Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen review

My first experience with the Dragon Quest series was the excellent 8th installment in the series, Journey of the Cursed King for the PS2 (check out my review here). Since then I have been keen to play through some of the earlier games in the series, and Square-Enix's decision to re release the "Zenithia trilogy" - IV, V and VI - has given me the perfect opportunity. Does the game play still match up to modern day RPG's, or is this one too old school for its own good?

Format: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: ArtePiazza
Genre: Turn based RPG
Expect to pay: £10 - £15

Graphics: 6 out of 10
When I first fired up my cartridge of Chapters of the Chosen, my initial thought was "God, that's ugly!" The graphics for towns and dungeons are quite blocky, and the NPC's wandering are incredibly pixellated sprites. There are a few instances that actually look quite nice, especially when the game makes a feature of the dungeons and spreads them across both screens, but for the most part the graphics are decidedly average.

Fortunately things do improve somewhat once you get into battle with the many monsters. Akira Toriyamas classic designs are both well drawn and witty, and the animations are pretty good too. So on the whole the game won't exactly blow you away with its visuals like Dragon Quest VIII did, but it is running on a DS rather than a PS2, after all. Don't be off put by the rather crude visuals, as the game more than makes up for it in other key areas.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The soundtrack composed by series regular Koichi Sugiyama is extremely catchy - particularly the upbeat town theme. Most of the music of the game sounds a little synthy, with the exception of the Dragon Quest main theme that plays on the title screen which is the symphonic version.

The same classic sound effects for spells, slime attacks and the like that have featured in every single entry in the series since the first one are all present and correct. For DQ fans, that comfy sense of nostalgia that the game creates is all down to little details like this remaining constant so you can't really knock the developers too much for sticking to a long standing tradition.

This shot demonstrates how the game uses both screens to show you more of the scenery. The sprites don't look too bad here but their blurriness is exacerbated by movement.

Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
At its core, this is about as traditional an RPG as you're ever likely to play, with random encounters, turn based battles and plenty of grinding, but within the framework of the series Enix did play around with the formula a little for this entry. After a fairly brief prologue as a hero that you get to name yourself, you are whisked off to take control of the first of many characters, Ragnar McRyan, a heroic old knight with a Scottish accent who has been tasked with tracking down some missing children. Eventually, this chapter will end, and the focus will shift to another character for the next 8 or so hours. This happens four times until you eventually regain control of the character from the prologue again in chapter 5, and track down all of the others to create one big party in order to take down the main baddy of the game.

The highlight of the whole game for me was the chapter centred around the character of Torneko Taloon. He starts of working behind the counter in a small town shop for a thankless boss but he harbours aspirations of setting up his own business. Eventually he/you get to do just that, and you can take any excess armour or weaponry dropped from random encounters back to your loyal wife to sell off. This actually gives the grinding that you have to do a purpose and makes it addictive to boot. Eventually Torneko earns enough gold to build a tunnel through to the neighbouring kingdom, where he decides to travel onwards, and his wife converts the shop into a bank, but for that brief section of the game it's fun to do something a little outside of the norm for an RPG. Torneko has become such a beloved character to fans of the series that he was given several spin off games of his own.

Dragon Quest is often regarded as quite an old fashioned RPG franchise, and it is in many ways, but in a few key areas the designers really were ahead of their time. Should your entire party be wiped out you don't get sent to a Game Over screen for example, instead you lose half of whatever gold your currently carrying, your main character is resurrected at the nearest church and you have to pay to bring back your fallen comrades. There are also spells such as Evac that quickly transports you to the start of a dungeon, and Zoom which lets you instantly travel to major towns that you've visited before, and you can avoid having your funds slashed in half but putting any excess cash in the bank before setting off to whatever dungeon you have to visit next. All of these aids combined meant that I never felt afraid to go off and explore even if I was under levelled.

There are several places throughout the game where the next boss will be a significantly higher level than you, however, especially towards the end of the game, so inevitably you will have to grind for experience and gold so that you can buy better equipment for your party. In every Dragon Quest game you can find rare metal slimes though, that dish out much higher amounts of experience than any other monster, and it's possible to seek out a weapon that can kill them fairly easily, so at least there are a handful of areas in the game that you can stick around in and farm them for levels much quicker than you would be able to otherwise.

Here he is, ladies and gentlemen - Torneko Taloon

Innovation and Cleverness: 5 out of 10
I'm going to give Chapters of the Chosen a few points here because of Torneko's chapter that I have just mentioned, as it really is different than anything I've experienced in an RPG before (I expect somebody somewhere has ripped off the idea but I haven't discovered it yet).

For the most part though DQ's battle mechanics, atmosphere and style had been established long before this entry... but to fans that's where a lot of the charm lies - the simplicity, the familiarity, the pure addictive gameplay - so I can't bring myself to be too harsh to the game in this regard.

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
I don't think Dragon Quest has really caught on in Europe, which is a shame, but on the other hand it does mean that you can pick up the DS games fairly cheaply. This one cost me a £10 brand new when I bought it in the summer, and for that price I got almost 40 hours of gameplay from it - which is an awful lot for a handheld game.

I doubt you will replay the game once done with it, especially considering how many amazing new games are constantly being released, not to mention that there are many other game in the same franchise to try out as well.

Overall: 8 out of 10When I was really into this game I couldn't stop playing it, and my other consoles including the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii remained unplayed while I worked my way through the story. The rather large amount of grinding before facing the final boss and the bonus content put me off a little bit and I stopped playing for a while, but I always intended to come back and finish the game off (which I have done just recently). I've already started on the next game in the series, Hand of the Heavenly Bride, and I also look forward to the release of part VI: Realms of Reverie and the all new part IX: Defender of the Starry Sky later on this year. It's a very good time to get into the Dragon Quest series!

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