Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium is an ambitious JRPG that is the perfect end to the series, taking the best elements of each of the previous games and weaving together a “phantastic” journey. It easily goes toe to toe with its more famous Square contemporaries like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. Coming after the radical departure from the series Phantasy Star III was with its medieval setting and art style, PSIV (1993 JP, 1995 US) was a welcome return by Director Rieko Kodama and her Sega team to its science fiction roots. It also exemplifies how to do a sequel, as PSIV doesn’t shy away from its ties to the previous games the way III did, but instead, embraces them.
Fiction and Excerpts 
Following the dark, violent, alternate history of United States of Japan delving into the tragedies of WWII, I thought why not follow up with a fun comedy adventure? Malleable Realities is the longest thing I’ve written, both in length, and time it took me. Time is relative, right? But 14 years for one book? A younger me would have been incredulous if he knew it was going to take this much time.
I love games, and have spent most of my life playing them in one form or another. I’ve worked for two game companies and have been involved in development with different hats ranging from manual writer to technical director. So when I was writing United States of Japan, one of my favorite parts was imagining what video games would be like in an alternate history where the Japanese Empire ruled. Speculative works can always push the boundaries, and as early consoles were intertwined with military research, I pushed gaming technology ahead twenty years from where it was in 1988 in our world, considering Japan would no longer need to undergo two decades of reconstruction. One of those changes involved Yakuza-sponsored gaming tournaments where players put everything on the line. Not like Running Man, but more akin to a virtual first person shooter match where the loser loses their life.
Here are five other books that also have games with deadly consequences.
Series: Five Books About…
We’re proud to present an excerpt from Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan, a spiritual successor to Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, out March 1 from Angry Robot Books.
Most of United States of Japan takes place in 1989 following Captain Beniko Ishimura in the office of the censor and Agent Akiko Tsukino, member of the Tokko (the Japanese secret police). Los Angeles is a technological mecca, a fusion of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Tokyo. During WWII, one of the biggest weaknesses the Japanese Empire had was its dependency on oil to which it had very little access. After their shared victory with the Germans, they prioritized developing solar energy and electrical batteries for all their vehicles. That sensibility is reflected in the entire aesthetic of this new Los Angeles, clean, pristine, grand, and gleaming in neon. At the same time, I wanted to contrast this by showing the dark origins of the USJ. To do this, I felt it was important to know what happens in the direct aftermath of the Japanese Empire’s victory in WWII. This was in part influenced by a visit I made to the Japanese American Museum in San Jose, learning about (and being horrified by) the history of what happened back then. This opening chapter takes place forty years before the events of USJ and is about Ben’s parents who were locked away in a Japanese-American Internment Camp, waiting to find out their fate. —Peter Tieryas
I can name so many JRPGs I love, but if you asked me to tell you their endings, I’d honestly struggle to remember. Most of them blend into each other in a huge canvas of predictable outcomes that usually result in the hero saving the world, various party members going back to their respective homes, and the protagonist uniting with their love interest. Phantasy Star II was a trailblazer for having a totally unique experience that left me literally at the edge of my seat. I’d even put it up there with some of the best endings in any medium that includes Use of Weapons, the original Planet of the Apes, and Hitchcock films like Vertigo and Psycho. When it comes to gaming, titles are sparse for truly amazing endings (that includes contemporary games as well). But ask almost anyone who has beaten Phantasy Star II and they’ll be able to recount the final scene back to you in detail.
Phantasy Star II is one of the greatest JRPGs of the 16-bit era. Its first act was sublime and tragic, a narrative arc that pushed the envelope of storytelling while stirring my 12-year old soul. The second act was less endearing, more of a teenage tribulation wrought with grinding than a genre defining experience. Here is the second part of the Phantasy Star II retrospective where I get a little more into the future of humanity.
When the topic of the best 16-bit Japanese role-playing games comes up, most people think of the Squaresoft games like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. But my favorite 16-bit JRPG was a game developed by Sega for the Genesis called Phantasy Star II—one of the first JRPGs to take place entirely in a science fiction setting. The quest spanned two planets, had a cast of eight characters, and featured dramatic twists that made for some dark commentary on human nature. It also set the stage for titles like Xenogears and Star Ocean with its futuristic take on JRPGs, rather than the fantasy background almost all had before then. I’ll delve into what makes Phantasy Star II so special, starting with one of the first utopias in gaming.
Silent Hill 4: The Room is the best Silent Hill game after the second one and one of the most original horror games ever developed. If SH4 hadn’t been part of the Silent Hill series, it’d probably be considered one of the most unique games in the genre. Part of what makes it so distinct is that it goes against the formula of what we’d come to expect of the series. Many gamers, including myself, were initially turned off by how drastically it had changed. But once the expectations faded, a horrifying experience awaited, unrelenting in its oppressive terror.
