RPG Review #94: Dragon Quest IV

NuMetalManiak Dragon Quest IV, titled Dragon Warrior IV or Chapters of the Chosen, continues the saga of many games that make up the Dragon Quest series, being the fourth one. It was the last one on the NES, as V was first released on the SNES. Later on, IV got remakes on the PS1 and then the Nintendo DS. Even though I was more inclined to play one of the remakes of Dragon Quest IV, I decided to opt for the original platform on the NES. So yeah, I missed some things here, but at least I got to experience most of it, and here we go. Countdown to seven.

Gameplay: Standard four-party turn-based RPG mechanisms are at work here. Basically all of the stuff from the previous Dragon Warrior games is present here, including little ditties like monster betting (expanded into a full-fledged casino), day and night cycles, and sea and air travel. So what's new? Most of it honestly is in the hero's chapter in the game, but before we get to that, note that we name the hero, and then play the first chapter, featuring someone who isn't the hero. Yes, this is a chapter-based game, where you play as a certain character and companions for one chapter, then move on to the next, before we finally get to the hero's chapter. Also we have NPC recruits, those who work entirely off of AI but can't have anything changed to them.

So the hero's chapter. It basically has you having the main characters from the previous chapter join, and also includes the wagon for the journey. Since there's more than four characters in the main party and only up to four can participate in battle, the wagon characters can be switched into and out of the active party, both in and out of battle, which is handy. And experience tends to work out for the ones in the wagon just as long as you have it. The other notable change in the hero's chapter, one that is somewhat controversial, is the tactics system. Basically, choose a battle tactic, which goes for the characters that aren't the hero. See, you only control what your Hero does in battle, while the remaning characters are left at the mercy of the AI, meaning they might not do what you want. Oh, and you can leave your hero out of the active party, but this usually makes the gameplay harder. And speaking of difficulty, overall it's not THAT grindy, but it's definitely not a breeze. Grade: B

Characters: Hero: The main hero of the game can be of either gender (male canon name is Solo, female canon name is Sofia), and naturally has all the hero traits, so we won't go there. Also the hero is half-human, half-Zenithian (wing people).
Ragnar: Ragnar is the first playable character. He's a knight captain who is only a really good physical fighter, no magic.
Alena: The princess, or rather, Tsarevna (because the remakes needed to make her nation Russian of sorts) of Santeem (Zamovska). Her main class is being a martial artist, fast, good attack, somewhat weak defense, and no magic.
Cristo: Also known as Clift or Kiryl, Cristo is one of Alena's companions and fulfills the cleric role, having good healing spells along with instakill spells (that he loves using in battle).
Brey: Also known as Borya, Brey is Alena's tutor and fulfills the classic mage role, incredibly bad defensively but having some decent support spells and ice attack spells.
Taloon: Also known as Torneko, he's a traveling merchant with a wife and a kid who seeks to be a legendary arms merchant and to have his own store. Average in combat, but in the Hero's chapter, his AI does weird things. Kinda like the jester class in III. Also Taloon, as Torneko, gets several spinoff games such as Torneko: The Last Hope.
Mara: Also known as Manya or Maya, Mara is a dancer who's week physically but gains powerful attack magic.
Nara: Also known as Minea or Meena, Nara is the fortune-teller and Mara's twin sister. Weaker than Mara and having mostly wind or status spells.

Those are the main playables for the entirety of Dragon Quest IV, but there are a few NPC characters like Healie, Laurent and Strom (Laurel and Hardie), Orin (Oojam), Hector (Hank Hoffman Junior), Panon (Tom Foolery), Orifiela (Lucia) and Doran (Sparkie). Some of these are optional recruits and I would prefer the characters I can tweak more. Also the main villain, Saro (Psaro) or otherwise Necrosaro, actually ends up being a playable character in the sixth chapter, but only in the remakes of the game. Wow, Dragon Warrior IV puts some characterization for once. Effort! Grade: B+

Plot: Chapter 1: The Royal Soldiers: Ragnar is the star of Chapter 1. Ragnar's main deal as a respectable knight captain is to set off to find missing children. While he rescues a few, he then confronts the monster responsible for the kidnappings. He then finds out that the monster was looking for the legendary hero that would defeat the evil (which of course is the main hero) and that the hero is still a child. Ragnar closes the chapter by setting off to find the hero.

