IGN Review of Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
During the pinnacle of the Game Boy Advance's lifespan, many hardcore gamers couldn't imagine a system with more potential to revitalize their favorite classic games than Nintendo's own portable powerhouse. With everything from Phantasy Star to Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Namco's Tales series, the handheld had every port or remake imaginable.
Then the DS came, and is completely blowing it out of the water.
Square Enix has made a point to take huge advantage of the overwhelming success of DS, already releasing multiple Final Fantasy remakes (not ports), and now moving on to its other list of killer apps with Dragon Quest. Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen isn't exactly as unique or fresh as its Final Fantasy counterparts, but it's still a great trip down memory lane despite a relatively quick adaptation from the PSX version, and a somewhat sloppy interface. If you're curious about Dragon Quest IV (debatably the best of the classic DQ games), or if you're a long-time fan that's looking to get one hell of a trip down memory lane, this is worth the premium $40 price tag. If not, there are honestly a handful of stronger, DS-specific role-playing games out there.
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is a bit of an odd one, since it relies on the whole "new to you" feeling we get from being detached as a gaming society from Square's earlier years. Already releasing as a remake on the original PlayStation, this now "Chapters of the Chosen" adaptation makes its way to DS with many of the same elements, a mixed mash-up of both good and bad graphical conversion from the PSX remake, a wonderfully written new script, but an all-around feeling of déjà vu for anyone that closely follows this franchise's Japanese roots. It's still an impressive graphical offering, a strong remake, and a pretty deep overall package; it's just also a somewhat quick and dirty PSX-to-DS conversion.
We'll stay spoiler free (in both story and the few gameplay videos we've put up from the prologue) with this one, but in general Dragon Quest IV is one of the quintessential "NES era RPGs" out there. You've got a tale of a main hero who is destined to save the world, a supporting cast of mismatched comrades who all join up for their own personal reasons, but rally behind the game's lead for a common purpose, and a story that is ultimately as simple as "He's the bad guy. He wants to take over the world. Go kill him." We're simplifying it of course, but with source material that dates back nearly 20 years now, DQIV isn't exactly the freshest tale out there, though it is one with significant historical background in our industry. Rather than plopping you right into the main quest, picking up your allies as you go, DQIV actually begins with a short prologue using your hero character, and then tells the story of how your comrades came to be for the next four chapters, and dozen or so hours. Then, and only then, will your team be complete, and your full-on quest truly begin. Games like the original Wild Arms for PSX certainly took notes from DQIV, and have been ever since.
This unique, chapter-based hook is something toyed with from time to time nowadays, but was a totally new way of looking at storytelling when it first released, making it an interesting backbone to the experience, and just as fun to play through this time as it was on the original NES. Unfortunately, your overall opinion of whether or not DQIV for DS is worth your while is going to be totally dependant on how much weight you put into that original design, since there's very little done here to truly expand on the story, gameplay, or overall presentation. That isn't to say things haven't changed -- they have -- but when everything boils down, there's less of a revamp here than you'd find with something like Final Fantasy IV's star treatment on Nintendo's touch handheld.
Chapters of the Chosen uses the same 2D/3D trickery that the PSX remake did in its Japan-only release, and it's perhaps the most compelling reason to grind through the story again on DS. In an attempt to update the feel of the game, yet still keep it visually true to the source material, the entire world has been recreated in 3D, overlaying 2D sprites on it that change orientation based on the camera rotation. Where you'd before have just one angle on NES (obviously), now you can pan the camera with the L and R buttons, having sprites auto-flip as you do. That means that most of the game -- not all -- has been rebuilt in 3D, giving more substance to towns and dungeons, but keeping the overall world map, select rooms and areas, and battle screens in a locked 2D perspective.
In addition, Chapters of the Chosen has done a complete overhaul on the text in the game, fleshing out some story elements, adding different dialects to regions and characters (Irish and Scottish as just a few examples, with your first supporting character Ragnar McRyan being the latter of the two) and removing a lot of the rough translation that was in the first game. It's better, and it's one of the most notable aspects of the game's DS version when compared to the PSX content.
Where the game still feels dated though, and where some players will either cling on or stray from it as a remake, is in its core interface, presentation, and general flow. The interface screen, used for item and character management, is entirely wireframe with generic white boxes overlaid on the playfield. It's classic in design, but also really, really dated when compared to even the most basic of handheld RPGs. Both Final Fantasy remakes on DS thus far have retained their feel, but upped the overall polish of their interface design as well. This isn't the case with Chapters of the Chosen.
The portrait art -- another arguing point for the hardest of hardcore -- is entirely traditional, but the cartoonish vibe rubs us wrong after so many years, and it's admittedly a rougher, lower quality of in-game art than what today's gamers are going to expect. When in battle, the top screen is home to a very simple (again, white wireframe boxes) design, again using the classic icons overtop a single color background. Really? There was nothing else to put back there? So while the battles themselves are intentionally retro, and a mix of new enemy animations and bits and pieces of classically designed control and interface, the whole experience has this feeling of being a quick, rough crossover, rather than a truly revamped take on the series. It's one thing to keep the original feeling of the game, but there's wasted potential here, and that's something a game this legendary shouldn't have in it.
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