The problem with making a great game is that expectations for the next ones become almost unbearably high. Dragon Warrior is no exception. Dragon Warrior 3 was an outstanding game that was very good in almost all respects. Would Dragon Warrior 4 live up to the excellence of its predecessor, or would it just be a copycat sequel?
When you look up "Evolution of Video Games" you'll most likely find a picture of Dragon Warrior next to it. The graphics of Dragon Warrior 4 are just slightly improved versions of those found in Dragon Warrior 3. Unfortunately they're not a major improvement just a minor one. Character design is much better, though with a lot more detail given to each character. The enemy designs just keep getting better and better with this game having some of the best ones in the series. But overall, if you're looking for snazzy graphics you're really not going to find them here.
This is Dragon Warrior both at its finest and at its worst. Finest because the tried and true DW gameplay has been refined so much that it's simply the best it's ever been. Loads of new spells and equipment, new abilities, new transportation, and interesting characters keep this game fresh and new. Unfortunately all this is definitely hindered by a new feature. In the final Chapter (more on this in a second) the only character you have direct control over is your main character. You assign the rest of your party a "Strategy" like Use No MP (which will make your characters cast no spells) or Try Out (they'll try out items and spells they've never used before). It's an interesting concept and had it been implemented well it would have been very cool. Unfortunately the computer AI is stone dumb and I do mean DUMB. For example Alena is a powerful fighter and does lots of damage by attacking. Instead she will continually use her FireClaw which does a paltry 15-20 damage to a group of enemies. Magic users will only occasionally use spells effectively and sometimes will never cast a very useful spell throughout the entire game (Brey and BeKill come immediately to mind). If the computer had been more intelligent the concept would have worked a lot better, but as is, you'll be very frustrated with what bone-headed moves the computer does.
There are quite a few characters in the game and you can only have 4 in the party at once. Fortunately, once you acquire the wagon you can switch out characters at almost any time. The exceptions are dungeons and other places that the wagon cannot follow. If the wagon is with your party then the people in the wagon gain experience, albeit at a much reduced rate than people actually fighting.
Lastly is a feature that we had never seen before in an RPG. Dragon Warrior 4 is divided into Chapters. Each Chapter focuses on a character or small group of characters with a specific goal. For example the first Chapter is about Ragnar and his quest. In the second Ragnar is nowhere to be found and instead the story is about Alena, Brey, and Cristo. Eventually, in Chapter five, you finally meet your main character and as he travels around the world he meets and gathers those characters whom you played in the previous chapters. This is a great idea that I really enjoyed.
Alas, the music just doesn't inspire much commentary. Average music with average SFX. As with Dragon Warrior 2 I'd recommend you turn down the volume on your TV and crank up some good tunes on your stereo. Anything Bach goes well with DW4 as does Vivaldi.
Dragon Warrior 4 does story like no other RPG for the NES. The Chapter concept is great and makes the game feel like a good book. And DW4 actually has character development. Though it's not exactly a masterpiece, it is a lot more than previous games on the NES and in the series. The characters, despite their lack of development and hideous AI, are for the most part interesting and likable. The plot, though somewhat plodding and badly paced, is above average and it definitely gets pretty good toward the end of the game. Even if it isn't the complex fare that we're used to today, it will keep your interest and will surely entertain.
Dragon Warrior 4 was a fabulous game that deserves its place among the classic RPGs. Despite some absolutely horrid AI the game is fun and entertaining. Even if you're not a big fan of retro-gaming, Dragon
Warrior 4 is a game you should not pass up.