For those reading one of my Genesis review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed a bunch of SNES games, so its natural that I am going to review the games of its prime competition. Does the SEGA Genesis stand a chance against the legendary SNES library?
My review series is based on the top 100 list of Retro Sanctuary
-If you have any suggestion of a game that is not in the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Without further ado, here is:
2: Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
First things first, I am changing my rating system to better rate different genres according to their own rules. It will still be from 50 quality points, but every title will start from 25 and earn/lose points according to criteria important to the titles and genres themselves.
During the 16bit console wars, the Phantasy Star series was the Genesis answer to the various excellent RPGs of the SNES, and it was fighting a mostly lonely battle in its side.
Phantasy Star II was a good game but with significantly dated design, and PSIII had great ideas but its execution was a little off.
Only with Phantasy Star IV does the Genesis have an RPG that can stand toe to toe with the SNES greats. It manages to fix most of the issues plaguing the two games before it, while also improving in all other areas.
"Four bells tolled. Four torches were lit. And the world continued for thousands of years..."
The most obvious improvement PSIV has over its predecessors is in its story. While it can be said that the story is actually much simpler and straightforward than both PSII and PSIII, it unfolds in a significantly better way.
In dialogue, character development, and world building, PSIV is a game that showcases the growth in videogame narrative during the fourth generation.
It starts with the now basic premise of "hunters" stumbling into a mission that turns out much bigger than they initially thought. Soon, it becomes apparent that more than simple monster raids are at stake, and Chaz and his mentor Alys find themselves fighting to save the entire Algo solar system.
Uniquely for its time, the story unfolds both in regular text dialogue and some comic book style "cut-scenes". These manage to tell the story in a more dramatic way, and they are an early precursor to the more cinematic scenes from today.
Here is where gaming narrative started to greatly evolve
Surprisingly, the story-despite being a tad simplistic-is actually pretty good. In fact, it manages to have one event in it that predates another iconic JRPG event, making me actively care about the characters involved.
There is some annoying development for Chaz at the end of the story, and there can always be a better interaction between the different characters. However, that's just a small detraction of what is otherwise a very good story.
Good Story and Setting: +4
Good Character Development: +3
Good Dialogue and Cut-Scenes: +3
"Only after the destruction that we can create a new world"
In its gameplay, PSIV is a basic JRPG. You go from town to town, dungeon to dungeon, fighting enemies in turn-based battles. These battles are going to take the majority of your time. Generally, the difficulty curve is acceptable, and even a little bit in the easier side. A simple forward march will have you with enough level for the majority of the game. Otherwise, a simple trek to some of the handful of optional dungeons would be enough.
Battles are turn-based, with the Agility stat deciding who plays first. With five characters at a time, there are different roles for each character to take. Regular enemies usually can be defeated with auto attacking, with the occasional group frizzed by a spell.
Bosses in the other hand require to throw everything you have at them. Meaning to simply pummel them with magic and skills.
Bosses are where you start throwing everything and the kitchen sink into battles
One unique mechanic I saw in the game is the ability to craft an auto-attack micro. Each micro has specific commands, and choosing the macro would unleash all commands with one press instead of individually doing it for each character. You can even make a macro with a goal of creating some special combination attacks which are very helpful.
This time around, the encounter rate is mostly decent, but sometimes ramps up to obnoxious heights. Battles are fast though, so its rarely a problem. Certainly, I would suggest increasing the message speed to the max.
The battles are not the most involved affairs, and its a mostly very basic system. However, its fully serviceable, and the variety of characters and skills at least adds the illusion of depth to it.
Battles are OK +2
Multiple Characters: +2
"So I've wrought destruction on Motavia. What's wrong with eliminating worms?"
While this game greatly improves on its predecessors is never way, it still retains some of the archaic design choices of the past. One thing I am glad is gone are the labyrinthine mazes of the past, so that's one thing that vastly improved.
What didn't improve much is the archaic menus, while much better than before, are still obtuse. With no information on what spells or items do, you can only consult a guide to know what Tsu, Deban, or Res does. And with over 60 spells, skills, and items, its difficult to remember everything.
Even the characters get confused by what their spells and skills do
Even if it doesn't take forever to heal your characters like it did before, these design choices still irritate and waste some time. Also, the game's final dungeon (Which is mercifully brief) is almost offensive to the eye and should be accompanied with a seizure warning.
Caveman Design: -3
"Chaz, from now on you have to carve out your own destiny"
Outside of the final dungeon in the game, the graphics are impeccable for the time, featuring some of the best work on the Genesis. While the sprite design carries from the same style as PSII ad III, everything looks better.
That's of course most apparent when seeing the cut-scenes, which feature some excellent quality of anime-like interaction. Yet, its also apparent is some of the little touches in the game world. For example, a religious fanatic writhing in the ground with holy ecstasy.
One thing I especially liked are the battle backgrounds, which change depending on the area you are battling in; adding a level of attachment to the actual game world. Of course, the usual suspects of re-skinned enemies and such is ever present, but that it is to be expected.
The sprite design is among the best on the SNES
Musically, the game performs well. Outside of the main theme of the game, it doesn't have a great number of memorable music. However, its a solid soundtrack that utilizes the best of the Genesis's capabilities even if it cannot rival the SNES's best.
Of note is how effective the music is utilized in some key scene; adding another dimension to them that is stronger than voice acting in its emotional power.
Very Good Graphics: +5
Good Soundtrack: +3
While PSII and III were both ambitious RPGs with some noticeable faults, the fourth game is truley where it all comes together for Sega. Here is a RPG to rival the SNES's best, and that's a great testament to its quality regardless of whether it succeeds or not.
From what I played in the Genesis, this is this the only RPG in the system that have not aged beyond playability. Instead, while it has some apparent faults, that does not overshadow and ontherwise enjoyable game.
The game can actually be funny sometimes in its dialouge
1- Always buy the newest equipment.
2- Make sure to do the hunter guild missions.
3- Consult a guide for what each spell and skill do.
4- Scour the area for optional dungeons (or the net).
5- Keep Android characters in the front, and mages in the back.
6- Utilize combination attacks, and save them as part of your macro.
7- To pull of a combination attack, make sure the slowest character acts first.
Now I am almost done, and the last games are clearly the cream of the crop. Phantasy Star IV is the only Genesis RPG that can even be compared to the SNES library, and it doesn't disappoint.
Next game at #1 is Sega's third Sonic game on the system, Sonic the Hedgehog 3. I liked the first Sonic game and loved the second. Generally, people debate whether the third is the best or not. This is the time for me to decide, and with it finish this review series with a bang.
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