Review: Dragon Warrior IV (NES)

In this review, we get to play multiple people in the NES game Dragon Warrior IV. We find out if this RPG game is worth playing.

This game was released in 1992. It is the fourth instalment of the series.

We are growing somewhat familiar with this series already. We previously played the original Dragon Warrior. That game got a rather mediocre score. From there, we tried Dragon Warrior II. That game wound up being a flop for us. After that, we tried Dragon Warrior III. That game got a passable, but very mediocre score. Nevertheless, we aren’t giving up on this series yet, so we are trying the next game in the series.

The story is rather complex and is split between five chapters. Each chapter has you play a new character.

In the first chapter, you play Ragnar, a warrior of Burland. Several children have been kidnapped in the area. Apparently, the hero destined to save the world is still very young and weak. Knowing this, various monsters kidnap several children in the area in an effort to kill him off before he becomes powerful enough to defeat their leader. It is up to Ragnar to save them.

In the second chapter, players takes control of the character Princess Alena. A tomboy princess, she vows to prove her strength by venturing forth into the world. Unfortunately, her father and king of the land, forbids it. In an effort to protect her, he orders his guards to stop her from venturing anywhere. Undeterred, she finds a way to break out of the castle walls. Catching wind of this is her mentors. Her mentors decide to go with her to help protect her.

Next is the third chapter. Players will take on the character Taloon. Taloon is a merchant who is working at a local weapon shop. While he makes a decent wage, he dreams of bigger things like owning his own weapon shop someday. Eventually, he leaves his town in search of the worlds hidden treasures.

After that is chapter four. In this chapter, players will take control of Maya and Meena, sisters who are on a mission of revenge. Their father was killed by the powerful monster Balzack. Their big mission is to avenge their fathers death by killing Balzack.

Finally, chapter five. Players will play the hero. The hero is hidden away in a village somewhere in the mountains. This secretive village does not allow anyone to enter or leave. The villagers are training the hero to take on his destined role. Unfortunately, one day, monsters begin entering the village. Having been discovered, the hero is then whisked away into a secret room in a cellar. A battle ensues on the ground. His friend decides to make the ultimate sacrifice by pretending to be the hero. Eventually, he falls in battle. Having believed that the hero has been destroyed, the monsters leave. The true hero, however, emerges and begins his quest to fulfill his destiny with the help of the other characters found in the previous four chapters.

Like the previous game, players will have a limited amount of gold and equipment. What that is precisely varies between characters. Sometimes, players will get a small amount of gold and basic equipment. Other times, players may not even get much gold at all at the start.

Players will venture out into the overworld and be able to take on various monsters. Each fight gives players both experience and gold. Both are critical for success. If characters obtains enough experience points, then those characters will level up. Stats that increase include agility, strength, maximum HP and, for spellcasters, maximum MP.

One thing players might notice pretty early on is that there is no eatery. So, what characters you get are the characters you are stuck with. You will get characters of many different types, so you won’t exactly be short of one ability or another. Still, you aren’t necessarily given a choice in the matter.

Meanwhile, players can also obtain gold. Gold, as you can imagine, can be spent in the various stores, inns, and healing shrines. There are really three different types of stores: item shops (sometimes depicting a wing icon), weapon shops (often with a swords icon), and armour shops (with a suit of armour icon). Each shop features a limited variety of items for you to buy. The good news is that you can buy as many as you like of any particular item. Jsut be mindful of what players can equip (denoted by the “E” next to their name while purchasing items that can be equipped).

There are four main kinds of items that can be equipped: weapons, armour, helmets, and shields. There is also a fifth “special item” that can be equipped (i.e. meteorite armband) as well, but you can, weirdly, only equip it in the items menu via the “use” command.

The various items you can buy include medical herbs (restores a small amount of HP), antidote herbs (cures poison status), fairy water (reduces random encounters), and wings of wyvern which allows players to return to a city on the overworld.

Initially, the inventory capacity isn’t that big of a deal as it means you can store a mall handful of items. Unfortunately, this amount of “give” is rather short lived. The reason is that even equipped items count towards how many items you can carry. So, that can eliminate four spaces. Eventually, you are going to find a key item or two. There goes another two items. This leaves you with a mere two spaces after. If you aren’t carrying antidote or medical herbs, you’re probably living life on the edge early on in the game. Still, what happens if you pick up an item from a treasure chest or from a random encounter? Those two slots suddenly become highly valuable and limiting all at the same time.

You might be tempted to believe that, because you often have companions, you can increase the number of slots. Unfortunately, not all companions are created equally. Some companions are not only automatically controlled, but also will not carry items for you. You can’t level them up either (but the game does offer decent stats to help you get through the game at least). So, you are actually limited even further.

Because of this massive capacity shortage, this makes healers highly valuable throughout the game. At most, fighting type non-magic casting characters might be able to carry two medical herbs. However, some magic users can cast heal many times over (dozens even). So, fighter type classes do have a bit of a disadvantage here. The only saving grace they have is powerful melee attacks as well as a high capacity for HP earlier on. So, if your spellcaster does die, it is often up to the fighters to limp all the way back to villages for healing purposes (this will happen sooner or later to you).

