I was certainly excited to get around to this one, especially given how much of a cliffhanger Phantasy Star II left me on, with Phantasy Star III choosing not to elaborate on that at all. Unfortunately, I don't think Phantasy Star IV does much to bring me the satisfaction I oh-so desired. Phantasy Star IV is a tough game to talk about because there are aspects of it which I love, but they combine with aspects which infuriate me, and the culmination is something I struggle to really have any strong feelings about on the whole.
The story is probably the biggest success here. I feel the first three games had wildly experimental ways of delivering their tales, which was cool in it's own way, but kept them from feeling complete. I mean, hell, the aforementioned Phantasy Star II ends at the climax of it's plot. Characters, as well, were all pretty standard, without any qualities beyond some basic characteristics. Phantasy Star IV is such a wild improvement here, as everything from the cast cohesion to the presentation within the cutscenes feels far removed from the amateurish feel the prior entries had. The writing is obviously not on par with the standards of today, but this is some bold and layered storytelling for a 1993 Sega Genesis game.
Actually playing through Phantasy Star IV is where the trouble arises. For the most part it's solid, however, the further you get into the game, the more some of the cracks start to show. The encounter rate doesn't feel consistent, which can lead to battles occurring far too frequently. This is especially troubling in some of the later dungeons which are exhaustingly long and complex. The Macro system is helpful for this, but so many of the best abilities have an extremely limited amount of uses without resting, whether that be because of MP cost or an actual number of times you're able to use something. Boss fights probably wouldn't be appropriately balanced if these were made easier to use, but it really takes a lot out of the fun I could have with random battles to be so limited. The Macro system also allows you to set up combo abilities, which is awesome, but not implemented in the best way. Whether or not your inputs trigger the combo attack seems to be random, so they can't really be used strategically, and from what I could tell, there isn't anything in-game to tell you what combos you can actually create. I could have just missed something though?
I think what really dug at me the most was the late-game difficulty spike. Towards the end of the game, you start operating with a party of four after having operated with a party of five for many hours. The game feels like it's still been balanced around having five members, as I was constantly running out of skills and MP to use to get through these battles. Worse was that Rune's HP had not grown with the rest of the party, so he kept getting one-shot until I put two shields on him to help him survive at least one hit (This didn't always prevent a one-shot death still). That the game insisted you operate in this fashion for so long, aside from one dungeon where you get a weak-ass party member who you don't even keep for that dungeon's boss, made me fucking tired. Like, not mad or upset, just exhausted from all the micromanaging I was forced to do. I get this appeal to an extent, but it killed the pacing of an otherwise great experience. The silver lining is that once I did get the option for a fifth character, I could pick Raja, who is overpowered as fuck. Maybe it was all worth it in the end. 3/6