting quirks (including team-up attacks over a year before Chrono Trigger debuted and an interesting way of keeping players from having to pick and choose their teammates by writing team members into and out of the plot as needed). The visuals, though dated at this point, are still charming and colorful whether you’re seeing them for the first or the fiftieth time. The game is also rather challenging, and not just in the level up for five hours until you can tackle the next dungeon sort of way that so many RPG’s of the time were, but in an enemies will combine or team up to deal more damage so you need to isolate weak links and end them way that modern RPG’s have begun to embrace more readily as time has gone on.”
William Kaye IV: I easily count this as my favorite Phantasy Star. Tons of memorable characters, a long and epic plot that (mostly) doesn’t contradict any of the previous entries, a fantastic battle system, this game was pretty much everything I was looking for when I was a teenager. It may have been a tad too long, in retrospect, but that’s really the worst thing I can say about it.
Ashe Collins: While I came late to the party with this one when it came out in a Genesis collection, I can see why it has gotten its accolades over the years. My first real exposure to Phantasy Star as a series was on the PSP with Phantasy Star Portable, and while I enjoy the PSP title very much, there is a lot more substance in the older 2D titles and Phantasy Star IV is no exception. I actually prefer this title to the others in the original series for a variety of reasons and I defintiely think it makes the cut for the Hall of Fame.
Christopher Bowen: So what was the best RPG of the 16-bit era? The answer to that question is subjective, of course. Some have different opinions, others have their own, we debate, and it becomes the vaunted Console Wars all over again, only with the elite supernerds of both armies fighting like Newtypes in the last few episodes of a Gundam series. There would be a lot of votes for the Final Fantasy games, as well as for Chrono Trigger, and a few outliers for games like Lufia, but the list would be largely dominated by Super Nintendo games, and maybe a Sega CD game like Lunar.
It’s too bad, because the system that holds my personal choice wasn’t renowned for RPGs. The Genesis had Phantasy Star, Shining, Beyond Oasis for the Zelda-loving crowd, and that’s about it. SquareSoft didn’t deal with the Genesis, and that was that. It’s sad because Phantasy Star IV, to me, was the best JRPG of that era, which is saying a lot considering my love affair with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI.
Consider what PSIV did. As the past seventeen years have shown, it closed the book definitively on a beautifully written trilogy (I know there are four Phantasy Star games, but even a PSIII fan like myself can’t say it was canonical) that enamoured gamers over two console generations with a clear ending and some outstanding tie-ins to prior games. It took the gameplay elements that made Phantasy Star II worth the massive purchase price back in the day, and streamlined them perfectly. It combined the elements of linearity via the story and optional side quests very well, so that the story didn’t completely bore and overwhelm players. Finally, it had a plot twist that put Aerith’s death to absolute shame, meaning that the Phantasy Star series not only showed the Final Fantasy fans how it was done years before FFVII came out, they did it twice.
No game perfected gameplay and story like Phantasy Star IV did in the 16-bit era. I’d even put it against the best JRPGs of all time. It’s why we, as Phantasy Star fans, scream for any little morsel that Sega Sammy Holdings can give us, despite the fact that this game wrapped up the original series completely and totally. We don’t even know what we want sometimes, we just know we want more of this, and less of Online. It’s like if Nintendo went ahead and made their 3D Zelda games, while never making another classic-styled Zelda game after A Link to the Past; that’s how we feel about this series and what Sega Sammy Holdings has done to it. Again, I make sure to call them on that in order to detail “â€ up front “â€ when things changed for the worst, and to show just what a horrible company Sammy is. For God’s sake, we can’t even get the Sega Ages remakes!
We scream like this because we haven’t seen anything since Phantasy Star IV, even after a few console generations. The RPG perfection we had back then, and our clamouring since, make this an easy Hall of Fame nomination for me.
This section cannot grasp the true form of the awesomeness that is Phantasy Star IV. Clearly.
Result: 8 In Favour, 0 Opposed, 100% Approval = ACCEPTED
Conclusion: Our eighth entry into our Hall of Fame comes in with one-hundred percent approval. Amazing “â€ that says it all. It’s also proof enough that, even after more than a decade, Phantasy Star IV remains a well-remembered game. A crowning achievement if we ever saw one.
Next Week: Our next nomination takes us to a tropical island blanketed in jungle, and to one of the first instances wherein a 2D platformer was rendered in 3D “â€ or at least something that closely resembled it. Is good looks all this game has going for it, though, or is it great enough to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame?