Released 12-22-08 / $8 / Version: Wii Virtual Console
Original Release: Genesis / 1995
Phantasy Star IV has the distinct legacy of being one of the most expensive games ever at the time of its North American release, with an original asking price of $99.99. The reason for the high MSRP? The game was absolutely enormous, coming in at a whopping (at the time) 24 megs (for reference, Phantasy Star II was 6), and made use of every megabit.
It’s apparent from the moment you start the game that an incredible amount of artistic and technical effort went into creating all aspects of the game’s aesthetic. From large character sprites, extremely detailed locations, and intricate creature designs to the famous manga-style panel cutscenes, Phantasy Star IV is simply one of the best looking titles on the Genesis. It’s also one of the best sounding. Each of the titles in the series (even the much-maligned third entry) have memorable soundtracks and Phantasy Star IV is no different, but the sound quality has never been as good as in PSIV, with a level of fidelity that puts the game’s music right up there with Squaresoft’s classic SNES efforts.
With all the technical pieces in place, the PSIV team (led by Rieko Kodama) was able to craft a vast role playing experience that tied together the “core” series games while also telling a story that could be understood and enjoyed by those who had not played PSI and II to completion. The story, despite its somewhat stilted translation and grammatical errors, manages to feel engaging and surprisingly moving, without ever being emotionally manipulative.
The narrative will take the ever-changing and likable party across large worlds (yes worlds, with a ‘s’) via all manner of transportation. The vehicle combat is fairly interesting, giving you a modified battle screen and attacks specific to each vehicle. That’s not to say the regular combat in the game is uninteresting, though. While most of Phantasy Star IV’s contemporaries have spells with functional names as ‘Fire’ and ‘Heal,’ PSIV keeps with series tradition and has its own language for naming spells. This not only makes casting a new spell feel like an exciting discovery, but also adds to the mystique and lore of the series.
These spells and character-specific techniques can be combined and made more beneficial by executing them in a certain order. After discovering these combinations, they can be stored in macros for one-click party actions during a turn. All of these innovations to the combat system in Phantasy Star IV were incredibly forward thinking at the time, making PSIV one of the most player-friendly 16-bit RPGs outside of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI.
Being a Wii Virtual Console release you can count on two things: perfect emulation and absolutely no frills. The game doesn’t/does disappoint on both levels. While the lack of region-swapping, online leaderboards, achievements/trophies, etc. are a bummer, the quick boot-up and absence of load times make this port a very “pure” experience. The in-game “Operations Guide” is instantaneous, attractive, concise, and helpfully explains what most spells and techniques do.
According to the Wii’s Nintendo Channel, my final playtime was 26 hours, which I think is pretty much a perfect length for a RPG. Of those 26 hours, I loved nearly every minute and can say without hesitation that Phantasy Star IV is certainly worth the $8 that it costs on Virtual Console.
Honestly, it’s worth $99.99.