Dragon Warrior IV

While Enix’s Dragon Quest series was a cultural phenomenon in Japan, given the popularity of its creators, it would never gain the same level of success in America. Dragon Quest IV for the NES, localized as Dragon Warrior IV, would be the last chapter of the series released in America for about a decade, given that Enix’s American branch would close for a few years during the ‘90s. Nonetheless, Dragon Warrior IV proves to be one of the finest titles on the NES despite its flaws.

Unlike previous installments, Dragon Warrior IV takes place across five chapters, with the player in the first four chapters taking the role of all the characters that will ultimately join the hero the player names when starting a new game. This structure of gameplay is interesting, and adds some depth to the characters. The story still suffers from the typical skeletal, poorly-paced nature of most 8-bit RPGs, although it’s still better than in the other NES Dragon Warriors.

During the first four chapters, combat is highly reminiscent of that in the first three Dragon Warriors, with the player inputting commands for his or her party and letting them and the enemy beat each other up in a round. Turn order, as usual, can annoyingly vary, the player can waste commands against dead enemies, and the encounter rate can be high at times (though the hero’s Repel spell can cut down encounters if necessary), but luckily, combat is decently-paced and doesn’t drag on forever.

When the player finally gains control of the hero or heroine he or she names, combat takes a completely different direction. In battle, the player does not directly input commands for characters other than the protagonist. Rather, the A.I. takes control of the commands of the player’s allies, with various options for the party before a round begins such as Offensive, Defensive, and Use No MP. The player can also switch out characters not in the party one time per round if his or her caravan is with the active party. The A.I. works alright, although your characters sometimes make weak decisions such as using offensive spells that have no effect against enemies, and it might’ve been nice to have the option of inputting their commands manually. Still, the battle system works well overall.

Interaction could have used a bit of improvement, though. The menus generally aren’t troublesome, although there are some irritating features, such as limited inventory space. Weapon and armor shops also leave players clueless to how new equipment will affect their characters’ stats, and during shopping, merchants barrage players with endless dialogue. It can also be difficult to figure out how to advance the main storyline, with a general lack of direction at times on how to do so. In the end, interaction leaves plenty of room for improvement.

The game is fairly original though, with its unique method of storytelling via several chapters as well as the introduction to the series of party A.I. and the ability to switch out characters during combat. It does retain various elements from previous Dragon Warriors, although it’s still distinctive in its own right.

Koichi Sugiyama’s soundtrack, as usual, is a high point of the game, with plenty of nice tracks and even a few themes for certain characters. The sound effects, though, leave a bit to desire. The graphics are alright, being the best of the NES Dragon Warriors, although they don’t quite push the system to its limits, and feature shortcomings such as the lack of battle scenery and inanimate enemies, though Akira Toriyama’s monster art is nice as usual. Still, Dragon Warrior IV looks okay yet sounds better.

Finally, Dragon Warrior isn’t a terribly lengthy game, taking somewhere from twenty-five to thirty-five hours to complete, with few sidequests of which to speak. All in all, Dragon Warrior IV is one of the best RPGs on the NES, with an easy battle system, good music, and an interesting storyline, among other things. It could’ve certainly been better, and would receive a remake on the Playstation, which, lamentably, wouldn’t see a release beyond Japanese shores. Still, the original version is an enjoyable old-school experience.

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