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Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Arte Piazza
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 09/16/08
Japan 11/22/07
Official Site: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 80%
Sound: 94%
Gameplay: 91%
Control: 83%
Story: 84%
Overall: 88%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Patrick Gann
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
10/07/08
Patrick Gann

Forgive me for the food analogy, but if RPGs were a part of your diet, Dragon Quest would be the bread and butter. This Japanese RPG series from Enix predates Final Fantasy, and is insanely popular in its home country of Japan. In North America, the Dragon Quest (or "Dragon Warrior") series has seen moderate success, with the most recent installment (DQVIII) gaining critical acclaims on both sides of the pacific.

Now, the first of the three games in the "Zenithia" trilogy has been remade for the DS. Americans haven't had a shot at this game since its NES release in 1992, and the Japanese last saw it on PlayStation in 2001. Now, on the DS, Dragon Quest IV is in its best shape to date. The handheld system is extremely useful, even though it doesn't take advantage of every feature the DS offers. Let's take a look at this classic RPG in full detail.

The Chosen

To my knowledge, Dragon Quest IV was the first game to introduce a gameplay mechanism for which I have no name, but rather a brief description. Each character in your supporting cast is given some backstory that you actually play, giving you more information and attachment to the individual characters. After doing this with every character, you start with just the main character and rebuild the party with the people you learned about in the past. Square actually used this mechanism twice soon after DQIV's release; once with the Japan-only title LiveALive, and again with Final Fantasy VI (or, as it was first released in North America, III). The "Chapters of the Chosen" is, indeed, a groundbreaking part of RPG history.

The game is broken into chapters. Four of them are introductory, and chapter five is the main chapter (which takes up the majority of the game). Then, after completing the game, you can enter into an optional "epilogue" (i.e. - the sixth chapter) that allows you to bring in an optional character to your party and get a new ending. In the first chapter, you play solely as a knight from a pseudo-Scottish kingdom. Ragnar is sent on a quest to find kidnapped children. In chapter two, the tomboy-ish princess Alena and two of her friends/mentors/protectors decide to go on an adventure. In chapter three, the lovable merchant Torneko embarks on a mission to open his own shop in a major city, using his exceptional skills as a trader to help him get the upper hand in a tumultuous world. Then, in chapter four, things get serious as the sisters Meena and Maya (one's a fortune teller, the other a dancer) seek out the man that murdered their father to exact revenge. After all of this happens, the green-haired hero/heroine (name and gender chosen by the player) leaves a war-torn home to embrace his/her destiny of saving the world from a great evil, as had been prophesied for many years. As the hero, you quickly gain the attention of potential friends and enemies alike, and it's not long before Torneko, Alena, and others join you to stop a growing demonic threat that each character glimpsed in their own chapters.

I have to say, this is a phenomenal setup for storytelling. Being given a variety of first-person perspectives before entering the "main story" of the game really does help to flesh out the world. It's almost like an extended tutorial, except that most tutorials are boring and this was actually a lot of fun.

Yarrr!!

The localization of the script for Dragon Quest IV is, simply put, phenomenal. Almost every town mimics the provincial accents and dialects of real-world locations, mostly European. Scottish, French, Russian, high British (King James Bible), as well as American-Western and "pirate" accents are all conveyed entirely through text. This is not an easy thing to do, and it is even more impressive when done consistently. Yet, that is exactly what Square Enix did with this localization. I am certainly pleased.

The well-done script makes up for what is, otherwise, a relatively light and simple plot. There really aren't any "plot twists" so to speak. Little is revealed about the primary villain until after completing the game, and while there are certainly mature concepts being implemented in the plot, they are not explored to the same depth that one would expect to see in other well-known RPG franchises. But again, the whimsy, the fantasy, and the mature themes all help to create a complex and memorable world.

Classic Gameplay Approaches!

The meat of Dragon Quest IV's gameplay is largely unchanged from previous versions. Exploration and combat remain nearly unchanged. But let's talk details.

Unless you're inside a town, the world of Dragon Quest IV is always changing from day to night to day again. During the night, the NPCs in towns will be positioned differently, and sometimes key events can only happen at night. Fortunately, the day/night cycle can later be manipulated by items and spells. The same is true for things such as enemy encounter rate, access to your extended party, and knowledge of a treasure chest's location/contents. The flexibility of town, field, and dungeon exploration is excellent. This is only compounded by the excellent use of camera angles. With only a few limitations in certain dungeons, the player retains 360 degree camera control. Use of camera movement can help the player locate important NPCs as well as hidden treasures and other bonuses. And, since the top screen displays the field/dungeon as well, you can see further in any one direction by rotating the camera. This is a great timesaver for large dungeons!

Combat is fairly straightforward. The enemy encounters take place in a first-person perspective. Your party's information is displayed on the top screen, and the battle takes place on the bottom screen. Note that there is zero touch screen functionality in this game, so you still control everything with the standard buttons. Much of the game's combat seems simple enough at first, but status effects, as well as buffs/debuffs, play a particularly important role in surviving. This game is not easy. Even veteran RPG players will find themselves in need of the occasional level grind. Much strategy is required, and thankfully, said strategy is available. Depending on the location, you are able to swap out reserve party members to fill in any of the four spots on the "frontline" for the active party.

Dungeon exploration is a lot of fun. Almost every dungeon in the game has at least one simple puzzle, if not a string of puzzles/riddles, to reach the end. Also, the additional DS feature of "building your own town" using WiFi to send representatives from your town to other peoples' towns (on their DS) is certainly clever, though unfortunately I don't live in a populated enough area to do this without intentionally meeting up with other DQIV players.

Flutes, Strings, Other Pretty Things

There's a lot of great aesthetics in the Dragon Quest series. The music, composed by Koichi Sugiyama, is sublime. In fact, the Overture appears in its full orchestral form, using the Tokyo Metropolitan recording during the title screen. The synth is a modified form of the PlayStation version's OST, and it sounds phenomenal for a DS game. The classic sound effects don't hurt things either. And no, there is no voice acting.

As for graphics, they are fairly strong for a remake of a much older game. However, it's not the "cream of the crop" for the DS by any means. It would have been appreciated, also, if they had put character portraits next to the dialogue boxes during speech, if only so you could see Akira Toriyama's excellent artwork more frequently.

Confession

Every time you save in Dragon Quest IV, you do so by confessing to the Goddess all your sins, and all your achievements. Well I have a confession to make: this is the first Dragon Quest I ever beat. I know, shameful, right? A self-proclaimed RPG veteran only introducing himself to one of the greatest RPGs in history a full 20 years too late! The thought is ridiculous. Yes, I had background knowledge of the series, and I had dabbled with some of the games before (including VIII), but this is the first time I've actually beaten a Dragon Quest title. And let me tell you, I will cherish the 25-hour experience for years to come.

There is definitely something special about this game. It may be the case that this spark of creativity (amidst an otherwise traditional RPG formula) may exist in each Dragon Quest title. I don't know yet; personally, I'm just now finding out. But I can say with confidence that Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is a must-own for nearly all JRPG fans. Only if you have experience with the series, and know that you are personally averse to all things Dragon Quest, should you turn down this opportunity. If you have no experience with the series, let me be the first to say that this is a great place to start! At least give it a rental or borrow it from a friend. You won't be let down. Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is solid. It's not the best RPG I've ever played, even on the DS alone, but it takes the genre back to its roots, its fundamentals. It's simple, fun, and easily worth its retail price. I only hope that the DS remakes for V and VI (the first time North America will receive these games, by the way) will be equally enjoyable experiences.



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© 2008 Square Enix. All rights reserved.


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