Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Handheld Adventures Part 9: Dragon Quest 4 for the DS review




Before I start today’s review, I must fix a few screw-ups that I made during my Dragon Quest 8 review and in my Final Fantasy 13-2 review. I originally said that there was no revive spell, and you had to constantly go back to the churches to revive your fallen comrades. Well, that is not true. There are two revive spells, but the first one you get will only work half the time and it’s almost useless. I mean it isn’t totally useless, but it was more reliable to just go back to the church to revive them. Oh, and whoever had the idea of some of the bosses being able to attack twice in one turn needs to go to jail. In my Final Fantasy 13-2 review some people took note that I commented on Dragon Quest 7 being a poorly aged and terrible RPG. For the record, I was being a bit harsh since I wanted to try to be more cynical in my reviews since that is what people want to see. Dragon Quest 7 isn’t a terrible RPG, plus you really have to have the patience of a rock to get into it and it is rather tedious. Its only crime is that it hasn’t aged well. Now that I got that out of the way, let’s conveniently move to more Dragon Quest. The amazingly popular RPG franchise turned 25, and to celebrate, Japan is getting the Super Famicom revamps of the first three games and we also have a new Dragon Quest on the horizon for the Wii and Wii U. I think as of now, Dragon Quest is the better franchise of RPG’s from Japan than Final Fantasy since well, 13-2 is just average for me. Anyone who says it’s a super amazing game is probably lying and or in denial. I know everyone has his or her own opinion, but the majority of the community knows that the 13th entry into the used-to-be Fantasy RPG franchise is one of the weakest. Dragon Quest however, while having some minor bumps on the road to franchising, has not really had a bad game. The only complaint I could say is that the NES games and Dragon Quest 7 don’t age well. Let us now shift to today’s review, Dragon Quest 4: Chapters of the Chosen for the DS.  

The story is unique as it is set up in different chapters, focusing on different characters in each chapter. The prologue focuses very shortly on the preset Hero of the story that you can of course name and choose whether Hero is male or female. The first chapter focuses on a knight named Ragnar who goes on a quest to find kidnapped children, only to learn about a plan to kill the legendary hero, and sets off to find him. The second chapter follows a not so stereotypical princess named Tsarevna Alena who wants to get out of her overprotective father’s grasp on her, and leaves with a priest named Kiryl, and her tutor, Borya, and they all three adventure across the land. The third chapter follows everyone’s favorite character, Taloon or Torneko (whichever name you prefer), a jolly middle-aged man who goes on an adventure to one day own his own weapon shop. The 4th chapter revolves around two hot sisters, Maya, a belly dancer and Meena, who is a fortuneteller. They set off on a quest to find the person who murdered their father only to find out it’s not all that it seems. The 5th chapter finally returns us to the Hero’s village that is then under attack, and Hero is the only one who survives. He finds out that he has a greater destiny than he could ever know, and joins up with the characters from the past 4 chapters to save the land from a great evil. The 6th chapter focuses with the heroes helping the main bad guy named Psaro The Manslayer (no spoilers here) get revenge on the person who killed Rose, who happens to be Psaro’s lover. This is also only available in the PS1 and DS remake so no 6th chapter for you guys wanting to find the NES version of this game. The story is pretty simple as most Dragon Quest games are, but the characters are enjoyable and memorable. The only bad thing I could say is that the story doesn’t really pick up until you get to the 5th chapter, and the characters stay sort of on the bland side until the 5th chapter. Don’t get me wrong though, they are fun and unique. I mean, Taloon wouldn’t have so many spin-off games if he wasn’t so popular.
The gameplay is what you would usually expect; it’s a turn-based Japanese-oriented RPG. It’s the same formula that you know and love from the series. You travel around a vast world of continents, running into monsters designed by famous manga artist Akira Toriyama, and meet some fun and memorable characters to stop an evil force. Battles are in first person, like the old PC RPG’s like Wizardry, and you can fight up to basically 8 enemies at once, if you allow that to happen. Luckily for you, if you have the DS version, you can control your allies this time, unlike in the NES version where the computer controlled them (to varying degrees of success). Only certain minor characters are computer-controlled in the DS version. You gain weapons and armor pieces that you can equip your characters by either finding items from dead enemies with Taloon’s ability to make items drop much more often, or buying them with your very hard earned cash.  Grinding and random battles seem like Dragon Quest traditions, and they are still present here. You will need to grid a lot to take down rather hard enemies and bosses later on in the game. Each chapter starts you with a new character that begins at level 1, so it might get tedious for some of you to keep starting back at level 1, 5 different times. At the 5th chapter, everyone is basically the same level except for your main hero, but he will soon be able to reach the same level as other characters. Sadly, there is no alchemy pot so you have to buy everything. Other than the simple and memorable battle system, there are the local casinos to keep you distracted with gambling, and the monster arena where you can bet on which monster is likely to win. Overall, you will probably get about 30 hours unless you want to level them all up to the max level and get all of the spells, then you will probably be getting 40 hours.
The graphics look great. They look like a port from the PS1 version with, of course, some tweaks. Enemies are now animated instead of looking like they are just standing still. This gives the more playful designs of Toriyama’s monsters more life. It might look a bit outdated, but if you love games like Lunar: Silver Star Story or Grandia 1, you won’t mind these graphics. The music, while limited, is very good with that incredibly catchy and well-done opening theme music. It’s probably the one theme besides the Grandia theme that gets me pumped up and think of going on an epic adventure! Overall, you get a good nostalgic package for the people who know about Dragon Quest 4, but have never played it and don’t want to spend the huge amount of money for an NES copy.
So, with such a unique RPG, what could go wrong with it? Well, there are a few things that I felt were annoying. Even though I fully accept random battles and how frequent they are here, they could have been happening a bit less while being in the overworld. The battles can already be hard, so why not just make them happen less, and just give us more experience points like in the Gamecube port of Skies of Arcadia? I know in the end the random battles and hours of leveling up will help you get past the hard boss fights, but the only time I streamlined my leveling up was when I took out a Metal Slime. In a way though, I can’t fully complain since when you get the horse and wagon thing, you can level up your party even when they don’t fight. Again, the characters while memorable are pretty bland and don’t talk fully until the 5th chapter. I wish they could be able to talk so I could get more invested in them. There are also some grammar errors later in the game when your team meets up with the princess from the second chapter, but I don’t fully know if it’s a grammar issue or it’s just the accent from her region. Everyone in Dragon Quest 4 has different accents depending on the region you are from, but the princess just doesn’t sound right when you read her dialogue.
So, what are my final thoughts about this game? While it is a bit simple, it’s still a great old-fashioned RPG. I know people probably prefer Dragon Quest 5 and 8 to this one, but I think it stands as one of the best, even though my favorite is still Dragon Quest 8. Now, there are 3 ways to get your hands on this gem. The first is the NES version, it’s stupidly expensive and from what I have read, it is an inferior version not because its 8-bit, but of the AI-controlled allies and it being an NES RPG means it doesn’t age that well. The second is the Japanese PS1 version, which is of course in Japanese and is also expensive. Go get the DS version. It is cheaper at about 20 dollars or so and it’s the superior version. As we look upon the horizon for the next Dragon Quest that is going to be an MMO, make sure you prepare yourself for another adventure, and why not start with Dragon Quest?
This game gets an 8 out of 10

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