When you are inflicted with various injuries or status ailments, the place to go is the shrine of healing. In these shrines, you can revive fallen party members as well as cure poison status (among other things). One additional feature that is unique is the fact that you can save here instead. In previous games, you speak to the king to save your game. In this game, that changed to the shrines of healing.

One feature making a return is the casino. Part way through the game, you’ll be able to gamble. Unlike the previous game, it is often worth it to at least try your luck. You can place bets in the coliseum, play slots, or even play five card poker.

Yes, you can play poker in this game. It is the standard five card draw format where you hold cards you like and discard the remaining to see what kinds of hands you can make. The better the hand you can make, the more coins you can earn. Prizes start at two pair and go up from there. Where the rules diverge somewhat is that, after you win coins, you have a chance to win double or nothing. In this game, the computer displays five cards face down. The computer will automatically pick up the first card. The value on that card must be beaten in order to win. Hold a card and hope for the best. The highest card value is the Joker. If the computer get the Joker, you automatically lose.

Now, you might have noticed that I used the term “coins” instead of “gold” while describing the casino games. This is because the casino uses its own currency. Each coin costs 10 gold. Additionally, you cannot cash out in coins. Instead, you spend the coins at the prize counter. The prizes are actually quite nice, so it is worth it to try and get those grand prizes. Just know that it takes a while to get the most valued prizes.

If you complete the first four chapters, the fifth chapter contains a wagon. The wagon is where unused characters can rest while you venture forth. Sadly, it does not store items. Instead, you can store items in a vault that you unlock only in the final chapter. Still, you can swap out characters at any time. As an additional bonus, those characters can heal your used characters from the wagon while not in battle. Additionally, they can also serve as storage containers for items. They also earn experience points while not in fights. Just keep their equipment maintained because you may need to swap out fallen party members with them on short notice.

One thing I complained endlessly about these games is the grinding. In previous games, I found myself spending hours, if not, a whole day, just to grind characters to the point where I could survive just the next dungeon. I’m really happy to report that this game improves the situation quite a bit. There’s still some grinding involved, but not to the point of spending hours endlessly walking back and forth between every single dungeon. Grinding, of course, helps, and there’s no such thing as too much grinding in this game as far as I’m concerned. Still, it’s not as mandatory as is was in previous games. So, that alone is a huge improvement in my books.

This game still suffers from a number of flaws though. The biggest is the highly limited inventory capacity. I get that it makes sense to not have unlimited inventory to make the game interesting. However, the inventory capacity is unnecessarily limited. Ideally, equipped items should not take up an actual inventory slot. If that adjustment was made, I wouldn’t really complain that much about the inventory. Still, it is a huge flaw in this game that makes it difficult to micromanage items constantly.

I can see the idea of having actions automated for some characters, but what struck me as extremely odd is that when you get to the final chapter, the characters you could control are suddenly not characters you could really control. Instead, you simply control whoever is leading the party. The rest is controlled by the computer. Computer commands are not necessarily the most efficient and it would have been nice to be able to take control of those characters. Sadly, this game limits your control of part members during battle.

While there is plenty to do in this game, I found some instances where the next step to get the game moving to be obscure at times. As such, I found myself referring to guides every so often just to figure out what I needed to do next. This is especially true when you get the ship. At that point, you have access to the entire world. I felt that I got extremely lucky for a while finding the right person to talk to, but after a while, I just got lost and didn’t know what to do next to advance the plot of the game.

Still, in spite of these flaws, I did find this to be the best game of the series yet. In fact, if you never played the game franchise before and want to know which of the first four games you should play first, I would easily recommend this game. This is because the difficulty is much more forgiving and there’s plenty of other things to do. It does have issues such as plot gaps, archaic menu systems, limited item capacity, and weirdly automatic actions. However, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had in this game before you get stuck part way through. So, a reasonable game to say the least.

Graphics is ultimately where this game suffers. While it is the best game yet in this department, this game simply falls behind the times on this front. Keep in mind that this game was released in the same year as final Fantasy mystic Quest, Mega Man 5, and Super Mario Kart. Some discerning players might object to the comparison because of a two year delay. Even then, the game would compete against games like Captain Skyhawk, Mega Man 3, and Super Mario Bros 3. There simply is no comparison, the graphics are very dated even when you consider the original Japanese release. It’s passable, but nothing special.

The audio is OK. The different themes do give this game its charm. The sound effects are definitely used over and over again and aren’t exactly new. So, again, passable, but nothing amazing.

Overall, this game improves a lot from the previous games in the series. The big improvement is that grinding has dropped substantially. This alone improves gameplay by a lot. Unfortunately, the menu system and the limited inventory really leaves a lot to be desired. The plot gaps in the game do make following guides seemingly mandatory as you inevitably get stuck along the way. The graphics are barely passable because they are quite dated and the audio is only passable. So, while this is the best one yet, it still has plenty of flaws to overcome, making this an OK game all around.

Furthest point in game: Obtained the magic key and defeated Keeleon.

General gameplay: 17/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 64%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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