The Dragon Quest series is a household name in Japan, but in the US, hardly anyone that isn’t an RPG fanatic know of this series. This game is the first in the loosely connected Zenethian trilogy of Dragon Quest games. When I mean loosely, I mean very loosely, as the only real connection between these games is that there is a castle Zenethia, and the dark world of Nadiria as the demon world. Other than that, they really have fuckall to do with each other.
The original version of this game was released in 1992 in the US as Dragon Warrior IV. While a very late release for the NES in the US, its impact in the realm of RPG’s with its innovative storytelling, and the final boss Psaro with its multiple form boss fight. The game was remade for the PS1 using Dragon Quest VII’s engine, and was planned for a US release as entailed in the back of the DQ7 manual, but it never came to be. The game was again remade for the DS, but is more like an enhanced port, rather than a full on remake, as it’s just an updated engine.
The first part of the loosely connected Zenethian Trilogy in the series, IV decides to split up the game into 5 chapters, with the first four chapters focusing on a different character, or group of characters, that all come together to join you in the final chapter where you finally get to play as the hero you named before you started your adventure. Each chapter has a miniature story that you go through that, like the characters, all come together in the final chapter.
Chapter 1 – Ragnar: a soldier in the castle town of Burland. He discovers that the children of a nearby village have been disappearing and he must go and rescue them.
Chapter 2 – Alena: Alena is the tomboyish Tsarevna (princess) of the Russian speaking land of Zamoksva, she sneaks out of the castle to go on an adventure to test her strength. She is followed by her tutor Borya and her priestly friend Kiryl.
Chapter 3 – Torneko: Torneko is a merchant from a small town with a dream to run a thriving business with his family in the castle town of Endor. Out of all the chapters, this one is quite strange as it’s not as very action oriented as the rest of the game. You spend a large chunk of the game either running stores, and even running around raising money to have items for your store.
Chapter 4 – Maya and Meena: Maya and Meena are two dancers who go out on a quest to exact revenge on the man who killed their father.
Chapter 5 – Hero: You, the Hero’s, peaceful hometown has just been attacked by monsters and during this, your dying friend reveals that you are really the Legendary Hero and you must follow your destiny to rid the world of evil.
The PS1 and DS remakes also contain a prologue and a Chapter 6. The prologue consists as an intro for the hero, and Chapter 6 is the aftermath of defeating the evil Psaro the Manslayer.
Unlike many of the Final Fantasy games, Dragon Quest as a series isn’t necessarily renowned for its rich storytelling, the series largely focuses mostly on the quest. That’s not to say the story is bad, it’s just not a story driven game. You should also keep in mind that this was originally an NES game, so the storytelling can feel archaic to those who aren’t familiar with the style of retro RPGs.
For the gameplay, it’s largely the same from the NES original, but there are a couple of archaic features that have been updated from the original. They added in auto-target, which is where if two party members target the same monster and one kills it before the other, the second one will attack a different monster. In the original, the second character would just miss, which would mean a lost turn. They also gave you a bag which gives you a limitless inventory. Also in the original, in Chapter 5, your party members were on auto-pilot, which they removed so you can choose to manually control your party.
For the unaltered gameplay, it’s your typical JRPG, so there isn’t much to explain that people don’t already know since the series is known for its very traditional gameplay. The series is largely the standard model other RPG’s based themselves off of. Everything down to the exploration and battle system is very standard. For the very standard turn based battle system, you can either manually control your characters, or pick between different tactics where your everyone but the leader is on auto-pilot. This is all done in a first person view, so all you see is the monsters and the portraits of your character above your stats. So if you were looking for a unique gameplay experience, then you’ll probably be very disappointed.
The graphics may be loads better than the NES version, but if you’re expecting fancy graphics for the DS, then you should look away. The game looks like a souped up SNES game, but it’s detailed enough to make you not really worry about it. Despite looking like a fancy SNES game, the towns and dungeons are in a somewhat 3D environment. While still keeping a top down view, you can rotate the camera a full 360 degrees around in villages and in certain dungeons. With this, you can notice that the buildings and trees are actually made of polygons that add more depth to your environment. While the PS1 version has a more isometric town with 2D sprites with the houses looking more three dimensional, the DS version looks more smooth and the houses blend with the sprites better than the PS1 version.
The game utilizes both screens in an interesting fashion. Much of the game takes place on the lower screen, but when you’re in towns and in large dungeons, the visuals extend into the top screen, giving you more to see. This is a pretty neat feature, and adds more depth to your world, allowing you to see how large the castles and such are. In the overworld, the top screen shows you the world map. It’s interesting how accustomed you get to this when you decide to play the NES version, and you’re having to search for a map to figure out where you’re supposed to go.
A complaint that some people have with the game is that there is a lot of cookie cutter graphics that they have throughout the game. They have sprites for the same generic townspeople, down to the trees and houses in the towns. Despite the fact that each town has a unique layout to it, some people are not satisfied that the various towns themselves feel too copy and pasted. Though if you’re familiar with the franchise, this isn’t anything new, but if you’re a newbie to the series, this is something to consider.
The artwork is where Dragon Quest is known for. Returning to the series, the famed manga artist Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame once again has come to design the characters in your party and the monsters. While he designed them for the NES game, the DS game does more justice to his art. The monster sprites in battle, while two dimensional, are animated and the animation for the spells are nice enough to get the job done. Another minor complaint newbies to the series will find is that as you get farther in the game, they’ll start color swapping some of the monsters. If you’re a veteran to the series, or to other RPG’s from that era, it’s not that unusual (even Final Fantasy is still guilty of it), but it feels a bit lazy for modern gamers, so you should keep in mind that this is a game from 1992.
For the music, series composer Koichi Sugiyama returns to compose the music. While a massive step up from the simple NES soundtrack, it still sounds massively similar to the PS1 version, but the opening Dragon Quest theme is performed by a real orchestra which is always better than a midi track. The interesting aspect of the soundtrack is that they have different overworld themes for each chapter, and they even change it in the middle of the 5th chapter when you gather all of your party members from the first four chapters.
The music itself is very well composed and sounds fantastic when performed live in a full orchestra, so if you really enjoyed the soundtrack, each DQ game has a full orchestral album. The town music itself is very bright and cheerful and you’ll end up humming the theme when you’re visiting in and out of town. While there are several tracks on the OST, it’s not as diverse as modern RPG’s, so you’re going to end up hearing the same town music in pretty much every town that doesn’t have a castle and the same cave music over and over. So if you’re looking for a diverse soundtrack, this might be a concern for you if you easily get sick of hearing the same songs over and over.
Dragon Quest IV is a fantastic game and is highly recommended for those into the classics, but if you’re a fan of modern RPG’s, this game as a whole will probably feel too archaic for you. So if you’re not a hardcore RPG fan, or looking to bask in classic gaming, Dragon Quest IV is not the game for you.