Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen Review

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I just pick the most random games to suddenly review, don’t I?  Most people have a theme of doing older stuff, maybe a certain genre, or just do what is done by everyone, and hit the modern stuff.  But nope, I just find games that people have praised, or looked neat, and see what I think, all unprovoked like.  So It’s going to be two of the Dragon Quest DS remakes, because I had those lying around, with a 75% completion rate that needed to be wiped clean.  While being an infamous series for modernizing a system that pretty much bleed into most other genres still good?  Yes, if you want the short version, yet I prefer to drone on for a page too long.

Dragon Quest IV:  Chapters of the Chosen Review
Release Date: 16/09/2008
Platforms: NES, PSX(Jp), DS(Reviewed)
Developers: Chunsoft, Heartbeat, ArtePiazza, and Cattle Call
Publishers: Enix and Square Enix

Now, I’ve only really had much experience with Dragon Quest as a series through an emulated version of the Gameboy color remake of part one and half of two.  With 192 hours logged into Dragon Quest IX, before I decided that I wanted that save file gone for good, and that I would never end up touching it.  Even if I could get its stupid online features to work.  Not that it matters, because it is one of those series that shifts up its world and characters every game, but maintains the same general tone, spells, items, and some now infamous enemies.

But I take it that nearly every entry in the series was made with a certain “gimmick” in mind when crafting it, and here it was telling the story of every character you met in the game, before the main game actually began.  By that I mean, it is the pretty standard ideal of a probably misunderstood individual, one who looks to be an inspiration for Sephiroth if the sprite is any indication, wanting to use a macguffin to destroy the world, and you are the chosen ones who must save the world.  Except you are introduced to your main character before you are told the stories of four other groups who you will eventually meet with.

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It’s actually a really neat idea, feeling like five adventures in all, but still connected.  You get to explore the world from several perspectives, and are given pretty standard tropes, like:  Children are missing, save them brave knight.  Princess desires to escape from her cage, and punch dogs.  Girls want to avenge their father, while deciding that they don’t get enough dough from telling fortunes and dancing in a bikini.  And a forty-something fat man wants to explore the world as a traveling merchant after spending years at a shop.

Actually, considering this game came out on the NES, that’s actually pretty complicated stuff, that really allowed for at the least decent characterization.  All being helped by a very consistent old english writing tone, even if my eyes glaze over it sometimes.  But even by modern standards, the characters all have a reason to go out on a quest, the world is varied enough to stay lively yet stay consistent.  And it is always a bit surreal to see a character who used to be a playable mute, now talk back at you.  Admittedly, the main plot is sort of confusing, because the writers probably did not know what exactly evolution was, and it is easy to get lost in terms of a destination unless you talk to everyone.  Oh, and of course the first few levels in a Dragon Quest game are most often dull, because you start off with pretty much nothing.  And the game does that five times within the first ten of its twenty-five to thirty hours.

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Although, one could counter that with the sense of adventure that one can obtain while exploring whatever this world is.  Which is actually something that I found a bit refreshing.  Sure, I used walkthroughs after I realized that I was going to the wrong place after an hour, and to find some secrets.  And it’s not like there is so much stuff that you would need a walkthrough.  The world is certainly a decent size, and it is pretty easy to remember where you’ve been or haven’t been.

Meanwhile, the combat is actually pretty lively for being turn-based, retaining Dragon Quest’s first person battle perspective throughout, as you can shift around your eight party members in between turns in some cases, and manage to get through most battles pretty easily, with pretty much any balanced set of characters.  Although, I can’t help but find a healer who can also increase my defence, to be far more useful than one who can’t.  Along with a damage dealer who can attack twice with their final item.

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Granted, you will only probably need most of the character specific abilities during either bosses, or enemies that, for whatever reason, happen to be immune to a certain spell type.  Which strikes me more as odd than anything.  I get elemental resistances, but it is very unlikely for you to have every spell until the final stretch, where you get items that do a decent spell of the four or so types in the game.  Which in itself leads to some borderline needless item management.  Seeing as how it makes the most sense to give the best items to your main four members, so they can get EXP in areas where you are limited to four of your eight characters.

Don’t get me wrong, combat is still enjoyable, with a very comfortable amount of strategy if you so desire to use it, but I was never the kind of guy who would cast status effects on enemies.  Bosses?  Sure, yet using them on normal goons feels like a waste in pretty much every game I’ve played.  Oh, and speaking of bosses, the game deserves some pretty major kudos for having one of the most intense final bosses I can recall.  Even if it meant he had seven phases and could reset my tower of status boosting buffs.  Which was how I tend to play, well, every turn based RPG’s boss battles.

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And on the visual side, the game looks wonderful, booming and colorful locals with the iconic enemy design that helped the series maintain my favorite thing about it.  Its calming tone.  Even during some of the more difficult moments, where I had to make every move count because I was underleveled for a dungeon, there was a sense of relaxation in the background that I personally value.

With the actual sprite work for the enemies being nothing short of lovely.  Even though they pretty much just have one or two animations besides a very detailed idle, they certainly grab your attention during combat, and make the game more engaging as a result.  While there is a good amount of 3D used, in the form of environments.  Which actually manage to mix both 2D and 3D art together very well.  In a style that I am kinda sad in admitting how it will never be used for another big title, because it was built on no longer existent limitations.  Although, sometimes I just need to scratch my head as to why I could only rotate the overhead view to span across both screens, during about half the dungeons.

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With the music being pretty much what anyone with a basic knowledge of Dragon Quest would expect.  A primarily catchy, yet very bombastic score that does make the game feel like an adventure.  With NES-era sound effects for good measure, because what else are you going to use?  It really does make me feel a bit bad that I played this like I do most handheld games, in front of my computer, with some podcast or video in the background.  Since on the occurrences where I used my headphones, the experience was all the better.

I can certainly say a lot of good things about Dragon Quest IV, and that’s just because I find it to be very polished.  Yeah, it’s weird how there is no real magic defense stat, or how there’s a character who is pretty much a wild card when you tell him to attack.  Yet, the story is still uniquely structured, or maybe that’s just me missing a lot of titles.  The presentation is stellar and certainly lively when you consider that this was originally a NES title.  There are times when I believe to have good reasons to have placed a game in the uncompleted bin, but here?  There are very few.

Great! (17/20)
An impressive product, but won’t always astound due to a fair number of flaws that are difficult to ignore.  Still worth your cash and a few hours of your time.

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