Retro-Review: Dragon Warrior IV

Title:  Dragon Warrior IV
Genre:  Roleplaying Game
Producer: Enix
Director:  Koichi Nakamura
Composer: Koichi Sugiyama
Artist: Akira Toriyama
Year Published:  1992

Dragon_Quest_IV_cover

Gameplay:  8 out of 10

Anyone who is familiar with the Dragon Warrior / Dragon Quest series expects a certain style of gameplay. You can expect the basic battle and non-battle interface. The high rating has to do with the innovations that this game introduced to the Dragon Warrior / Dragon Quest franchise.

The game was broken down into five unique chapters. Each chapter has a certain feel to it, the play-style catering to the primary protagonist. Ragnar, the soldier, was a solitary tank. Taloon, the merchant, ended up purchasing his own store and giving the player a way to make gold using the market.  Maya and Meena were magical sisters, requiring the gamer to play far more conservatively since mages can’t take a hit. This was unlike anything that happened before in the series, where the player started off with a generic ‘hero’ that could fight and cast magic, being the best of all worlds. This time, the player needed to adapt to the scenario.

Chapter 5 was incredibly different. The player could only control the hero. That’s it. Everyone else was under the control of the computer, affectionately called “artificial intelligence.” Most fans of the game hated this.They argued that everyone should have been under direct control of the player. I disagree. Chapter 5 was about the hero. It made sense that only the hero was controllable. It’s consistent with how the rest of the game was played.

Music / Graphics: 7 out of 10

DragonWarrior4-3 When compared to the graphics of the 8-bit era, Dragon Warrior IV was a bit disappointing. The graphics, in the overworld, were pretty similar to its predecessor, Dragon Warrior III (released in Japan back in 1988, in the U.S. in 1991). I was expecting some sort of improvement in this avenue, but there wasn’t any. The graphic improvements were found in-battle, with a lot of small details to make each enemy unique. It would have been better, and expected, for the improvements were found in both in and out of battle.

The music was done in the same style as the rest of the Dragon Warrior series. In the 8-bit era, it’s pretty much midi files. While the Dragon Warrior music is iconic, there wasn’t anything truly new or breathtaking in this game. Sure, it was pretty good. Each chapter had its own music, giving it its own feel. But there wasn’t anything really memorable like there was in Dragon Warrior VIII.

Story: 9 out of 10

dragon-quest-4-1575212Good lord was this good. The first four chapters had their own small stories, all of them tied together with the main overarching plot in really fun ways. It gave the player a unique understanding of what was going on, as they saw small pieces of everything.  Kidnapped children. The disappearance of everyone in a castle. The death of an alchemist. The theft of a gold bracelet. When it all came together, everything made perfect sense. It all focused on the return of evil and the quest to stop it.

Every other Dragon Warrior game is linear, with the hero clearly having a goal in mind. This game does not follow an exact linear progression thanks to the chapters. Imagine it. In the first chapter, Ragnar is trying to find missing children. In the second chapter, Alena quests around her father’s kingdom, trading a golden bracelet for a “kidnapped princess” and ultimately ended up fighting in a tournament to save a princess from marrying a monster. Chapter 3 had Taloon questing for the most powerful sword in the land, turning out to be the Zenithian Sword. Chapter 4 had Maya and Meena questing to avenge the murder of their father, one of the greatest alchemists of the world. And Chapter 5… well.. that’s when it all comes together.

Replayability: 5 out of 10

I ended up playing this game several times, but that’s because I love the gameplay of the series. I liked Dragon Warrior IV’s take on it. But I do not think others would have the same level of fascination with it all. I can see people playing it once or twice and that’s it.

But….

Overall Score:  29 out of 40

This is a fun game. A really, really, really fun game. The story in this game is the 2nd best of the series. The gameplay was truly innovative. It was hit and miss with Dragon Warrior fans, but man…. I admire Enix for taking the risk for doing it. It’s not often that one will see such a unique departure from expected norms.

dw4nes_018Plus, if you ever talk to any fans of the series, this game will almost always rate #2 or #3 of their favorite Dragon Warrior game. And it is easy to see why. For Dragon Warrior fans, story is what sets everything apart (with the exception of Dragon Quest VIII and its flawless use of 3D) since the gameplay is pretty much identical between the games. But with Dragon Warrior IV…

We’ll always remember the dead silence at the end of Chapter 2 with Alena’s home castle emptied by an unknown force.
We’ll always remember the mine with all the broken people and dead bodies.
We’ll always remember Saro swearing to wipe out all humanity after killing the humans who beat his true love to death.
We’ll always remember the hero’s hometown being wiped out

Give the game a try. You won’t regret it.

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