Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen

The classic franchise is reborn for the Nintendo DS.

Posted on November 16, 2008 at 9:46 pm by Matt Simmons

As far as traditional console RPGs go, Dragon Quest is the very definition of classic. It is one of the oldest and most highly regarded franchises, and is nearly a cultural icon of Japan.The franchise has always had a hard time in America, never really breaking out of its cult status despite some great efforts by Square-Enix recently.

Dragon Quest IV originally was released for the Famicon and later the NES in America. Despite the Super NES already being available, Dragon Quest IV offered a multi-character and multi-chapter saga on a console that had extremely limited memory and graphic capacity. The title was later remade for the Playstation, but never released outside Japan. Continuing its rapid expansion of the Dragon Quest franchise on the Nintendo DS, Square Enix has decided to release what is known as the "Zenithia" trilogy of remakes on the handheld. These remakes are mostly ports of the Playstation versions, however they look miles apart from the original titles. Thankfully, Square-Enix has decided to push forward by localizing all three titles for North America giving a new opportunity for the many gamers and RPG fans who likely missed out part IV and never even had the chance to play V and VI in English.

Square-Enix has recently been slowly remaking some its earlier Final Fantasy titles in full 3-D on the Nintendo DS -- these versions have dramatic jumps in presentation and even story. However, being that the Nintendo DS Dragon Quest games are based off pre-made Playstation remakes, they lack some of the more intensive presentation value offered by Final Fantasy III and IV on the DS. Dragon Quest IV is highly reminiscent of early Playstation-era RPGs. The game uses 2-D character spritework on a 3-D field with a fully rotatable camera. The battle screen also features a first person view of 2-D enemies that animate beautifully. The one downside to the graphics is the fact that there are next to no animations. Characters almost constantly stay in a walking animation even while being idle. It has a certain charm, but when a actual new animation is employed it tends to make you wonder what cut-scenes could have been like.

The first thing the player is greeted to when starting the game up is a fully orchestrated piece of the Dragon Quest Overture. The sound quality is excellent, even if the rest of the game is midi compositions. Despite that, the in-game soundtrack is still very good and each track is well done. One glaring flaw to the soundtrack is how little individual tracks there are. Towns, castles, dungeons almost all share the same track piece. It can be a little disappointing, especially when the final dungeon's music is no different from the first dungeon's. Even the first "The Legend of Zelda" had a different track for its last dungeon. Interestingly, each chapter gets its own world map theme, and standard battle track. It is just a shame, this being the second remake, that a little bit more tracks were not added in to make areas stand out more. The game features no voice overs and no grunts or screams or voicework of any kind, either. Dragon Quest fans are fiercely traditional in Japan, much more so then even "Zelda" fans. While Dragon Quest VIII might have been riddled with voice overs and a fully orchestrated soundtrack when it hit North America, the Japanese release retained its midi soundtrack with no voice work, and even kept the 8 Bit sound effects. As such, Dragon Quest IV keeps its firmly electronic sounds for damage and spell casting. Again, this is part of the charm of the Dragon Quest series and is never a hindrance to the overall game.

In keeping with its strict traditions, the main Dragon Quest series has never once deviated in any way from its rigid turn-based battle system. The first trailer for part IX was met with such huge backlash in Japan, Square Enix quickly and quietly reverted the game back to standard turn-based formula. The advantage this can bring is a very simple to understand battle system. Even a gamer only familiar with "Pokemon" titles could pick up the battle system very easily. Dragon Quest games are also notorious for their difficulty. You can die very easily from a few hits in your first random encounter. This is not an RPG you can walk through and simply pick up experience on the way to your main objective. You have to level up before you even think about entering a dungeon. Despite not being a very long entry in the series, Dragon Quest IV requires patience and determination to get through -- there's no skimming through boss battles in this game.

