The Dragon Quest series, despite having a massive following in Japan, hasn’t had the popularity Square Enix hoped for in other territories. This was the reason why the US didn’t get Dragon Quest V & VI when they were released back in the 90’s. Now that the DS is a worldwide phenomenon, Square Enix is willing to give us a chance and remake all the ones we didn’t get, and one we did get. The one we did get was Dragon Quest IV, which is the first of the remakes to make it over to the US, with the subtitle “Chapters of the Chosen”. If you’re like me and didn’t play Dragon Quest IV on the NES because you were a youngster, then this is a perfect opportunity to play catch-up.
In typical Dragon Quest fashion, players start off as the unnamed “Hero,” (you name him/her whatever you want) who is a silent protagonist. He just happens to be the “chosen one” meant to free the world from a great evil. The problem is that there’s just no way he’s going to be able to do it alone. This is where Dragon Quest IV’s unique chapters come into play. The first four chapters are backstories for all the characters that the hero will eventually take by his side in combat. The fifth chapter, which serves as the majority of the game, is where the hero finally meets up with all of them and sets out on his epic journey. After finishing the game, the player is given the option to experience one of the new features not present in the NES version of the game: a sixth chapter serving as an epilogue. While Dragon Quest IV’s story isn’t going to set the world on fire, it still has a unique approach to storytelling even until this day and remains enjoyable through the 20-30 hours it takes to complete the game.
Combat in Dragon Quest IV involves traditional turn-based battles in a first person perspective with random encounters. If that turns you off, you can stop reading now and know you won’t be changing your mind by playing this game. If you are a fan of the old school approach to RPGs, however, you are going to love what this game has to offer.
The basic gameplay consists of talking to NPC’s to figure out what exactly you are supposed to be doing, going to the world map and locating a nearby dungeon, dungeon crawling through to the end to get an item, bringing it to the right person, and doing it all over again. Of course this isn’t always exactly what you are supposed to do, but more than likely it is. There are a few spots where I got stuck for a little while trying to figure out exactly what it was I was supposed to be doing in order to further the plot, but that comes with the territory. Eight and 16 bit RPGs are not known for holding your hand and letting you figure out things on your own, and Dragon Quest IV follows suit. Of course, they are also known for level grinding, which Dragon Quest IV also has its fair share of. The difficulty in Dragon Quest IV is fairly high, so newcomers might want to watch out. It’s not so difficult that it grates on the nerves and certainly isn’t as hard as newer installments, but it’s no slouch either.
A few of the gameplay traditions of Dragon Quest might get on the nerves of some newcomers, but the veterans already know the drill. In order to save the game you have to find a church and confess all of your sins. You can’t save on the world map, and there aren’t any save points in the dungeons. Luckily, none of the dungeons are incredibly long so dying while in there won’t hurt you too badly. You just get sent back to the nearest church where they resurrect you. The game also uses a day and night cycle. While on the world map, time passes, but in towns and dungeons it doesn’t. If it’s nighttime, all of the shops close until morning. You will either have to return to the world map and walk around for awhile (inevitably facing some random encounters), or simply spend some gold and stay the night at the inn.
Touch screen control in Dragon Quest IV is completely absent, which is understandable given that it isn’t really needed and would only detract from the game. The player is, however, given access to something I rarely see in a 2-D RPG, and that’s a camera that will turn a full 360 degrees. It helps tremendously in dungeons because you get to see practically everything on the current floor since you have two screens to look at. It saves you from walking around just to see where to go and running into countless random encounters. The control in Dragon Quest IV is really handled nicely. There are a few things that might feel archaic to some, similar to what I mentioned earlier with the save points and night and day cycles, but I don’t think they have much effect on the overall experience since every other game in the series has it (including the newest one, Dragon Quest VIII).
Much like the gameplay, the presentation is well worn territory for the series. The 2001 remake in Japan (that the US never got) used 3-D graphics with 2-D character sprites to keep the classic feel of the game intact, and this is also used for the DS remake. While the graphics simply aren’t that great compared to recent Final Fantasy remakes or the DS Castlevania games that make excellent use of the same 2-D to 3-D concept, they still feel nostalgic, even to someone like me who never even played the game until now. The art style by Akira Toriyama, despite some people calling it redundant at this point, is still excellent.
The soundtrack uses all of the songs that the series is known for, including the famous overture. Actually, most of the soundtrack is largely the same as the other games in the series. It’s still great though, despite lacking in variety while playing the game. The sound effects are the typical Dragon Quest fare we have come to expect by now. There isn’t any voice acting like in the recent Final Fantasy IV remake, but I don’t feel like voice acting would have really helped the game since it’s light on story and heavy on gameplay.
Most people know by now whether or not they are a fan of this series, despite some of the archaic elements it refuses to let go of. If you haven’t played a game in the series before, then this is a great place to start because it isn’t as long as newer console Dragon Quest games (which take 80+ hours to complete) or as hard. It’s a light-hearted, classic RPG that even to this day stands as a landmark in the genre, and everyone who considers themselves a fan of the traditional RPG has to play it at least once.