"A Slime draws near! Command?" The Dragon Quest series has been around for a long time, with the first game (1986 in Japan, 1989 in North America and titled 'Dragon Warrior') being considered one of the most influential games of all time (not just role-playing games but video games in general). This DS version (released in Japan 2007, worldwide 2008) is a remake of the fourth game in the series, Dragon Warrior IV on the NES (1990 in Japan, 1992 in North America). Though the game features vast improvements over the NES game in many ways (notably the graphics and sound), it still manages to retain much of the old-school RPG elements that have come to define the series in the first place. Gather your sword, Hero, and embark on your journey to save the world from evil once again!
The full title of the game, Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen, alludes to one of the most appealing aspects of the game and sets the game's story apart from other role-playing games (RPGs): the game is divided into five chapters, with each chapter giving you control over a different character (or groups of characters) separate from one another. This is all spelled out very clearly in the game's instruction manual:
In each chapter, the characters you control start out with their own purpose for setting out from the safety of their town/ village and embarking on a difficult quest. While there's seemingly no interaction between the characters from one chapter to the next, you could say 'fate' draws them together in such a way that, while not entirely satisfying (for reasons I'll jump into later), still manages to be compelling enough to keep you moving forward and wanting to discover what happens next. The first four chapters are short compared to the fifth chapter when you take control of the Hero at last, and I felt these four chapters did a great job of introducing the player to the game's world, its different play mechanics, and an opportunity to see each set of characters' origins. In total there are eight main characters who are 'the chosen' and eventually become permanent members of your party, with additional characters jumping in and out based on story progression. Within these eight characters you find the standard RPG character types, such as: the classic Warrior/ Soldier and Fighter/ Martial Artist (specializing in melee combat with no magic abilities), wizards (powerful magic attacks but weak physical attacks and no healing spells), and healers (decent physical attacks with great healing spells).
These eight main characters are certainly appealing and have some personality, but after setting up some interesting background story elements at the start of each chapter, the game doesn't go too in-depth with exploring the characters that much further. For example, Torneko (the merchant) leaves his wife and child for an extended period of time, and you would think that much later in the game, when he finally returns to his family, that switching him to the front of the party would result in some conversations between him and his family. All that really happens, however, is a couple of different lines of dialogue but nothing too dramatic. There's also not a lot of interaction between your own party members. I realize I cannot set my expectations too high for an older RPG (and early DQ game), so it's not a shortcoming in the game. Keep in mind this is my first Dragon Quest game after having finished Dragon Warrior for the NES, so perhaps later in the series, the games expand a bit further on character development. Then again, it's well noted that Dragon Quest stories tend to avoid melodrama and feature more simplistic characters compared to other series (like Final Fantasy). In general, it would have been exciting if new side quests opened (optional perhaps) that revolved around some of the characters other than the Hero. Then again, it may not make sense when the whole point of the game is to stop the evil that is unfolding in the world around them. Nothing else should really get in their way, I suppose!
A fun concept in the game worth mentioning is the fact that every different region you travel to throughout the world apparently has its own language or dialect. This is accomplished by having the text dialogue reflect actual spoken English as if it were being spoken by a non-native English speaker from different countries in the real world. For example, people in the town of Burland speak what resembles Scottish English, in Zamoksva there's a Russian dialect English, and in Lakanaba there's Irish English. Some random examples include:
--"Now I must to work hard for coming baby. Idleness is mother of all vices." (guy in Taborov)
--"I'm here tae collect ma wee bairn. Hopefully they should be done afore long." (lady in Strathbaile)
I'll admit, it can make for some confusing dialogue at times, but in general these dialects give the different regions a unique personality and greatly adds color to the dialogue, and I'm not sure it would have worked any other way other than having the dialogue actually spoken aloud (as I've heard is the case for some of the later Dragon Quest games).
As far as the visuals are concerned, this is a very lovely DS game to look at, and the polygonal environments shine, especially when you're rotating the camera and seeing everything swivel smoothly in full 360 degree rotations. The sprite-based characters blend quite nicely with these polygonal environments but their animation limitations become obvious and somewhat jarring when performing the aforementioned camera rotation. This is evident when your character's sprite suddenly switches from a front view to a side view.
