Yuuji Horii's Dragon Quest series is one of Square Enix's most popular franchise, so it makes sense that they're remaking the games one by one for the Nintendo DS, starting with Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen. Released in Japan last year, Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen has now been brought to North America, and Square Enix is expected to follow up with Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, as well as Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie on the handheld. Square Enix has made quite a few changes visually since the 1992 NES release, but the game looks similar to the Japanese PlayStation remake from 2001.
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is split into five chapters of short stories with new heroes and heroines introduced as the story unfolds. We started our adventure by choosing a male or female character and learned that our character was ready to go out into the real world, but then, we were whisked away to a palace where we met Ragnar, an army captain who the king had requested to track down children that had gone missing. In the next chapter, we met Princess Alena, a tomboy who refused to stay within the castle. As the story continued, we also met Torneko, Meena and Maya. Each time we were introduced to a new storyline, it was like starting over again where your party will begin at level one, and you need to work your way up to progress through the storyline.
Unlike the role-playing games of today, you have to do quite of bit of level grinding before you can move between cities and locations. Dying and simply respawning at the last church is not always the best option either, considering you lose half your gold coins each time your party is wiped out. Saving the game, reviving a fallen party member, finding out how much experience you need to level again must be done at a church. You also won't find yourself rolling in the dough because enemies will start off giving you a measly few coins, and you'll soon realize that you need to save up coins to upgrade your weapons or armor. There will be banks later on in the game where you can deposit 1,000 coins at a time so that you won't lose as much money in the likely event that things turn sour.
The random encounters will occur often so you will always have plenty of opportunities to level, which is what you should expect to do most of the time. Time will pass when you're on the overworld map where you will notice that there are certain creatures that only come out at night. The adorable, teardrop-shaped slimes will also show up in abundance because it wouldn't be a Dragon Quest game without them.
Actual combat is turn-based where you only see your enemies onscreen and your vitals are displayed on the top screen. Menus will come up on the bottom screen so the fighting is incredibly straightforward. Going through equipment and transferring items to party members takes up a few extra steps, but anyone familiar with RPGs should not have any issues navigating through the game.
Even though it is on the DS, there are no touch screen controls for this game. In towns and dungeons, you can see your surroundings across the top and bottom screen, allowing you to see what's ahead. You can use the L and R buttons to rotate your camera angle. In town, you can also press the Y button to pull up a hand-drawn map of the entire area that will point out where to find the important shops. On the overworld screen, you can bring up a zoomed-in map to give you a better idea of where you are situated.
Visually the game looks great; it's bright and colorful. Fans of Akira Toriyama will also appreciate the character and monster designs. Monsters are lightly animated so that it doesn't feel like you're slashing at a cardboard cutout; however, monsters still show up in a tidy row. The environments have an impressionism feel to them, making them slightly different from other 2D surroundings that we've gotten used to exploring. Koichi Sugiyama, a well-established musician before he entered the realm of Dragon Quest, composed the score, which has made a smooth transition to the DS. His work on the series has inspired symphonic suites, live concerts, and a ballet so the soundtrack is worth a listen. The English translations have also been tweaked, and you'll come across towns with various dialects.
There is a Chance Encounter mode, which is available through a local wireless connection. We aren't sure what it entails exactly, but we were told it involves expanding your town to discover an ancient mystery regarding a cursed kingdom.
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen will allow a new generation of gamers to experience yet another classic RPG. It's an excellent addition to the growing Nintendo DS library of Square Enix games, and this is only the beginning of what's to come. Check back for our full review when the game ships on September 16.