Dragon Quest: The Chapters of the Chosen
I’m going to open on a rather moot point: mucking around with titling across regions is what got Square into so much bother in the past, culminating in stuff like the US release of Final Fantasy III actually being Final Fantasy VI. Dragon Quest, too, was originally released as Dragon Warrior in the States, and it’s with a confused glance that I looked at the sleeve of Dragon Quest: The Chapters of the Chosen, wondering what happened to the ‘IV’. What numerical nightmare is Square Enix trying to save us from, exactly? Are they worried that Europeans might regress into a primate-like state of fury if they feel they’re playing the series backwards? Lord knows what they’re going to do with the upcoming DS remakes of Dragon Quest V and VI.
But that’s an article for another day.
With the spruced up Dragon Quest IV, it seems Square Enix are once-again reaching into their dusty archives and slapping out another remake of a venerable classic. Giving your back-catalogue a bit of a spring clean must be all the rage for Japanese developers right now. But, really, aren’t we all getting a little tired of this? The DS RPG market is saturated enough, thank you, and this summer has seen the release of three time-sink Square Enix RPGs. Then there’s the prospect of Dragon Quest IV, V and VI showing up on the diminutive handheld titan, yet we’re all also expected to get very excited with the jazzed up version of Chrono Trigger they’ve got waiting on the horizon. Surely spacing the titles out with a little more finesse would be the better option, giving the consumer a more leisurely pace to experience everything rather than forcing us to juggle it all at once until we’ve been so bombarded with games that our mental composition has deteriorated into an unsalvageable mass of menu-scrolling and restorative items.
Still, all this bleating doesn’t really touch upon the gaming morsel contained within the box. I don’t really need to delve into the fundamental mechanics of a Dragon Quest game, because everyone has played their fair share of JRPG’s and this one is ultimately no different to most. But, to place the game in the canon, it’s worth mentioning that this was first released in the land of the rising sun in 1990, with a belated US release a couple of years later (after Final Fantasy IV, if we’re being specific). Europeans didn’t get a whiff of it in the slightest because until Final Fantasy VII sold many boat-loads of copies Square Enix was under the impression we all lived in huts made from mud and hadn’t discovered electricity yet.
It feels like a particularly weak disclaimer to attach this sentence to a review, but it’s an unavoidable fact that if you’re a bespoke loather of any Japanese RPG, Dragon Quest will be more offensive to you than a Pot Noodle is to Gordon Ramsay. Those with a propensity towards the grinding-heavy adventures will find a plethora of similarities between Dragon Quest and the slightly-more-popular-over-here Final Fantasy - like random battles - but under the hood you’re dealing with an entirely different beast. The pace feels a bit slower, there’s a lot less fussing about, and it’s all considerably less melodramatic. It’s pretty casual, too, as there’s no blatant “Game Over” screen (you simply wake up in the nearest church) when you get plastered to the floor by a very angry one-of-a-kind nasty thing with spikes for hands. Evolution has always been a cruel master in these games.
But, really, settle in with Dragon Quest and you come to the conclusion that it’s delightful. It’s the quintessential videogaming romp. There’s a beautiful, relaxing sensation that oozes all over the game from the whimsical music to the excellent translation and beyond. The sensation of playing it feels roughly equivalent to how I’ve always imagined a good fishing trip. I can spend hours sitting hunched over my DS and just drinking all of Dragon Quest IV in. It’s so mellow you’d be forgiven for thinking it was invented in the sixties.
It’s the Iced Tea to Final Fantasy’s Black Coffee.
The whole thing about the pacing of Dragon Quest IV is crafted in a way that I can only assume was done to intentionally give the game and the player some time to breathe and enjoy. And while it could be accused of being mostly a classic JRPG-by-numbers, it does try its hand at a fair bit of non-conventional mechanics, too. Rather uniquely, the game is split up into chapters, with the first four being a rather short series of starters before arriving at the meat and potatoes course of the fifth quest. It’s an exceedingly delightful way of being introduced to a grand storyline, as each little morsel can detail the rising danger and imminent threat. There’s a sense of an enormous world being painted, too, as each chapter delights in its own distinct dialect. In reality, Dragon Quest IV’s world is about the same size as any Final Fantasy, but the enormous variety in languages just makes everything seem bigger somehow.
The chapters are all good, too. The characters are, also, pretty much the most non-traditional bunch you’re going to come across. Dragon Quest IV opens up with intrepid moustached knight Ragnar McRyan scouting about trying to find a bunch of missing children who’ve been pinched by something that promises to be a bit nefarious. Oh, and everybody here talks with an incredibly thick Scotish dialect. This is wonderful, and it’s the translation which really helps Dragon Quest IV shine. After about an hour the whole scene switches to young princess Tsarvena Elena and her reluctant companions being smack-bang in the middle of the Dragon Quest world’s version of Russia. To mix up convention a bit, she starts her chapter trying desperately to escape from her own castle. Cue another tongue-in-cheek narration. It’s followed by a very distinct Irish dialect, then French. Sure, it all ends up like every other JRPG, and in the fifth chapter you form a ragtag bunch of adventurers and go off and fight the big bad villain. Still, the actual gameplay journey that Dragon Quest IV takes constantly feels rather unique. And good.
What I’m trying to get at, I think, is that you’ve got a fairly decent JRPG experience in Dragon Quest IV. The engine is ported from the original PSX version of Dragon Quest VII, with 2D sprites animating themselves in a 3D world. The extra dimension gives you a little bit of extra room to play in, but mostly it’s just a bit of cosmetic fun. In all honesty, I find it hard not to recommend Dragon Quest: The Chapters of the Chosen. It’s simple, pure, old-fashioned, vigorously-polished JRPG entertainment. It’s undeniably dated in parts, and the graphical update might not be as startling as FFIV’s, but the mix of gameplay and presentation lends the game a certain something. It simply works.