Dragon Quest games are also known for their charm and more light-hearted stories. It can be a refreshing change of pace. The world is for the most part really colorful and nice to look at. There is no apocalyptic or steampunk industrial areas in the game. Special note should be made of the translation and localization of the game, because it is excellent. Square-Enix really went the extra mile and gave every town in an area of the world map a distinct accent. Meaning that every NPC on a certain continent will speak with a specific accent to that region. You might think it is a misspelling but check again and you will find the game is stacked with thick dialects that mimic Scotland/Ireland, Russia, and France. Dragon Quest IV is split into five chapters, each one for a different set of characters. This makes Dragon Quest IV a good entry level game in the series as the chapters wrap up pretty quick without overstaying their welcome. It also helps ease newcomers to the massive difficulty as you will not have to grind very long to finish the first four chapters. The downside to this is that none of the characters have particularly deep storylines. Much of the main cast have very simple motives and story arcs. The other problem is that at the start of a new chapter you're back to level one, having to level up a new character or group all over again. This also has an effect on the main storyline, as it doesn't really get going until more then halfway through the game. Another downside is that, even when the entire cast is assembled, very little dialogue is spoken between them. The main character is a mute, like in every Dragon Quest game, but even the rest of your party fails to really say much throughout most of the game. Many RPGs tend to fill in the void of a mute main character by having a very chatty cast -- not so in Dragon Quest. Almost any storyline is told strictly through NPC dialogue.

The most glaring fault in Dragon Quest IV is how frustratingly vague it can be. Many times you will be wandering around the world map, or even between a few towns without so much as a clue as to what to do next. The game requires you to talk to and pay attention to almost every NPC in every town. Missing the words of one random farmer can cost the player hours of pointless wandering. There were even moments in the game where it almost seemed to intentionally misguide you from progressing the story. Much of the in game progression will rely on fixing small problems amongst town people; however, figuring out what to do from them or even why these small quests are even necessary at all can drive a person insane quickly. If there is one thing that the series could benefit from, its a more concrete method of progressing the story, as it's a huge buzz kill to go from an exciting plotline to hours of marching through the overworld and frantically talking to every possible villager to figure out what you missed.

The game offers a good length that isn't too long to become tiresome. Also, the chapter set up and quick save feature really add to the portability of the RPG. Another great feature is a whole extra quest after the credits, not found in the NES original. Not only is it a fun bonus, but it actually even further fleshes out the story and motives of the protagonists and antagonists.

As far as traditional console RPGs go, Dragon Quest is the very definition of classic. It is one of the oldest and most highly regarded franchises, and is nearly a cultural icon of Japan.The franchise has always had a hard time in America, never really breaking out of its cult status despite some great efforts by Square-Enix recently.

Dragon Quest IV originally was released for the Famicon and later the NES in America. Despite the Super NES already being available, Dragon Quest IV offered a multi-character and multi-chapter saga on a console that had extremely limited memory and graphic capacity. The title was later remade for the Playstation, but never released outside Japan. Continuing its rapid expansion of the Dragon Quest franchise on the Nintendo DS, Square Enix has decided to release what is known as the "Zenithia" trilogy of remakes on the handheld. These remakes are mostly ports of the Playstation versions, however they look miles apart from the original titles. Thankfully, Square-Enix has decided to push forward by localizing all three titles for North America giving a new opportunity for the many gamers and RPG fans who likely missed out part IV and never even had the chance to play V and VI in English.

Square-Enix has recently been slowly remaking some its earlier Final Fantasy titles in full 3-D on the Nintendo DS -- these versions have dramatic jumps in presentation and even story. However, being that the Nintendo DS Dragon Quest games are based off pre-made Playstation remakes, they lack some of the more intensive presentation value offered by Final Fantasy III and IV on the DS. Dragon Quest IV is highly reminiscent of early Playstation-era RPGs. The game uses 2-D character spritework on a 3-D field with a fully rotatable camera. The battle screen also features a first person view of 2-D enemies that animate beautifully. The one downside to the graphics is the fact that there are next to no animations. Characters almost constantly stay in a walking animation even while being idle. It has a certain charm, but when a actual new animation is employed it tends to make you wonder what cut-scenes could have been like.

