Having only discovered Dragon Quest (DQ) around two years ago, it has quickly become one of my favourite video game franchises. In fact, I sometimes kick myself for not trying it sooner. Because of this, I’ve been trying to hunt down all of the core entries in the series, which isn’t at all easy when you live in South Africa. Thankfully, the Dragon Quest IV (DQ4) remake on the Nintendo DS – sub-titled Chapters of the Chosen – was one of the easier games to come across.
Having finished DQ4 quite a few months ago, I think it’s finally time to put my thoughts down and review the game.
A story in five parts
DQ4 takes an unconventional approach to storytelling, especially when it comes to Role-Playing Games (RPGs). Instead of focussing on the protagonist and utilising mini quests to flesh out the party members, the bulk of the game is mainly about those members. It is broken up into five chapters (with a sixth, bonus chapter), with the first four covering the supporting party members and the fifth centring on the protagonist. It’s an interesting way of portraying a story that might otherwise be generic. After all, how many chosen-hero-destined-to-save-the-world stories can you really sit through and play?
The first of these chapters is about Ragnar McRyan, a knight who needs to save some missing children. This plays out similarly to the original DQ as your sole playable character is a hard-hitter who explores a limited area. It’s easily one of the best chapters due to its simplicity.
From here, the game’s storylines become more complex with Tsarevna Alena and her companions journey to a fighting tournament, Torneko the merchant wanting to start his own store, and sisters Meena and Maya on a quest to avenge the death of their father. I love the fact that all of these individuals take centre stage for a few hours. Personally, Torneko has the best storyline as it’s so unconventional – as an aside, he went on to star in and spawn the Mystery Dungeon series of video games.
Each of the four companion chapters has emotional ups and downs and unique dialects for the regions they hail from. Unfortunately, the fifth chapter is a let-down. It consists of your silent protagonist and the party eventually coming together, but their final confrontation with the game’s antagonist – along with his motivations – is a low point for the game.
The sixth chapter didn’t appear in the original Famicom and NES releases of the game. It tries to portray an alternate take on the final part of DQ4 but also falls flat due to how rushed it feels and lack of compelling narrative.
How does it play and feel?
DQ4 is very traditional in its gameplay. Like many JRPGs of its era (the original release, not the remake), your characters are able to attack, use spells, use items, and heal during battle. The more difficult the monster, the more experience points you’ll gain, and new skills are unlocked as you gain levels. And while this may put some off, it’s what the DQ series is all about. It has always stuck to its core roots while adding little touches here and there with each game.
Dragon Quest III: The Seeds of Salvation introduced classes to its core-gameplay for the first time in the franchise, giving players more flexibility in battle, but this wasn’t carried over to DQ4. That’s not to say it was a bad decision as the mechanics in DQ4 are as smooth as butter. Though building a game purely on character development means that the battle system wasn’t as fully realised as it could be.
A graphical improvement
DQ4 was remade for the original PlayStation in 2001, which included tweaks and overhauled graphics. With the release of DQ4 on the Nintendo DS in 2007, the visuals were further refined to culminate in a gorgeous-looking JRPG on the system.
Instead of having a pure 2D look to the game, DQ4 utilises fully 3D environments in towns and dungeons with the characters being 2D sprites. This method removes unnecessary draw distances seen in other 3D RPGs on the Nintendo DS. It also enables the game to run at a decent frame-rate with minimal to no slow down during play.
Developer ArtePiazza did an amazing job of realising the world, making towns feel homey, and the dungeons threatening and grungy. It is a stellar-looking game that does well with the limited hardware it was programmed for. Each sprite has a unique charm that can convey enough emotion through a limited number of frames.
The final verdict for Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
While this review may contain some bias due to my love of the DQ series, I fully stand behind the fact that DQ4 is one of the better JRPGs that I have ever played. It has its fair share of shortcomings, but looking back, it would have been a marvel during the original 1990 release.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, or you’re looking for an easy game, pick up DQ4 for the Nintendo DS. It’s sure to keep you entertained for a few hours, but I wouldn’t blame you for giving up after a few chapters.