Review – Dragon Warrior IV

I didn’t really plan on picking up another Dragon Warrior game after finishing Dragon Warrior III. I love the games, but they consume massive amounts of time, and I have other games that need finishing. Yet, Dragon Warrior III left me hungry for more and I had just one more NES title to knock off before I was done. I guess I didn’t have the self-discipline to avoid it, so on the bright side, I’m done with the NES titles.

The characters have a lot more character this time around.

DONE WITH THE NES TITLES

Dragon Warrior IV actually demonstrates quite a diversion for the series. While the previous games had a story no deeper than “there’s a great evil, go get ‘im,” Dragon Warrior IV has a bit more emphasis on storytelling. What’s the story this time? “There’s a great evil, go get ‘im,” but told with more panache.

For starters, after you name your heroic self, you’re torn away to start the first chapter as someone completely unrelated. You then grind your way to victory and the next chapter starts with another set of initially unrelated characters. You then continue this through 4 chapters before you’re finally given control of your own bad self and are left to recruit all those party members you had previously been adventuring as.

There’s something lost, as you can’t name and customize your party at will, but I do enjoy the chapter-based narrative. It gives you a smaller view of the world and tells the story from different perspectives before you’re finally left to your own devices. The story isn’t particularly deep, even with the greater focus on storytelling, but it is more diverse. One character is out to save children, one is trying to prove their strength, two are trying to avenge their father, and one just wants to become the most successful merchant in the world. You get to know these characters before you’re finally given the chance to build you own, and that works really well.

THE DAILY GRIND

If you’re unfamiliar with the Dragon Quest/Warrior formula; it’s about as basic as a JRPG can get. It’s your typical turn-based fight-magic-defend-item style of combat, where each team lines up against each other and takes turns throwing fists at each other. You start out fighting slimes before progressing through various palette swaps of bigger enemies, more annoying enemies. You gain experience and money through fighting, which allows you to grow stronger and get better equipment. Par the course, but that’s Dragon Quest’s winning recipe.

Unfortunately, the design could have done more to adjust to the chapter-based system. Each chapter requires you to actually build your characters up before they can accomplish their goal, and this means more grinding for experience and money. A lot of grinding. More grinding than an army of strippers in a pole factory. I hope you like grinding because the first 4 chapters are absolutely rammed with it, if you get what I’m saying.

It can make each chapter feel a bit like a slog, as you are anticipating the next facet of the story, but are stuck killing lesser beings in order to beef up your party. Once you hit the fifth chapter and are given command of a growing party, things get a bit more breezy, but getting there can drag on.

The art style is as charming as ever.

FROM ONE END OF THE WORLD TO THE OTHER

I found that fifth chapter to be a bit more satisfying than Dragon Warrior III’s “explore everywhere, then figure out what to do.” To put it bluntly, it’s more linear this time around, but I found that this worked better with the formula. You’re still given a boat pretty early on, and there’s still that feeling of player agency, especially when it comes to treasure hunting, but there are fewer questions about where to go next.

It gives the game a better flow, more similar to Final Fantasy. You’re led between situations, with each place having a unique problem to solve in a usually unique way. Dragon Warrior III could feel rather same-y at times, with its identical dungeons and towns, but while Dragon Warrior IV still extensively re-uses its tilesets, it does a better job of making each area feel distinct. I can actually remember the layouts of some of the towns, which is something I can’t really say for previous games in the series.

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE

I’ve spoken to a number of people about the series, and the one thing they all seem to complain about is the switch to the party system from full control to AI controlled. When you’ve assembled your team, you’re not given direct control of them in combat; instead, they choose their own actions. You can edit tactics to tell them not to use magic points or to go on full offensive, but you’re still at the mercy of their AI.

I didn’t find this to be a major problem, but I’m not a fan of even having that control. I don’t like going through menu after menu, telling four different characters that I want them to hit something. Part of the reason why I liked the first Dragon Warrior was because you only get one party member and don’t have to click through menus.

There are downsides, however. It’s impossible to coordinate with your teammates, but they seem perfectly capable of working together. So they may have it in mind that they’re going to defeat the enemy that you just targeted, leaving you giving the air a good stabbing. Likewise, they have infinite enthusiasm for using what might be useless items. Hell, in the final boss battle, one of my teammates decided to try blocking the boss’s magic, which would have been a boon, but it just wasn’t working. That didn’t stop him from trying repeatedly, bless his misguided heart.

There’s more gameplay variety this time around, including the chance to run a store.

MISGUIDED HEART

A lot of the same problems have been carried over. The UI sucks out loud, for example, but at least this time around it will actually put an “E” beside a characters name to let you know if they can equip an item before you buy it. A lot of the item and spell names remain the same, as well, so if you’re familiar with Dragon Warrior III, you’ll probably not feel too lost.

On the flip side, the game still features the wonderful art style by Akira Toriyama; perhaps the series’ greatest strength. Everything from the monsters to the diminutive sprites that make up your party are packed with charm. It’s a refreshing fantasy universe, lighthearted without sucking away all the tension and conflict.

Although, Dragon Warrior IV continues the series trend of putting me to sleep. I swear, I don’t mean this as an insult, but the games are practically sedatives to me. It’s not an uncommon sight to see me dozing as my teammates take their turns in battle. It’s something about the movement, the repetitiveness of the battles, and the droning of the excellent soundtrack that just puts me into a sleepy state. Maybe it’s an RPG thing.

A SLEEPY STATE

It’s a lot of give and take when it comes to Dragon Warrior IV. Customization takes a hit with the inability to change party member names, but they’re more fleshed out. Exploration has been scaled back, but the game has been given a better sense of flow. You can’t control your party but… did you want to? I guess it comes down to personal taste.

When it comes to my personal taste, I really enjoyed Dragon Warrior IV. I was positive, but lukewarm on the third entry, but this time around I unequivocally enjoyed myself. In fact, it might be my favourite entry in the NES quadrilogy, but it’s a close race with the original title. Either way, I think this is a terrific refinement of the series, and despite its similarities to the third game, it feels like the formula has evolved.

8/10

This review was conducted on an NES using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.

About Adzuken 161 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.

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