The first thing the player is greeted to when starting the game up is a fully orchestrated piece of the Dragon Quest Overture. The sound quality is excellent, even if the rest of the game is midi compositions. Despite that, the in-game soundtrack is still very good and each track is well done. One glaring flaw to the soundtrack is how little individual tracks there are. Towns, castles, dungeons almost all share the same track piece. It can be a little disappointing, especially when the final dungeon's music is no different from the first dungeon's. Even the first "The Legend of Zelda" had a different track for its last dungeon. Interestingly, each chapter gets its own world map theme, and standard battle track. It is just a shame, this being the second remake, that a little bit more tracks were not added in to make areas stand out more. The game features no voice overs and no grunts or screams or voicework of any kind, either. Dragon Quest fans are fiercely traditional in Japan, much more so then even "Zelda" fans. While Dragon Quest VIII might have been riddled with voice overs and a fully orchestrated soundtrack when it hit North America, the Japanese release retained its midi soundtrack with no voice work, and even kept the 8 Bit sound effects. As such, Dragon Quest IV keeps its firmly electronic sounds for damage and spell casting. Again, this is part of the charm of the Dragon Quest series and is never a hindrance to the overall game.

In keeping with its strict traditions, the main Dragon Quest series has never once deviated in any way from its rigid turn-based battle system. The first trailer for part IX was met with such huge backlash in Japan, Square Enix quickly and quietly reverted the game back to standard turn-based formula. The advantage this can bring is a very simple to understand battle system. Even a gamer only familiar with "Pokemon" titles could pick up the battle system very easily. Dragon Quest games are also notorious for their difficulty. You can die very easily from a few hits in your first random encounter. This is not an RPG you can walk through and simply pick up experience on the way to your main objective. You have to level up before you even think about entering a dungeon. Despite not being a very long entry in the series, Dragon Quest IV requires patience and determination to get through -- there's no skimming through boss battles in this game.

Dragon Quest games are also known for their charm and more light-hearted stories. It can be a refreshing change of pace. The world is for the most part really colorful and nice to look at. There is no apocalyptic or steampunk industrial areas in the game. Special note should be made of the translation and localization of the game, because it is excellent. Square-Enix really went the extra mile and gave every town in an area of the world map a distinct accent. Meaning that every NPC on a certain continent will speak with a specific accent to that region. You might think it is a misspelling but check again and you will find the game is stacked with thick dialects that mimic Scotland/Ireland, Russia, and France. Dragon Quest IV is split into five chapters, each one for a different set of characters. This makes Dragon Quest IV a good entry level game in the series as the chapters wrap up pretty quick without overstaying their welcome. It also helps ease newcomers to the massive difficulty as you will not have to grind very long to finish the first four chapters. The downside to this is that none of the characters have particularly deep storylines. Much of the main cast have very simple motives and story arcs. The other problem is that at the start of a new chapter you're back to level one, having to level up a new character or group all over again. This also has an effect on the main storyline, as it doesn't really get going until more then halfway through the game. Another downside is that, even when the entire cast is assembled, very little dialogue is spoken between them. The main character is a mute, like in every Dragon Quest game, but even the rest of your party fails to really say much throughout most of the game. Many RPGs tend to fill in the void of a mute main character by having a very chatty cast -- not so in Dragon Quest. Almost any storyline is told strictly through NPC dialogue.

The most glaring fault in Dragon Quest IV is how frustratingly vague it can be. Many times you will be wandering around the world map, or even between a few towns without so much as a clue as to what to do next. The game requires you to talk to and pay attention to almost every NPC in every town. Missing the words of one random farmer can cost the player hours of pointless wandering. There were even moments in the game where it almost seemed to intentionally misguide you from progressing the story. Much of the in game progression will rely on fixing small problems amongst town people; however, figuring out what to do from them or even why these small quests are even necessary at all can drive a person insane quickly. If there is one thing that the series could benefit from, its a more concrete method of progressing the story, as it's a huge buzz kill to go from an exciting plotline to hours of marching through the overworld and frantically talking to every possible villager to figure out what you missed.

The game offers a good length that isn't too long to become tiresome. Also, the chapter set up and quick save feature really add to the portability of the RPG. Another great feature is a whole extra quest after the credits, not found in the NES original. Not only is it a fun bonus, but it actually even further fleshes out the story and motives of the protagonists and antagonists.

Final Verdict - 8/10

Dragon Quest IV is a classic RPG in every sense of the word, from its charming medieval atmosphere to its plucky cast of characters. Behind the cheerful exterior lies a tough and challenging game that requires lots of patience and time. The game will easily give the player their money's worth, and is a great starting point in the franchise that will have you waiting in anticipation for the next game.