The DS dual screens are put to good use throughout the game, and all of that extra space is rarely wasted. When walking in towns or dungeons, the world is displayed in extended vertical view on both screens. Combining this with camera rotation is an extremely useful tool during your travels as you are allowed to 'see' very far ahead (since this game uses the overhead view and your character remains on the bottom screen). Plus, there are no HUDs cluttering your view until you decide to open your menu. In most dungeons though, you're not allowed to rotate the camera. I can understand this restriction since the static camera harkens back to the old days of gaming where you couldn't be sure if you were headed down the right path or not, increasing the tension and uncertainty of surviving the onslaught of enemy attacks.
The top screen greatly expands your field of view, and you can easily rotate the camera
Then, when you're in the world map view, the two screens are used to display different map views. By default the top screen displays the entire world, with glowing dots representing each of the towns/ villages. (One complaint I have about this view is the inability to see town names displayed). You can press the Y button at any time and replace the world view with a different perspective showing a detailed view of your surroundings slightly beyond what you normally see as you walk around (this view has an art style I really like and looks hand-drawn).
World map display (left), alternate map view while you're in town (right)
All the enemies have very lively battle animations. Even when they're standing still, you have large monsters breathing heavily, ready to strike. The attention to detail is quite pleasing. Since you aren't viewing your characters directly during battle and only seeing the battle from their eyes, your own characters have no battle animations, but the developer still managed to add a small touch of detail by showing a different 'weapon swing' special effect depending on what weapon you're using ( a sword, claws, a lance, etc). The magic spell animations are well done, and aren't overly extravagant or drawn out longer than needed. For a turn-based RPG, battles flow quickly enough.
Battle complexity is more or less as expected for the typical Japanese RPG of this era: standard enemy battles are initiated through random encounters both in the overworld and in dungeons, and all battles are completely turn-based. You can only have four members of your party doing battle at any given time. During battle, you see your character's portrait (on the top screen) as well as their vital stats such as HP and MP. Later on in the game you'll be able to travel around using a horse-drawn wagon, which explains how you're able to travel with such a large crew even though only four members are allowed to fight at a time. The usefulness of the wagon becomes apparent when all party members receive the same amount of experience points, regardless of whether they participated in combat or not. You also essentially have all members available to help out in a pinch in case all your combatants are wiped out; party members resting in the wagon will automatically jump into the battle and carry on the fight. You can feel their determination to avenge their fallen comrades! Of course, there's a catch: you can't take the wagon with you everywhere, including most dungeons. When you're forced to leave the wagon outside, the strategy becomes carefully selecting which party members should venture within, since you can't swap members during battle (and only the four members you selected will earn experience points).
Standard battle view
As I mentioned earlier, you also have story-based characters who will jump in at specific instances and lend a hand before leaving your party once they reach their objective. These temporary characters are handled very well; although they cannot carry items or level up, this works in your favor when they suddenly leave since you don't have to worry about them taking off with precious equipment! They're also strong enough compared to your current party (for the most part) and really help out when you still haven't formed a large team yet.
The magic system in this game is basic, simple... but gets the job done. Every character will learn specific spells at certain levels automatically (several characters can learn the same spells, while others have exclusive spells). The magic system is based on a tried-and-true MP system, and you can simply rest at an inn to recover all your HP and MP. There are different kinds of spells of course, some that affect one target versus others that affect multiple targets. For example, the Heal spell only heals one person. You have to wait until you reach a much higher experience level before you can cast 'Multiheal,' which works on all party members. The same goes for attack spells, and in this category a new kind of nuance is introduced: Some magic attacks target one enemy, some will target a 'group of enemies', and some will target 'all enemies.' Just because you see five Slimes on the screen doesn't always mean you have one group of five Slimes; you may have one group of three and one group of two. I'm not sure how the game decides which enemies get grouped in creation ways, but it could be enemy dependent, and these groupings will greatly affect your strategy as you decide what attacks or spells you will use. On top of that, if you attack an enemy with a group, you can't target a specific enemy; you can only target the group. The A.I. is smart enough to choose wisely for you though and target the weakest enemy of the bunch (for the most part). I like this feature in a couple of ways: it adds a little bit of uncertainty to your attack patterns while at the same time alleviating you of having to make too many decisions during battle.
