The Algo solar system, somewhere in space... Once a brilliant civilization flourished here. The citizens devoted themselves to arts and the sciences, and life was prosperous and good.
Then a series of disasters struck. The system-wide management system, "Mother Brain", was destroyed. So was the first planet, Parma. Over 90% of the system's population died, and the advanced technological culture was lost. Society declined, spiraling downward, until at last only a few scattered groups even remembered there once were better times.
A thousand years passed.
At last, civilization is once more on the rise across the Algo system. People are again turning to thoughts of an easier life. Old knowledge is being rediscovered.
But just as things look brighter, beyond a threshold long thought closed, a dark and very ancient evil stirs...
Phantasy Star IV is a treasure trove of memorable characters and a dynamic plot. It is magically, inexplicably captivating. Most of all, it is consistently fun.
What prevents Phantasy Star's story from becoming a tired save-the-world escapade is the depth and emotional appeal of its characters. Far from being a primitive quest to save the universe, Phantasy Star IV is also a coming-of-age story, a tale of loyalty and corruption, millennia-old mystery, a gripping tragedy, and much more. Definitely, all of these are re-treads that don't break much new ground, but Phantasy Star IV possesses a unique power to make its characters so life-like that the gamer actually CARES about what happens to each and every one of them.
In addition, Phantasy Star IV also has the advantage of nostalgia. Even though this was the first Phantasy Star game I owned, I still felt this powerful sensation everywhere I went. At every turn the player notices reminders of ages past - statues, objects, places - that remind us of people who died long ago, but were clearly as human and likeable as the ones in your party.
Combined, these elements give Phantasy Star IV a unique, immersive atmosphere that grips the gamer and does not let go.
The graphics are decidedly appealing. The game utilizes the entire palette of colors to give each location its own feel. You will hardly find a generic town: each location has its distinguishing marks and a whole slew of NPCs. The sprites are to-scale with the buildings (though the buildings themselves do appear smaller on the outside than they really are).
The music, on the other hand, is one of the most astonishing scores I've heard. Gentle harmonica and tight techno tunes are memorable and dramatic (though hardly lugubrious). Frankly, I lack the words to describe it.
But onto the mechanics. Combat is very simple: you can have a maximum of five characters in your party at any given time, though characters join and leave as the plot develops. At the beginning of every round the player has the opportunity to enter the commands for the characters, choosing between attack, defend, items, techniques (MP-consuming magic) and skills (per-use magic), at which point actions resolve based on the characters' and monsters' speed.
Interestingly, every character has access to either techniques, skills or both. No round after round of mindless attacking here
(unless we're talking random encounters). Magic is varied and some spells come in gradations (Wat->Giwat->Nawat). There's the usual business of experience, gold, buying and selling equipment, etc. Random encounters come fast and furious, though they are usually over quickly and you have a handy option of escaping which usually succeeds.
Of course, since graphically PSIV is hardly next-generation caliber, combat ensues with a brief flash rather than a lengthy pre-rendered sequence.
What's original about combat in Phantasy Star IV are two things: you can program the actions each character will take before-hand in the form of Macros; and, when cast sequentially, some spells unite into much more powerful combination spells.
Like I said, Phantasy Star IV is uniquely immersive. It is one of the few RPGs that takes place on several planets and combines fantasy and science fiction elements. This RPG is definitely required playing if you own a Genesis (and a good excuse to buy one if you don't).