Designer of Phantasy Star IV Tells Why Weapons Attributes Are Hidden

One of the frustrations with JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Games) is the difficulty in finding out which weapons are the most powerful. Usually through trial and error you hope you have found the most powerful one. We at Geek Impulse searched for the answer and this is what we found from the designer of Phantasy Star IV.


Phantasy Star IV - Geek Impulse

Shmuplations, which is a website that famously finds and posts English versions of old Japanese interviews, posted about the role-playing game Phantasy Star IV, a classic to a retro gamer like us. The designer Rieko Kodama, who played a major role in Phantasy Star IV as well as other Sega classics, offered some interesting insights. One such insight was this: Even way back in 1993, she felt like RPGs were getting too user-friendly.


Here is what the designer said according to the English translation:

The first thing we worked on for PSIV was getting the details of the world and setting solidified. Take a single candle, for instance: we asked ourselves, would that be something you’d find in this world? Is there electricity? Do the windows have curtains, drapes, shades…? Just a lot of little details like that. For the characters, we figured out most of their personalities as we drew them. With each detail and bit of background we added to the characters, the story itself also expanded. The world of Phantasy Star IV came into view for us very incrementally.

During the game, however, those backstory elements aren’t made explicit. Much of it is kept secret on purpose, which is an experience we want players to have. The Phantasy Star series takes place on a different world, in a different age, so we want players to be asking “I wonder what that is…?” while they play. When they first see an Android, we want them to ask, “what in the world is this…?!” That’s also why we titled this game “Phantasy Star: End of the Millennium” instead of “Phantasy Star IV”.

I think recent RPGs have become too user-friendly. For example, if you buy a Battle Axe in a store, the game will plainly tell you that it gives “+20 power”. But I don’t like everything to be displayed in numbers like that. In order to preserve the integrity and illusion of the world we’ve so carefully built, I’d rather players just get an impression of the weapon being stronger because it is made of stronger material. We do display hit points, though, somewhat to my chagrin.

Honestly, if I could have my way, I wouldn’t use any human language for the monster names, or names of towns and places. I mean, Phantasy Star is the story of a completely different world, right? But of course, for players it won’t work to have a game that’s nothing but nonsensical, unintelligible words.


We think this is some valuable insight into the game and any RPG for that matter. Sometimes you think that perhaps when the story doesn’t include the information that perhaps they left it out for budget reasons. Phantasy Star IV is still one of those games that is fun to play even today.




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