I do appreciate that you keep all your experience points even if you die, but lose half of your money. You can prevent losing your gold by depositing at the bank (unfortunately there is only one in the entire world! Very strange…). There's also a handy 'tactics' option where you can have characters battle a certain way ('Show no mercy,' 'Watch my back,' and more), though personally I always preferred having direct control over each party member. It's great the options are there nonetheless.
This game does a great job of encouraging exploration and making the journey for our heroes a lot less stressful. First of all, as you start to explore more of the world through the early chapters, you discover a very useful spell called 'Zoom,' which allows you to quickly warp to almost any town/ village you've already visited at the cost of a little MP. Around the same time you will also have the 'Evac' spell to quickly get out of any dungeon you're in. Then, more of the world starts to open up as you come across several kinds of vehicles (one I mentioned before is the horse-drawn wagon). However, depending on where you are in the game and what level you're at, you'll still be restricted on where you can go based simply on how powerful monsters in the area are. This game does offer a fairly linear path to follow despite the open-world nature. Like other Dragon Quest games, this opening up of the game world presents some frustration when you realize how unclear your next objective really is, many times because the one vital clue indicating what you should do next can only be obtained by talking to a specific NPC in some town you visited hours ago. There are at least 24 towns you can visit, making it difficult to track sometimes where you have visited or which town had the weapon shop. This is a good game to take your own handwritten notes if you wish not to lose sight of the objectives.
And just to note, certain items will encourage you to backtrack and explore the world even more, greatly adding to the longevity of the game (in a good way!). First of all, throughout the game you'll see numerous locked rooms containing treasure chests. Throughout the game you will find certain keys, each more powerful than the last, that will allow you to unlock more and more of theses doors (as long as you can keep track of where you saw most of them). This game also features optional items you can search for called Mini Medals that you can exchange for useful items and equipment, though the method to acquire them can become tedious as you have to break every pot, barrel, and search every dresser in every house you visit (who allows this sort of madness anyway!) in the hopes of finding each and every last one.
Overall, the user interface and item management system is fairly straightforward; I was rarely confused about navigating the menus to see characters' attributes, effects of spells and items, moving items around, and such other tasks. When you shop around, it's always easy enough to quickly glance who can equip what, how stats will be affected; merchants will, of course, allow you to equip immediately, and they will also auto-arrange items into your infinitely large bag (a bag with limitless storage capability is truly wondrous indeed!) if your characters pockets happen to be full already.
There's a lot of other useful features in your main menu that you can quickly access like auto-healing everyone in your party using whatever healing spells any of your party members currently (though this is not always done in the most efficient manner). Surprisingly, there are no touch screen controls, but I actually don't miss having that feature. Sure, touch screen controls could have streamlined some of the menus and such, but the game controls very easily as it is. The advantage, of course, is never having to lift your fingers away from the face buttons. As I mentioned before, menus are simple enough to navigate as it is, so the quick digital inputs are rather painless.
Other gameplay elements worth mentioning: It's easy enough to save your game; you have to visit the local town church and speak to the priest to 'confess' so that he may record your adventure progress in the log. The only problem I had with this save feature is having to wade through the same lengthy dialogue every time. The church also supplements the inns since they can resurrect a fallen party member, cure poison, remove cursed equipment, and also display how much more experience points each party member needs to reach the next level.
You can't change the speed of normal dialogue, which is not a problem for the most part; text scrolls along fairly quickly. You can speed up battle text, which makes a huge difference in making battles flow much quicker, especially when your actions are basically 'attack, attack, etc.'
This game also features a completely new, additional quest after you beat the game (not available in the NES game), picking up where you leave off after the final boss. It's great that the developer went the extra mile to add this additional content to an already meaty game, especially since it helps bring closure to important events earlier in the story.
