Many call the 16 bit era the golden age for Japanese role playing games. In Japan the 'Dragon Quest' series had become a national obsession, a fire fueled by Square's 'Final Fantasy' games. Their success inspired no shortage of copycats developers and at the genre's peak, Japan saw a couple of games a month - though most were of questionable quality. In America RPGs still had a niche audience but a smaller fan base didn't prevent the US getting the best the East had to offer; many of which continue to be considered the greatest games of the era, if not of all time.
It was rejected by fans explaining why the fourth and critically most acclaimed game, 'Phantasy Star IV' is much closer to the second rather than third game in the series. As such it doesn't feel as innovative but instead it refines and builds on the ground work, ultimately becoming the best in the series as a result.
Now we have protagonists and supporting individuals who all have their own agendas. They are no longer generic heroes who simply decide to follow each other one day. Instead, they are varied, rounded people, with each getting a significant moment in the story. Alongside protagonists Chaz and Alys are Rika a naive clawed biological experiment and Gryz a powerful, blue-furred, axe-wielding warrior. There are the staple magic users; Raja, Kyra and Rune (whom seems somewhat popular with female players all told!) Also, with this being an JRPG with sci-fi undertones, we mustn't forget cyborgs Wren and Demi. They are by far the most interesting party additions simply because both play differently to the other characters. For example, neither can be healed by magic, instead both regenerate life by walking. Its touches like this that makes the 'Phantasy Star IV' line up so great and there's even an option for the party members to talk amongst each other and discuss the current objective. It may not sound like much but its a treat for those who take breaks from playing. I can't tell you the number of times I've started a gaming session and forgotten what I was doing. Every RPG needs this feature.
Manga-esque panels obviously gave the development team much greater scope to emphasise emotion, which traditionally is limited to at most static character portraits. Each of the games numerous plot twists are told through five of six still images, reminiscent of a modern visual novel to a certain extent. They are almost precursors to the cut-scenes that propel the stories of modern JRPGs and seemed revolutionary at the time. Other, now celebrated, games depend on the in-game graphics to advance the story . Though 'Chrono Trigger' had a wonderful cast of characters how the player saw them was influenced by box art, as the sprites were unable to present visual nuances. 'Phantasy star IV' though shows its characters in glorious close up detail in the story pictures and by the end of the game you feel like you have seen the protagonists from every conceivable angle.
The in-games character sprites are minuscule and could hardly convey emotion. After years of looking at Square protagonists with lovingly detailed in-game avatars, 'Phantasy Star IV's in-game assets look out dated and basic. The miles-above-overhead view resembles the original 'Phantasy Star' on the Master System, albeit with a bit more colour. Characters are so small they are hard to differentiate between and walking consists of two frames of animation. At least the backs of heads seen during battle scenes are larger with some detail, but were it not for the cut-scene stills you would be forgiven for having no idea what the main characters look like. Edge magazine were equally unimpressed. In a review they said that 'Phantasy Star IV' "while still a good game, is years behind." They were of the opinion that other RPGs were evolving the genre in both graphics and game play but 'Phantasy Star IV' "still fundamentally looked and played the same as 'Phantasy Star II' from five years before [...] with nothing that goes above or beyond the previous titles". EGM Magazine's reviewer agreed. "I must admit, from first glance this game just didn't look too great" he said. "I thought the graphics should have been cleaner and less dithered [there's a] lack of graphic detail". People now praise the visuals in 'Phantasy Star IV' but were it not for the images used to tell the story, the very idea of calling this game "beautiful" or "stunning" would be laughable.
However, the vehicles you use do not increase in strength as you level up your characters. The end result is godlike characters being killed by mid-strength enemies simply because the option to escape from battles isn't always available when in the Sand Rover or Ice Cruiser. Seeing a game over screen because you haven't grinded is par for the course in a JRPG, but having one foist on you is downright insulting.