Speaking of, techs and skills are handled interestingly here. Techs functions as traditional spells with a TP-bar to utilize spells from, and each costs a set amount. Just like HP, TP must be restored from inns or items. However, skills work rather like spells in tabletop-RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons or the original Final Fantasy for NES, where you only have a set amount of times you can utilize each individual skill, before they must be recovered with a good night’s sleep. Both are useful, but are based on mechanical abilities, special skills or magic, providing tons of interesting capabilities to experiment with and create solid strategies through.
Another interesting take on the formula, is how party-members differ whether they are android or human such as how they heal differently, uses different objects or skills, and how they react to spells and attacks differently. Through this, it gives more subtle elements to consider for preparing for fights, alongside with stats and what role each party member can fulfill.
Phantasy Star 4 goes back to a familiar setup, where you choose what a character should do towards which enemies/characters and this is quite a change from previous entries, oddly enough. The diverse amount of fighters and their abilities makes combat engaging due to the fact that you are encouraged to use both techs and skills for different means, blocking is a valid option, and enemies come in a huge variety. Mechanical soldiers that buff their comrades, slimy monsters that can combine to become bigger versions of themselves, and many different intriguing fiends like these, always keep you on your toes. The same attention to detail goes for the bosses, as they are dangerous and come with different attacks and gimmicks, making them forces to be reckoned with, but never feels unfair to the point of where endless grinding will be required.
In fact, you can input different macros, which are sets of commands for each characters to do for one turn. You can either make everyone attack, some use skills or techs, and other combinations that are beneficial. This cuts down grinding tremendously, and while there is not much of it in the campaign, gaining experience points is important and thus: you should not run away from most encounters unless you have to. Combine this simple auto-setup with how fast battles are with the many options to take into consideration, fights are always fun and addicting.
What also makes battles fun besides this, are the hidden combos. By combining abilities through selecting them in turns, you can create stronger spells such as blizzards or lazer-beams, always making it a surprising and neat boost when a combo appears. This is not always guaranteed to work, but it makes you engaged to try out new combinations, adding more to the already extensive moves your characters have.
On your journey, you will also pilot three different vehicles, and while they are used to get you only through specific areas that can make them feel limited in use, they are helpful at discovering new areas to venture through. You do move fast on foot alone, but these can make you speed through anything, and even have their own take on the combat. They come with their own huge lifebar and defence, a couple of tech-attacks, and one normal attack, but can only automatically heal outside of battle. Inside, you better bring your a-game as enemies are tough and demand that you are being aggressive, which is a lovely trade-off. Really, it is hard to choose between battling as the strongest warriors in the galaxy, or as a huge mech, due to how exciting both forms of battles can be.
While you will have to visit several different and vast planets, can take upon plenty of side-quests (including some by your own guild for fun sub-stories), and combat huge amount of enemies, Phantasy Star 4 can take roughly about 12-14 hours to beat. This is because Phantasy Star 4 knows to not have any unnecessary filler, make combat as involved as possible, and make sure the world is engaging to explore. This is really a marvel of how well a J-RPG can age, and while it has some unique ideas that are fantastic, Phantasy Star 4 rather focuses on being extraordinary as a traditional RPG, and succeeds beyond that.
Gameplay Score: 9.5/10
A return to its roots and blossoming stronger than ever
This is the best description I give Phantasy Star 4, as it takes rather inspirations from the original with a clear mix of both sci-fi fantasy and medieval fantasy, with attires of Japanese cultures combined with their take on the western fantasy. However, Phantasy Star 4 tries to go further with some clear updated technology and takes only sprinkles from the second and third game, in order to make something outstanding. Every character has a neat and memorable design, with attires being linked to either their status, cultural heritage, or work-place which is simply wonderful details. This makes not just the main-cast, but the general NPCs memorable as well due to their different styles, which is amazing.
Speaking of, the different locations are all brimming with colours, be it the tribe within Tonoe filled with blue creatures living in tents, the rich city of Aiedo that is hardly affected by the monsters roaming the world, or Termi with palm-trees and a statue dedicated to a certain heroine. These are just examples of the diversity you will meet through visuals alone, and it is impressive how this really feels like an actual universe that you are exploring. This also goes for the caves that are impressively varied, as they can be different forms of naturalistic or mechanical facilities, which is quite impressive. With all of this, they make sure the game never gets visually dull.
Everything is even animated, such as snow falling, the ocean hitting the shores, or even within combat-segments where backgrounds are moving, such as the flickering of machines. Speaking of, the high details of your crews’ attacks are engaging to watch and the enemies are no slacker in either design nor animations. They come in a huge variety, be they machines that fire bombs, insectoid-creatures that slice towards you, or one of the grotesque bosses that are difficult to describe. To top this all off, are the wonderful comic-book style panels to tell stories, making events effective and engaging. I also love the highly detailed character-portraits that all important NPCs get, and the adorable animations their sprites have on the overworld.
As for the soundtrack, the developers clearly knew what to do with the Genesis-sound chip. It focuses on clear bass for intense action, trying to mimic simple guitars or bells in towns and shops to make them peaceful, and even comes with an amazing remixed track from the first game in specific dungeons. All songs are long and varied to set the right tone, with fantastic attention to main and sub-instruments, which makes every track memorable. It is impressive that Izuho Numata returns from the third title alongside Masaki Nakagaki, and created a masterpiece soundtrack. Even the sound-effects are strong and effective to make every swing of melee-weapons, spell-casting or gunfire feel satisfying. I honestly do not know what they could have done to make this even better.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Phantasy star 4 does not just reach for the stars. It becomes a part of heaven. It hits all the right notes to make every element engaging, while still providing quality to every bit. The story knows how to be both huge and focused, everything has a clear personality to it, the presentation does everything it can with the Genesis, exploration is rewardful and intriguing, and the combat is familiar with lovely additions to give it the little spice it needs. Phantasy star 4 is an essential RPG to play for anyone who has an interest in video-games in general.