The music in this game is beautifully composed and contains a broad range of seemingly orchestrated pieces. To add some variety to the mix, the game will play different battle and overworld music based on who your lead character is or what chapter you're on. Even after assembling your entire party for the major latter portion of the game, you always have the option of excluding your main Hero if you so desire (though it would make the game more challenging since he/ she has some of the best magic spells and stats in the game). Music can still get repetitive though, despite these change-ups; for example, the town music stays the same for the most part throughout the game (although I think it's very charming).
Maya and Meena's overworld music is one of my favorites...
Although my review focused quite a bit on the gameplay mechanics, it's these tried-and-true RPG elements (and the Dragon Quest simple charm) that I've always enjoyed that kept me playing this game to the very end. Square Enix has wrapped this classic game into one lovely remake worth playing. The game does not stray too far from some of the standard elements you would expect from a 'JRPG,' but the game is well designed and keeps you progressing forward at a steady pace, with little extra padding or overly convoluted cut scenes and (this game checks in at around 30-40 hours for a standard playthrough). Compared to other RPGs I have played from the NES and SNES era, Dragon Quest IV stands high among the classics and has become a favorite of mine.
Castle music from the DS verison on the left, NES music on the right. Both are awesome, for different reasons!
I tried this game, as well as Dragon Quest VIII on the PS2, and Dragon Quest IX also for the DS, and of course the early Dragon "Warrior" titles for the NES. I've just never been able to get into them.
I can't say precisely why... On the surface they have everything I want in a JRPG. A long, sprawling, colorful adventure full of lots of different characters, traditional battles, and they're fairly cheerful. I love all that stuff.
But... the world always feels so bland to me. The characters seem too tame and almost seem too simplistic and devoid of any depth beyond whatever archetype they're supposed to exemplify, outside of very select moments. Not to mention I really hate DBZ-man's (I'd butcher his name and don't feel like Googling it.) art style for characters. I mean I hate it with a fiery passion. Every single one of his characters looks so samey to everything else he's done, and not in a good way.
The battles are traditional, but too traditional. DQ IX fixed this a bit, but in the rest I couldn't stand first-person battles (I still struggle to get over that in the Earthbound games. It feels so damn lazy just having a line of monsters and no player characters on screen. Cheap.) and how you couldn't even skip the slow-ass battle text. Again, 9 seemed to fix both of these to some extent, but it still wasn't enough.
The adventures are long... but also kind of tame. There's action to be had, but it feels like something for a very young child. It never gets really, really exciting. The tempo never picks up very much. At least not from what I played. In IX in particular this was terrible because none of your party had any personality at all due to them all being made by you, which I guess for Enix means that they can't have any personality whatsoever, missing the point of making characters. I realize this was in part due to the multiplayer system, but they need to freaking realize people outside of Japan don't all take trains everywhere and play DS games together. It was a PITA just to play the game with my sister, and it wasn't even that great when we did.
People will say that IX was more about the stories of each town, but those, too were tame and a little lifeless. That's how the games all come off as to me... They lack style, intensity. They're slow burners, but if there's any major action, then it's further than I've gotten in any of the games I've played, and I've put dozens upon dozens of hours into each one that I've listed.
If I were to classify it in a personal list... I'd say the Dragon Quest games were "almost my perfect JRPG." But the parts they miss (Mainly due, I feel, to sticking very hard to tradition.) they miss hard.
@Xbob42 I'm not going to necessarily suggest giving the series another shot because you have given it plenty, but... Dragon Quest V has a lot more character and story development than the others I have played (which is to say, VIII and IX.)
Yeah V has one of these vast sweeping stories that spans generations without beating you over the head with it. Did way more for me in the story and character department than VIII or IX did (though I think I still prefer VIII overall.)
Um, but I feel like I'm hijacking this review of IV with talk of V, even though I've never played IV.
Thanks @Davoid. Yes, I did start playing through chapter 6 but haven't finish it yet. I've made good progress. I made it inside that huge bonus dungeon, made it past those weird 'giant' houses where all the objects in the room are gigantic, and got to the maze-like room filled with lava, where I kept backtracking myself and running into those challenging Cerberuffs (hellhounds). They're tough to take down, especially when they attack in large numbers!
