"Dragon Quest IV was always about those five stories and they were always interesting, but never to the current extent. Maybe the old translation job was handled poorly or perhaps I was too young at the time to appreciate such things. Perhaps the graphics just weren't up to the task of communicating the required subtleties. Whatever the case, I never cared enough to wonder how the scraps of narrative all fit together. Imagine my surprise, then, when Chapters of the Chosen showed me that the story behind the scenes is actually quite compelling."
In the past, I've dared to argue that complex plots are the last thing that console role-playing games really need. They move the focus away from the gameplay, I've said, and I stand by that point. Many RPG fans these days seem content to shove exploration, combat and customization to the side. All that matters to them is the next cutscene, that moment you always know is coming where an effeminate hero's soul is finally stripped bare and he can shove aside the last remnants of his manhood to join with the girl of his dreams and live happily ever after. We'd be a lot better off, I've sometimes suggested, if more games nowadays played like the classics and left the drama to novelists and Hollywood. Titles like the early installments in the Dragon Quest series didn't have much plot to them at all, and look how good they were!
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen has made me rethink some of that. It has the sprawling world map, an extensive bestiary and enough skills and items to satisfy just about any virtual adventurer. The hallmarks of the series are all here, right down to the little things like the thrill of stumbling across an island village encircled by mountains. The beloved musical score pipes out of the speakers the minute you access the title screen and the hostile welcoming party you encounter when you leave the safety of the first village will probably be a wandering slime or two. Such familiar touches are wonderful and you can't imagine how glad I am to see them all represented here in their full glory, but for many gamers they were never the key selling point. That honor always belonged to the plot, and for the first time I know why.
Chapter one begins plainly by telling the story of a hearty soldier named Ragnar. At the king's behest, he's trying to solve a mystery. The local children have been disappearing at an alarming rate and now there are barely any youths left at all. Something is obviously wrong and if someone doesn't put an end to the rash of abductions, the human population in the region won't have much of a future to look forward to.
Then there's the second chapter, featuring a feisty princess who has grown tired of waiting around in her royal chambers for something worthwhile to happen. There are swords to raise in combat, battle cries to shout... a world to see! With some loyal vassals at her side, she'll head to the tournament in Endor to prove to herself and to the world that it takes a lot more than the affairs at court to test her mettle.
Next comes chapter three, the lighthearted story of an ambitious man named Taloon who dreams of someday owning his own weapon shop. One morning--seemingly out of the blue--he skips out on work and instead embarks on an adventure that will see him scaring up all sorts of mayhem.
Chapter four follows and presents the tale of two young dancers who are mourning the murder of their father by his treacherous apprentice. The unforgivable betrayal has them seeing red and they'll chase him halfway around the world if that's what it takes to see justice served.
Finally, there's the fifth and longest chapter. It relates the story of a young hero--you, in fact--who grew up in a mountain village. Sheltered from the outside world and carrying a secret so surprising that any premature revelations could affect the fate of the human race, you have absolutely no idea just how much things will soon change. Before you know it, you'll embark on the quest of your life, aided by unlikely heroes from all walks of life (now some of the significance of those first chapters is clearer). Only by working together can you hope to triumph over the evil rising throughout the world, but will that be enough?
Dragon Quest IV was always about those five stories and they were always interesting, but never to the current extent. Maybe the old translation job was handled poorly or perhaps I was too young at the time to appreciate such things. Perhaps the graphics just weren't up to the task of communicating the required subtleties. Whatever the case, I never cared enough to wonder how the scraps of narrative all fit together. Imagine my surprise, then, when Chapters of the Chosen showed me that the story behind the scenes is actually quite compelling. Suddenly I understand the importance of ruby tears. I get why those children went missing, why an alchemist had to die and why an emperor lost his voice. Understanding all of it feels pretty good, too.
If a more meaningful retelling of the original tale were its only accomplishment, Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen would perhaps warrant only a cautious recommendation. Fortunately, the value doesn't end there. Besides making the story more cohesive, the developers significantly upgraded the visuals. There are meaningful changes too, not just more detailed sprites and character portraits (though those are welcome, too). For example, buildings now have their own sort of identity. Towns aren't all paved by the same walkways. When you find a lonely island village with a faltering economy, the grass-roofed shanties stand out in stunning contrast to the majestic stone towers of the city of Endor. You can do a direct comparison between the 8-bit NES release and this newest revision and find that in some ways very little has changed, but somehow the experience feels completely new and much more convincing.
Battles also deserve a quick mention because somehow they just feel more active. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and reflect the wide range of environments you'll encounter throughout your quest, with some even featuring animation such as flowing rivers. The changes go beyond that, though; I seem to recall the old game forcing you to give up control of most of your party by the time the fifth chapter rolled around. While that's still an option here if you set your party tactics accordingly, you're also allowed to issue all commands directly. Sometimes Taloon will clown around and do his own thing no matter what you say--funny when it works for the best, aggravating when it doesn't--but for the most part you're in charge unless you wish otherwise.
Another worthwhile change is the inclusion of an in-game map. Though I can imagine myself happily going back to play the NES version at some point in the future--there is a certain charm to the original that no amount of polish can completely replace--I know that I'd miss the map. It's just so handy! The minute you venture into the overworld, you'll see the little radar letting you know how much of the landscape you've traversed and where you are in relation to important landmarks. If things are too mysterious for you, pressing the 'Y' button lets you zoom into something that looks hand-drawn and downright specific. It might not sound like a huge deal, but I was thankful for the resource on numerous occasions.
Medals are another addition. At the bottom of wells, in out-of-the-way buildings and so forth, you'll often stumble across the little trinkets. Gather enough of them and (after a certain point in the game) you'll be able to trade them in for some cool prizes. This is a nice way to reward exploration and nicely complements the addictive battles you can watch unfolding at the casino in Endor. I remember wasting hours with those back on the NES, and nothing has changed; they're every bit as addictive as they were before.
I'm thankful that Square-Enix produced and published Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen for the DS so that I got the chance to experience it all over again... this time with open eyes. Whether you've conquered the classic title a hundred times throughout the years or have never experienced it at all, whether you've delved into the deepest plot details or don't know anything beyond what I summarized in this review, give this reworked edition the time it deserves. There's more to the story than you ever knew and there's never been a better time to watch it unfold.
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 22, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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