June 18, 2013

Dragon Quest IV - Ranking

Story & World

You might wonder how five full chapters, a large cast of characters, and an immense land can all fit in a such a small cartridge.  Well, I can't help you because I don't rightfully know myself.  Space magic, I s'pose.  Regardless, I'm grateful because having all the characters brought together in the final chapter after their respective quests just rubs me the right way (though most of the characters lose their individual personalities here (except for Taloon) and just become battle options).  Being privy to Rosa and Saro/Necrosaro's backstory makes the main villain so much more than just another Foozle to kill.  Revisiting castles and towns in chapter five gives a sense of familiarity that adds credence to the tale's epicness.  While most quests follow the tried and true MacGuffin fetch formula, twists such as Taloon's rise into capitalism are a welcome change of pace.

And let us not forget the plethora of minor NPCs that wiggled their way into our hearts only to rip it out and stomp on it after changing everything about them that made them so endearing.  Okay, I'm just talking about Healie here but it still hurts, dammit.  One thing I did noticed about NPCs is that some of them end up in the dungeons/towers/caves where the quests take place.  A slight distraction from monster killing but I appreciated it nonetheless.  18/20

Character Development

Though the levelling up is just as linear as always, it's spread over eight characters in the final chapter.  With only four being allowed in the main party at any given time, it could be thought of more like a single entity with modular components (even the Hero can be sent to the wagon).  While this setup works great in DQ III, that is because the player is allowed to directly control all the characters actions.  Here, the AI often makes terrible choices when controlling spellcasters.  For example, as soon as Cristo got the Beat spell, he would use on creatures that could easily be handled by melee or he would spam it on bosses where it never works.  Even with the tactics set to Defensive or Save MP, he'd still do it.  Another example; Brey has some nice buff spells (Bikill and Defense) but he'd rarely use them or he'd used them late in the battle when it makes little difference.  As a result, the spellcasters are doomed to sitting in the wagon while the melee characters take on the majority of the battles.

Equally damaging to the modular party system is that characters in the wagon continue to receive experience as if they participated in the combat (some dungeons don't allow for wagon entry but this didn't seem to matter much in the end).  There isn't any incentive to tolerate and build up a spellcaster to see if they get better later on.  This shared experience makes the game easier but, in my opinion, not better.  Spellcasters are suppose to suck at the early levels and then outclass fighters at the later levels.  Getting access to the spells like Explodet (massive group damage) is suppose to be the reward for putting up with multiple trips to the healer for resurrection.

Both of these factors combined make for an extremely unsatisfactory magical experience.  On the plus side, the controllable Hero has an excellent selection of spells himself and having an all-melee party isn't so bad when Taloon's antics always manage to bring smiles.

The equipment selection is better than average and there is a good number of invokable pieces for melee characters to use.  Unfortunately, the AI uses the items just as poorly as spells and usually results in a wasted turn.  Still, having weapons and armour made out of the corpses of freaking Metal Babbles is such a huge turn on.  8/20

Combat & Monsters

Due to the suckiness of magic usage mentioned above, combat inevitably becomes melee-oriented button mashing.  I did experiment with the spellcasters during grinds when I don't care so much about retaining MP.  The offensive magicks were somewhat effective; damaging spells are always appreciated but buffs are generally only needed during boss fights.  The healers I found to be much too unreliable by not casting their spells early enough and risking a death should a particularly agile beast get the first strike.  It's fun enough for awhile to watch them do their own thang but when it's time to get down to serious bizness, it's just annoying.

There is enough variety in the types of monsters to satisfy; many have abilities beyond just melee attacks.  There's also a high number of unique boss encounters, which would have been far more fun if I was allowed to tactically use magic.  Sorry to harp on this but it really is a major disappointment; having battles that rely heavily on chance just isn't my cup of tea.  AI control of party members should have been optional.  8/20

Graphics & Sound

Graphics range from decent (most of the enemy sprites) to impressive (settings such as Necrosaro's castle).  I particularly enjoyed the enemies that are so large that parts of their sprites bleed over into the dialog boxes.  The range of colours is also used to good effect, with everything that needs to stand out doing so.  Music is outstanding, as is the trend in the DQ series.  Keeping the same composer for the sequels tends to do that (Koichi Sugiyama in this case).  Start with a hefty amount of familiar themes, add a good dose of original tunes, blend until smooth, and then funnel that shit straight into your earhole.  17/20

Gameplay

With eight characters, each having four equipment slots to fill, gold is always in short supply until the very late game.  Even then, extra cash can always be converted into casino coins and gambled away.

The pacing is extremely well executed throughout all five chapters and there is never a dull moment to be had.  As long as any grinding is intelligently done in the areas frequented by the "metal" family of monsters (slimes, babbles, and Kings), progression should carry on at a good clip.  The majority of the game is linear; only the last half of chapter five allows any real freedom for exploration.

The menu interface is tight and is quite helpful when comparing differences in equipment (as well as which characters can equip it).  Hell, give an item to Taloon and he'll give a nice, detailed appraisal of it (for free!).  The only thing I missed that the previous DQ SNES remakes had was the universal button that did whatever needed to be done on screen (e.g. open a door or talk to a NPC).  In all fairness, though, the NES doesn't really have extra buttons kickin' around for my convenience (select maybe?).  18/20

Final Ranking:  69/100