PHANTASY STAR 4 / Sega / Genesis
It is a shame that the story-driven aspect of the Phantasy Star series was shitcanned with this one, as this was really the first game of the series to totally get all of its stuff together and incorporate the strengths of the previous games while shedding most of the weaknesses. After this, Sega decided to instead steer it into MMO territory, which certainly had its qualities, but plot was certainly not one of them.
Anyway, Phantasy Star 4 returns to the Algol Solar System setting of the first two games, albeit it hundreds of years after the events of Phantasy Star 2. What it adds to the mix are improved graphics, manga-style cutscenes that develop the story, a really kickin' soundtrack that plays well to the strengths of the rather crappy Genesis sound chip, a better translation and much more coherent plot than the previous games.
Nice touches - NPCs around the towns have better-than-average detail in their dialogue, and it seems that there's a higher-than-average rate of being able to inspect random background objects (even if you only see what people are reading and observe cleanliness level of their kitchens). You also have a Talk command available, which causes the party to speak amongst themselves about current events, and serves as a nice reminder of what is going on if you put the game down for a week or three before picking it back up (and which amusingly changes to MUMBL when there is only one person in the party). The manga delivery of important scenes and the much improved dialogue really fleshes out the characters much better than in previous games. And for all those tired of hearing people harp on about the genius of Grandmaroth running Whatshername through in the middle of Final Fantasy 7, the Phantasy Star games offed a major lead character not once, but TWICE before FF7 even began development.
Battle mode finally gets it all right here - you can program up to nine macros for combat, including forcing certain characters to take turns in a certain order. There's a combo system by which certain characters using certain attacks in a certain order will team up for more powerful special attacks, and the uniquely animated monsters of PS2 are combined here with the varied backgrounds of PS3.
The game seems to take a lot of cues from Lunar - it is brighter than the previous games, more animu/manga style, but it retains the core elements of the PS universe that is a nice alternative to typical Ye Olde Ren Fest Lande employed in most RPGs. The game is smooth and fast, and though it is pretty much a standard RPG formula, it is one of the best executions of it that there is. The challenge level is decent - monsters are tough enough that you have to be smart about healing and planning attacks in battle, but it is not so convoluted you have to grind for any length of time, yet not so simple that you can just mash the attack button through every dungeon. Battles aren't nearly as diverse as something like the Final Fantasy 6 battle system, but it's decent and you progress through the fights much more zippily.
* Gameplay Video