I kind of regret never digging into that old and dusty Dragon Warrior IV cart that always sat somewhere on my shelf of way-too-organized NES games back in the days of yore. I was always hearing—from my friends that were far more well-versed in RPGs, at least (I was an action kid)—that it was the best of the bunch, but I eventually sold it for what I would have considered “mad loot” at the time and never looked back.
Now I couldn’t be happier that I missed out on the game’s original domestic release. Rather than slogging through that now abstract-art-looking adventure, I get to play Chapters of the Chosen on the comfort of my DS, decked out with a new translation and visuals closer to the Playstation remake. It makes a world of difference.
The appeal of DQIV over the years is apparent from the very first quest. In an RPG world often slathered with dark melodrama, DQ has a palette and positive outlook worth savoring. Combine that with Koichi Sugiyama’s wonderful compositions and a genuinely likable cast of characters and you’ve got something that could put a smile on the face of even the most deeply depressed JRPG fan out there. There’s much more to DQIV than some bright sprites and jaunty traveling tunes, though, and it’s more the “how” than the “what” that makes it a special entry in the long-running series.
It’s the way this otherwise simplistic story is structured—a converging tale in six acts—that gives traditional RPG storytelling a run for its money. Rather than starting as the hero and forming a party, DQIV starts with single party members and gives players the opportunity to dive into their individual worlds hours before even meeting the chosen hero. Each of the first four chapters focuses on different future party members, acting almost as standalone mini-RPGs that all begin at level 1 and weave their own unique tale. Chapter five doesn’t hit until about 8-10 hours into the game, and that’s when the real tale begins. As The Hero, players are gradually introduced to the characters with which they’ve already spent some quality time and, once fully united, can dig into the meat and potatoes of the game.
The most memorable of the first four chapters is definitely Torneko’s, and it’s something I had read about ever since the spin-off, Torneko: The Last Hope, hit the PlayStation in 2000. Torneko is a merchant, and perhaps the most unlikely hero of the game. One could potentially waste hours simply working in the item shop, selling wares to adventurers and raking in meager earnings for your family down the block. It’s moments like these that help flesh out the world of DQIV and make it seem like something worth exploring.
The writing throughout all of this is really loose and fun, though it’s marred a bit by some superfluous accents that change from region to region. I can appreciate what they were going for with this, and it does add a unique flavor to every corner of the continent, but it can get a little out of hand and tends to slow things down. Also, why do the kings of certain countries talk like peasants? I expect a little more class from my royalty! That’s some real high-grade nitpicking, though, and the only other dialogue related finger that should be wagged is in reaction to the lack of the intra-party talk system of the PSone version.
Outside of the storytelling techniques, DQIV is as traditional as it gets. It can actually be a pretty relaxing game due to the fact that it doesn’t punish the player in the way other RPGs tend to. Death in any other series typically serves up a brutal Game Over screen and the disheartening need to reload an old save file, rewatch some story bits if it happened during a boss battle, and/or grind, grind, grind until your command button is worn to a nub. DQIV, like other entries in the series, just dips into your wallet and sends you back to church. No experience lost means no real frustration develops and the next trip through the cave or castle will find the party even more formidable than before.
Dragon Quest IV is just plain fun, really, and that’s all you need to know at the end of the day. It’s yet another prime piece of evidence that supports how perfect the portable format is for role-playing games, taking whatever element of chore there was in the process and making it completely bearable. I’d even recommend DQIV over the Final Fantasy remakes in a heartbeat, as great as those are, especially if you’re just looking for some quality time with a grand adventure and a parade of slimes that stretches out well beyond the horizon.
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
System: Nintendo DS