I'll have to finish it up one of these days! I need to see what happens with the Psaro and Rose saga...
The game's not for everybody, of course. Regarding the slow battle text, you're right, you can't skip it, but you can speed it up to a pretty high level (it's not the same thing, I understand). Otherwise, you have some valid points (yeah, the artwork of Akira Toriyama, the Dragon Ball artist, can be 'samey', but I still like it) and if staying too traditional doesn't satisfy your JRPG cravings, then the Dragon Quest series may not be for you.
Though, as @Zero said, V sounds like it does add significantly more to the story department... I plan to play that one next.
I'm curious to know: What game have you played that comes close to your idea of the "perfect JRPG?"
I saw the one part where you said "(not in the NES version);" is everything else in here in the NES version? I rented it a LONG time ago, and I only had a few days with it, and I naturally got stuck at the casino. Blast. I loved the game so much, and I liked how each chapter had the main character with the support characters (specifically Healie working with the first dude. This is also who I think of every single time HeliumSky is referred to as Heli, haha!! True story!). Is nothing else unchanged between the NES version and this version?
I've never beaten the game, or even seen some of the folks you mentioned. I love the sound of the Wagon. Fantastic!
III and IV are taken as two of the best, as far as the early ones go. Dragon Warrior to Dragon Warrior II is a HUGE step up, and I'm sure from II to III the step is equally large. I haven't played III yet, but Dragon Warrior IV is the Chrono Trigger of my NES collection.
I'm curious to know: What game have you played that comes close to your idea of the "perfect JRPG?"
Why, Chrono Trigger of course. It has all the stuff I mentioned but it doesn't come across as very tame, either. People can die, get maimed, etc. It's a grand adventure, but it's also rife with very real danger and it's not always lighthearted fun.
Hey man, thanks, I was certain you would not enter this thread when seeing the letters "D', 'S,' in the title. Anyway, I hope I didn't go overboard with the 'informative' stuff. I may certainly have been too wordy and could have been more concise in parts of the review.
Other than that one part I mentioned that's not available in the NES version, I believe everything else is pretty much there. I haven't played Dragon Warrior IV, but from what I've read, there are quite a number of changes (besides improved graphics and sound), including:
--Characters' names have changed. When Dragon Warrior IV first came to the U.S. on the NES, most of characters were given new names. However, many of characters' names have been changed in this remake to be closer, or incorporate their original Japanese names, including:
-- There is now a pioneer town where you can recruit people to join, and each iteration has new items to find (including mini-medals). -- There are a lot more items to find in every town (including seeds which permanently boost specific character stats) -- The casino prizes are different, and the method for obtaining some gear has changed, like Liquid Metal Shield and Helm. -- Some effects of certain spells were changed. The spell names were changed to the DQ VIII style. -- You can control the other seven main characters manually. -- Group battles are more convenient. In the NES games if your companion defeats an enemy you target, then you attack nothing. Whereas this version your character will just attack the remaining enemies. -- While the uncontrollable characters remain uncontrollable, you can use their healing spells out of battle (such as with Healie). -- There are more hidden items and gold pieces around, and that really helps out in the early parts of the chapter. -- You get a prologue chapter to introduce you to the hero and his home. -- New monsters, bosses, items, and equipment. -- I think choosing commands from the menu has been streamlined and basic actions are much simpler to perform.
There are two really good threads over at gamefaqs.com HERE and HERE where I was able to pull much of this info about the differences between the two versions. Also, Hardcore Gaming 101 has a good article on DQ IV HERE, though you'll want to be careful reading too much on that one of you want to avoid some spoilers.
They have cool comparison screenshots between the NES and DS version such as the King's Chambers:
So, those mini-medals aren't in the NES at all then? Like I said, I never got super-far so I didn't even get to stuff you mentioned (no worries). And when guys doing a melee attack set out to hit someone who isn't there, and then not attack; oh man, SO frustrating. Come on, people!
After I play it! I haven't started yet. Jargon and I were supposed to play through together, too, but he hasn't been around in a bit. I might start late Summer after my NCAA thing is going again, the NW meetup deal is over, and Xenoblade / Last Story have huge chunks out of them, if not completed.