EZ Racer's Blog

Posted on Jan 26th 2019 at 01:24:11 AM by (EZ Racer)
Posted under dragon warrior, NES, erdrick, DW4

When the NES challenge was announced, it was a way for to check out games that each of us wanted to experience, but always needed that little extra motivation to sit down and playthrough, and for me personally, Dragon Warrior IV had always been that type of title.

Quick backstory- Like many, I grew up with the first Dragon Warrior due to the Nintendo Power giveaway, but I also paid a lot of attention to news about the 2nd and 3rd installments, as those were both part of the same storyline. Rarely did I get to play the sequels, once seeing DW2 at a family friend's house, and renting DW3 a few times. Because of this, I craved to be able to dive into all 3 in the Erdrick line, and since there was a 4th game, go for it, too, even though it wasn't related in story to the 1st three. Quite literally, this became my first collecting goal, and while I acquired the first 3 relatively quickly, it was several years before I purchased the 4th. Even then, it just sat alongside the others in relative obscruity. Sure, I had heard it was good, but I always waited for the excuse to put time into it, partially fearing it would be a grindfest in the same vein as DW2 and to an extent DW3.

Enter January 2019 and that excuse I had been waiting for...

And my goodness, was it ever worth it.

As some may know, Dragon Warrior IV starts out by developing the back stories of all the members that will eventually form your party. You first meet Ragnar, and are tasked with finding and saving the children of Izmit village, as monsters have kidnapped them in hopes of finding and destroying the prophesized Legendary Hero before he/she can grow old enough to fulfill that destiny. Once you complete Ragnar's chapter, you are introduced to Alena, a tom-boy princess and her companions, Christo and Brey, as they set out to live their own adventure by seeing all parts of the world. Then comes Taloon, a merchant who dreams of becoming the greatest weapons seller in the world. Next, you play as Mara and Nara, two sisters bent on revenge after the murder of their alchemist father. Only after all of these backstories do you finally meet the hero and begin a massive quest.

All this backstory could get tedious if not for a few things done very well. First, while there is occassional grinding for money or levels, it's never for more than 30-45 min at a time, unlike some of the earlier games of the series. Second, each character is unique enough to keep things fresh and interesting. Taloon's chapter is an especially good example, as the first thing that happens is your wife gives you a kiss goodbye, hands you your lunch and wishes you a good day as you head to the local weapons shop to work for the day. After so many sales, the shop owner pays you your commission for your sales, and you head home for the night to see your wife and sleeping child, who dreams of someday following in his father's footsteps.

Where DW4 really shines though, is how immersive the world and its inhabitants feel. Things that happen in chapter 2 are referenced in all the following chapters. Secondary charcters abound, each having there own motivation in the events of the story; it's very satisfying when you see these characters go through some personality development as well. And nearly all the towns and castles are unique from each other in some form, not just layout or item choices, but each having a distinguishing feature to make it memorable.

The music and enemy sprites are probably the finest in the series, and the tune that plays when you first enter Aktemto may be the best in the NES library at setting a somber tone. It gave me chills the first time I heard it. (I do wonder if the developers knew just how good the song was, as they give you a way to trigger that tune yourself on demand later in the game.)

Before this turns into a total gushfest, I do have a few nitpicks. One, once you start chapter 5, the only controllable character in battles is your lead hero. The rest of the party is controlled through the AI in a "Tactics" system, where you preset a basic strategy for the computer to follow during each round of actions. I had fears that this would ruin the game for me, but instead it's executed about as well as you could expect, and it streamlines the battles in a way. Still, I can't help but wish this was an optional setting, instead of it being the only choice.

Secondly, while 80% of game involves a deep, detailed and engaging story, the last 20% feels a bit incomplete. Without using spoilers, there are several questions that remain unanswered, and some plot points that could have used more expostion, even upon completion of the game. (From doing a little research, the DS remake attempts to address both these complaints, but as of this writing I've only played the NES version.)

Still, it's amazing how deep of a game this is considering the limitations of the NES, and shows that by the time DW4 was released developer Chunsoft and publisher Enix were at the top of their games. They maximized the NES's capabilities in a way that few, if any, games at the time did, and produced one of the truly great JRPG's of the era.

It's sad that this game didn't get a better following from North American audiences, and one can only wonder if that would have changed at all with some fan service (maybe slip the name Erdrick into an item or two?). But the reality is any fan of 2D JRPG's needs to try this game, as although it's a long game, it's worth every minute spent.

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