The choice is yours!
Hi, everybody! I’d like to introduce myself as the newest addition to RandomNPC! You might know me from here or there on this big Internet, but if not, my name is Matthew Demers, and I’m a Ph.D. student in math at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. I’m thrilled to be a part of the team, and I’m hoping to review a few more games over the weeks to come. Stay tuned!
It’s been someteen years since Dragon Quest IV was first quietly unleashed upon North America under the Dragon Warrior IV moniker. It has returned, however, as a “Quest” instead – this time for the Nintendo DS. While a few things have changed for the better, the game is, all-in-all, exactly what one might expect from a Dragon Quest game, and will probably do little or nothing to change anyone’s mind on what they may think of one of the world’s best-selling RPG series.
The Dragon Quest series, as many gamers know, is a traditional RPG series in nearly every sense of the term. From the first-person battles to the sprawling overworld to the ability to go through just about any townsperson’s chests of drawers without being arrested, the games tend to feel familiar from the first steps of the quest to the last. While Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is no exception to this rule, there are plenty of interesting twists in store to try and shake up the formula a bit.
For example, one of these twists is in the way the very story is told. The game begins with a brief introduction to the emerald-haired hero of the game and his idyllic life in a secluded town, but the setting quickly changes to another storyline that at first seems completely unrelated. As a royal soldier named Ragnar McRyan, the gamer must determine what mysterious happenings are causing children to disappear from the “bonnie” kingdom of Burland. After a short bit of questing, the setting changes again and the game follows a new, seemingly unrelated storyline. And then again. And yet again. In this way, over the course of four short chapters, players have the opportunity to get to know a total of seven heroes who are each adventuring for their own unique purposes. In the much meatier fifth chapter, the storylines converge and the previous heroes, along with the main character, fight together as one. Thus, while the game’s story isn’t as complex or multi-layered as some gamers might like, it is at least one that is interestingly and uniquely told. New to the remake, unlike in the original release, there is an additional “chapter” and bonus dungeon to explore even after the game is finished, giving avid fans a little bit of incentive to complete the game once again.
|The visual style of 2-D sprites on 3-D backgrounds works remarkably well.|
Unfortunately, missing from the remake are any new cutscenes or extended conversations with characters who are vital to the plot; as in the original, most of the story is told through conversations with random NPCs. Thus, gamers who care very little about talking to everyone are likely to get just as little out of the storyline. This dialogue is generally a charm to experience, though, bolstered by a very finely-carved translation. While the original version was localized quite cleanly, the remake features a downright nifty translation, from the jokes embedded in the new monster names to the carefully-crafted accents native to different parts of the huge world. It might seem like a small detail, but it’s a nice touch that is very welcome.
Dragon Quest IV, for the most part, plays easily as it comes. It isn’t hard to select commands or move characters around or fight battles. Despite this, most gamers will feel a little disheartened at the fact that the menu screen is a little bit awkward to maneuver; the welcome updates of Dragon Quest VIII‘s menu system, while present, feel oddly kludgy in comparison on the DS. Also, in spite of the fact that there exist big juicily-styled command buttons in battle, and the fact that the whole body of the game takes place on the bottom screen of the DS, Dragon Quest IV possesses no touch-screen support. It doesn’t necessarily hurt the game any, but it seems almost disappointing. In terms of interface, the game merely gets the job done, and doesn’t go beyond at all.
Traditional Japanese RPGs usually feature tons of random battles, and Dragon Quest IV fits the bill here too. The options in this turn-based battle system are simple: either attack, defend, run away, or use a special technique. After inputting commands, a round of combat will progress, roughly in accordance with the speed of characters present in battle. If the enemies die, characters gain experience and gold. If the characters die, they get sent back to the last place the player saved but with all items, experience, and levels intact. The price for this is half of the gold the party was carrying at the time of death. Luckily, this is often of little significance, since money can be stored without risk of loss at a bank for much of the game, or if the party holds the very useful strongbox. New spells and abilities are obtained through gaining levels, which incidentally isn’t a major problem in this game; the “level grind” is not a grind that is commonly needed in Dragon Quest IV, except possibly at a couple of tough spots. Battles will generally seem overly simplistic and repetitive at the beginning of the adventure, but they quickly become more complex and interesting as new heroes join the crew. Indeed, with eight of them in the fifth chapter, the game expands to include a Final Fantasy X-like option to swap out characters immediately at any time during combat, adding a very welcome extra layer to the strategy. Additionally, players always have the option of setting any or all characters to follow specific strategies, getting the AI to control them; these options do work fairly well, generally. As always, players who are turned off by the idea of random battling have the option of sprinkling holy water or casting spells to reduce the encounter rate. The encounter rate, however, is fairly low in the first place – much lower than it was in the original – and for that reason, the game is markedly easier than its NES incarnation. Battles, however, are generally inoffensive, and are fairly snappy in terms of speed, especially when the message speed is turned up through the game’s “Settings” menu.
Dragon Quest IV has received a considerable facelift in this DS remake. While the game looks quite a bit like its ugly PlayStation brother, Dragon Warrior VII, the graphical style actually suits the handheld perfectly. The gingerbread-house visuals and purposefully-uneven walls and the not-quite-perfect-and-actually-kind-of-jaggy-edged trees are all very attractive, and the two-dimensional sprites mesh surprisingly well with the three-dimensional environment. The visual presentation in battle is fun too, including lively monster animations and vivid spell graphics. There are also character close-ups and item graphics that were not present in the original version. And again, while these sound like small touches, they really do help to bring the game to life.
|Combat becomes increasingly strategic as the game progresses.|
Musically, Dragon Quest IV is also quite wonderful, with a variety of rich overworld themes and five different battle themes to hear over the course of the game. This remake even features a few new tracks that were not present in the NES version of the game, including an exciting brand-new boss theme, all of which blend seamlessly into the original package. Regretfully, none of these new tracks are additional town themes; the single piece of town music used in the game, while bouncy and enjoyable, is a little overused. The cave music, however, is aptly mysteriously creepy-sounding, the castle music sounds austere and serious, and most of the background sound in the game helps to create a very fitting atmosphere. It’s all stuff that a gamer would and should expect from a traditional RPG, but all of it is above-average in terms of quality; Koichi Sugiyama certainly created a classic soundtrack for this classic RPG. Gamers would be well-advised to play with headphones, or else risk missing out on some of the heartiness of the rich sound. Interestingly, the simple boop and bleep sound effects that are native to all Dragon Quest games never seem out of place; perhaps it is because the game is so shamelessly “retro-styled” to begin with.
Dragon Quest IV comes with a Quicksave feature, but it is quite strangely available only on the world map. This is a bizarre oversight, especially given that the game requires the player to save at towns and castles anyway. In fact, attempts to use the Quicksave anywhere but on the overworld results in a somewhat lengthy and somewhat condescending message outlining the other options that the player has available, such as saving at a church the old-fashioned way or closing the DS to put it in sleep mode. While it doesn’t really detract from the game significantly, it is a curious and somewhat irritating oversight.
Despite its few shortcomings, however, Dragon Quest IV is exactly the kind of game that fans of the bread-and-butter, traditional, turn-based RPG will love. It has it all, with a simple-yet-strategic battle system, an enormous world to explore, and a lively presentation. People who are looking for something new or innovative may not come away completely empty-handed either, with the unique storytelling method and the intricacies of strategizing when it comes to the more complex battles later on in the game. Despite these little morsels of uniqueness, though, Dragon Quest IV is, at the end of the day, a Dragon Quest game, and that’s exactly what gamers who are already familiar to the series should expect.