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NDS Review - 'Dragon Quest IV: The Chapters of the Chosen'

by Matt Olsen on Oct. 31, 2008 @ 2:18 a.m. PDT

Get ready to journey through the lands, seas and skies of the vibrant Dragon Quest world with a trilogy of updates. With 3D graphics, newly animated monsters and dual screen presentation, the series promises to captivate an entirely new generation of players, as well as treat long-time fans to three beloved adventures.

Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: ArtePiazza
Release Date: September 16, 2008

My first step into the world of Dragon Quest was pretty late in the series, with Dragon Quest VIII. Since then, the series and its spin-offs have captivated me with everything from Dragon Quest Heroes and Monsters to Slime plushies. As a late bloomer, I haven't had the chance to check out the earlier titles, but luckily, Square Enix has taken a cue from its constant rehashing of the Final Fantasy titles and has produced a remake of Dragon Quest IV for the DS.

The first thing you'll notice after starting up Dragon Quest IV is the opening cut scene of the flying city of Zenethia, with the Master Dragon flying around and an orchestrated version of the main overture theme playing in the background. The visuals take on a 3-D polygonal appearance that shows off the DS' graphical abilities, which are pretty good for the hardware. During the actual game, though, the buildings and structures are the only things that appear in 3-D, along with the inclusion of a rotating map. Everything else — ranging from the characters, monsters and items — appear as crisp character sprites. In short, this was more than a simple port of the 1992 classic for the NES. In 2001, the game was remade for the PlayStation, which used the same engine as Dragon Quest VII (Dragon Warrior in the U.S.), and DQIV, the remake in question, sees even more improvements. Essentially, Dragon Quest IV for the DS is a remake of the PS1 remake.

In addition to the graphical upgrades, an updated translation of the script and character names has been made. While the updates may anger purists of the original, it'll appeal to players who aren't familiar with the series. Furthermore, spells have adopted the naming conventions of Dragon Quest VIII.

The main story hasn't been changed drastically. Like the PS1 remake, the DS version includes the bonus sixth chapter that acted as an epilogue for the main story and gave the real, true ending. The story begins with the prologue, establishing an unnamed Hero who is ignorant of his destiny. Following the introduction, there are four chapters where you learn the backstories from the perspectives of the seven other characters and see the events that lead up to their meeting with the Hero.

The first chapter revolves around the veteran knight, Ragnar, who is ordered to investigate the recent disappearances of youths. Upon solving this mystery, he discovers that the kidnapping was part of a plan to find the Hero, who is supposed to defeat the Lord of the Underworld. As a result, Ragnar journeys out to find this youth before these fiends find him first.

The next chapter deals with the tomboyish princess, Alena, who seeks to test her strength and is accompanied by the priest, Kiryl, and the elderly magician, Borya, who noticed Alena escape from the castle. After competing in the coliseum, Alena returned home and discovered the castle to be completely empty, prompting her to go on a quest to unearth the meaning of these disappearances.

Then there's the merchant, Torneko, who plans to be the greatest merchant in the world, and the revenue he acquires from starting up his own shops is used for digging a tunnel that connects two continents. He also used the funds to purchase a boat that the party will be able to use upon meeting up with him.

Finally, there are the entertaining sisters: Maya the fire magic-using dancer, and the healing/support magic-using fortune teller, Meena. Their father was murdered by his student Balzack, and they seek to avenge his death. After completing these chapters, the main story returns to the Hero, whose village is attacked by monsters that are searching for him. The villagers remind Hero that he must prevent the Lord of the Underworld from being resurrected. The Hero flees and sets out to fulfill his destiny, and eventually, his path overlaps with the other characters', and their fates become intertwined once again.

Overall, you're looking at over 30 hours of playtime with DQIV: the first 10 for the introductory chapters, the next 10 involving the unification of the party, and the last 10 for locating the necessary Zenethian equipment to meet with the Master Dragon, who knows the location of the Lord of the Underworld's resurrection. Throughout these sections, you'll travel through towns to gather information about these objectives, which will eventually lead to exploring dungeons and cave, as well as battling monsters in true RPG fare.

Players engage in random turn-based battles, a staple of the RPG genre. You may select up to four characters to participate in battle (the first four that appear in your marching order), but all of the characters earn the same amount of experience points, which is a welcome alternative for RPGs that include large parties. Another neat feature is that when you're fighting on the world map and your main party falls in battle, the remaining characters will hop out of the wagon, which you've acquire in the course of the story, and give you a second chance to finish (or flee) the fight. You'll have to travel to a church and pay a fee to resurrect any fallen party members, at least until one of your healers learns the revival spell, Zing!

Combat is fairly simple, and there is a list of commands (e.g., attack, magic, items) that can be issued by your party. Do not be deceived by the simplistic appearance of Dragon Quest because the game will tear you apart if you're not prepared. Spells in DQIV that increase your party's attributes are godsends, although they're often neglected in other RPGs. For instance, Kabuff is used for increasing your party's defense, which can be stacked, and it may also be a good idea to use Sap for decreasing a boss's defense. In the event that your strategy includes the aforementioned spells and you're still getting worked, then you may have to grind a couple of levels to become strong enough, which may turn off some gamers.

Aside from the aging gameplay mechanics, some of my gripes include the lack of utilizing the DS' functionalities. Unlike other RPGs on the system, DQIV doesn't use the touch-screen at all, not even for selecting battle commands. The two screens are used for displaying more of the area in towns and dungeons, but the gap between the screens can throw players off. On the world map, your party travels on the touch-screen and the world map is displayed on the top screen. In battle, your enemies and commands will appear on the touch-screen, while your party's status appears on the top. Aside from the graphical tweaks, this game could have easily been on the GBA, but I suppose it's better to cater to the more current system.

Another minor gripe in Dragon Quest IV's uninteresting soundtrack. The melodies for this title didn't strike me as much as those in DQVIII. Also, there aren't any voice-overs for the large amounts of text, which would've been nice, but that's expecting too much for a handheld title. The other sound effects will be familiar to fans of the series, such as the "battle won" chime and the game-save hymn when you save the game at a church. In short, if you've played any of the other games in the series, you'll enjoy the audio reminders of the series' past.

All in all, Dragon Quest IV is an excellent addition (or duplicate) to any RPG fan's collection. I recommend checking it out if you missed it the first couple of times as it'll keep you busy until the brand new Dragon Quest IX releases later next year.

Score: 8.5/10

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