Chapter 2: Princess Alena's Adventure: Alena is mischievous and decides to sneak out from her castle. Cristo and Brey accompany her and help a town out. Returning home, her father, the king of Santeem, has lost his voice, and its up to Alena to restore it. The king spoke about a bad dream about the end of the world, apparently. Later, Alena participates in a grand tournament, and when the star fighter Necrosaro fails to show up for the championship, Alena is the new champion. Returning home, where did everyone go? Alena, Cristo, and Brey set off to find out.

Chapter 3: Taloon the Arms Merchant: Taloon's chapter has an interesting gimmick where he can actually work as a behind-the-counter weapons salesman. He of course sets off to become the best arms merchant there is, doing favors for nearby towns. Eventually he gets to actually have his own shop, and his family moves in with him. Upon hearing of more weapons elsewhere, he sets off after helping getting a new tunnel built.

Chapter 4: The Sisters of Monbaraba: Mara and Nara, two performers at the town of Monbaraba, set out to find the man known as Balzack (yeah, laugh), who murdered their father. After finding Orin and more clues, they reach Keeleon Castle, where they fight off the guy and then face off against Keeleon, which is a hopeless fight. In jail, the three plot an escape, with Orin holding off the guards as the sisters flee. The twins then get on a boat and leave.

Chapter 5 is the Hero's chapter, in which the hero while growing up gets attacked and the hometown destroyed. While the hero escapes from Necrosaro's minions, he/she sets off to find help. The main characters from the previous chapters are acquired in reverse order, Mara and Nara are sulking in the arena/casino town, then you meet Hector who tells you about an interesting "cave of betrayal" before he joins and gives the wagon. Taloon is found trying to deal with a lighthouse preventing sea travel, then you get your boat. The next town has Brey tending to Cristo who's sick, while Alena set off alone to find the cure, which is something called a Padequia Seed. Eventually you find it, cure Cristo, and have him and Alena join. Meanwhile, Ragnar is in trouble, having to deal with Keeleon at his castle, then you defeat Keeleon and recruit Ragnar, the whole gang is now together.

The heroes fight off Balzack at the abandoned Santeem castle, then set off to find the Zenithian equipment, required for the hero to reach Zenithian Castle. It's possible to get a dream in a town where you learn more about Saro's motives, it's as cliche as the dead girl story. We also get several key items and infiltrate Dire Castle, where Saro's main plans are revealed, the revival of Esturk (Ruler of Evil) is at hand, so it's stopped before it starts, basically. Eventually, we get all the Zenithian equipment and reach the Zenithian tower and castle where the Master Dragon instructs the hero to finally defeat Necrosaro, but of course first a rule of four: four barriers guarded by tough guardians to actually reach Necrosaro's castle, then mountain to finally reach the final boss. Yay.

Again, since I didn't play the remakes, I know nothing about the secret sixth chapter. But basically, Psaro, as he's known there, joins in order to avenge the death of his girlfriend Rosa and to right all the wrongs. Some cliches here and there with the plot, but there's still some interesting bits. Grade: B+

Music: What I liked was the individual overworld themes for each protagonist, and how after you get the full eight in the party, the overworld theme changes again. The town, castle, dungeon, and tower themes are pretty standard I guess. The battle theme is okay, although Mara and Nara get a unique one. Grade: B

Overall Grade: B

It's a rather questionable game in the series. It tries with its plot, and doesn't ultimately fail too harshly. But like all the others in the series, it's got cliches that I'm already aware of. The tactics system is definitely a hit or miss for this one. So far though, this is the most plot-driven Dragon Quest game to date.