Welcome back to the replay of Chrono Trigger! Last time we covered the destruction of Zeal, and ended with your first major battle with Lavos…
It’s a trope that the older we get, the more we fear death. All these years later, Crono’s death during that first confrontation with Lavos still shocks me. Usually, the repercussions of any gaming death are easily fixable with a continue or extra life. He’s the main character. He’s not supposed to die, right? But no, Crono was really dead. For a silent hero, Crono’s actions sang volumes just by his willingness to sacrifice himself without a moment’s hesitation. Even Magus, the arch villain until that point, appears shocked. And if you’re strong enough, you can go fight Lavos again without Crono and beat the game.
Welcome back to the replay of Chrono Trigger! Last time we covered the first section of the game, leading up to the battle with Magus. Today we’ll get to the single greatest moment in my 16-bit gaming experience—discovering the Kingdom of Zeal 12,000 years into the past. Coming right after the plunge into a prehistoric 65 Million BC and stopping the Reptites attempt to wipe out humanity, this ice age was a cold awakening. Snow blasting across your face, a destitute, miserable arctic landscape. Then, paradise, a city in the heavens, grander than ‘a castle in the sky.’
The music was arcane, mysterious, and yet full of hope. The technology and artistry complemented each other perfectly, just as magic had driven the culture to new heights. Zeal was where “dreams could come true.” I was both confused and in awe. How did this world connect with the rest of Chrono Trigger? Sages and strange creatures challenged me with ontological questions about existence. Trivial human needs were scoffed at. Objects I’d seen in the future had their roots here. More than any world in gaming, I wished I could travel here.
Chrono Trigger is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, JRPG of all time, and for good reason. It’s a unique mix of Dragon Quest’s quirky but epic narrative, Final Fantasy’s character driven journeys, Dragon Ball’s visual aesthetics, Ninja Gaiden’s cinematic flair, and some of the best retro music ever composed.
So it’s surprising that when you break down the plot structure and examine the individual story elements, it’s actually rife with fantasy tropes. The princess disguising herself as a commoner to mingle with the people; the heroic quest undertaken without any consideration of the larger context; and an apocalyptic end of the world scenario these young heroes have to overturn. I realize a trope is different from being trite or cliche. At the same time, the combination of these seemingly overused elements is, strangely enough, part of Chrono Trigger’s brilliance, its almost intangible cohesion that has never been emulated, not even in its underappreciated sequel, Chrono Cross.
At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward that the Super Mario Brothers games are a fantasy series. They take place in a fantastic world with dragons, princesses, and magic mushrooms. The RPGs in the series have all the typical role-playing elements of a fantasy game. But when you look at the entire franchise, particularly the Super Mario Galaxy games, it seems almost certain that the game is science fiction, or at the least, science fantasy. Here are five reasons revolving around specific titles in the series that prove the Super Mario Brothers are works of science fiction.
Some say gaming transports us to other worlds. With outsourcing and digital forms of communication becoming so advanced, will there come a day when we won’t even need to leave our homes? Work from your house, communicate with friends via Google Hangouts, buy groceries online, then stream all your games and movies. One of the greatest legacies the Romans left behind was their amazing network of roads connecting the Empire together. Will future nations showcase their advancement by their complete lack of roads?
In anticipation of this car-less future, we’ve put together a list of the strangest modes of transportation for protagonists in non-driving games… starting with a shoe.
The Louvre Museum in Paris is an architectural marvel, a palace built upon, renovated, and expanded from its origins as a fortress. Even awe would be an understatement to describe the feeling exploring its vast wings, its incredible Pyramide du Louvre, not to mention the most epic collection of artwork on display in the world. The first time I visited, I got completely lost, in part, because it’s one of the world’s largest museums at over 652,000 square feet. In between trying to track down the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Egyptian antiquities, my legs gave out after a half a day of hapless wandering.
The second time I visited (which was almost ten years later), I had a much better experience, knowing exactly where I wanted to go, even getting a good grasp of its layout. This wasn’t the result of having learned my way around during my first visit, but rather because I had the official Nintendo DS Louvre Guide to lead me, complete with a GPS and 3D Imaging designed specifically for the museum (on rent for just five Euros at any of the booths).
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (QOTA) is an open world RPG in which the main goal is to be a good person. There’s no archvillain to defeat (Mondain, Minax, and Exodus have already been vanquished), no world that needs saving, not even a prince or princess to rescue. This was unlike any of the RPGs of the time, a narrative device that even now seems revolutionary. I can’t imagine a book, film, or TV series without a principal foe—what would the story arc even be like? In QOTA, you help people, meditate, explore Britannia, and focus on self-enlightenment.
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