Dragon Quest IV is a game with an extensive remake. Much like how Final Fantasy II is a different game in the remake, Dragon Quest IV changes in fairly significant ways in the remake. Graphically, it became 3D. Gameplay systems were tweaked, and the music was remade for the new system. It was published by Enix in 1990 in Japan, and 1992 in the US.
The game is based around a chapter system. You see each party member, and then near the end of the game you can access each party member as a team, and you can fight the final boss. Each chapter has a different feel. One chapter is basically an economic simulation (find ways to earn money so you can get your own shop, fulfill orders, etc.) Another chapter is a revenge quest. Another chapter involves exploring the casino and growing stronger.
In the NES version, your characters accompanying the hero or heroine were controlled by an AI system. You can set tactics, but mostly they pick their own actions and are pretty serviceable. In the DS game, you can control your party members from the start.
The translation in the DS version has strong accents. The humor tends to feel heavy handed and kind of like a Working Designs translation. For example, the Dragon God sounds a bit like a Simpsons character (don’t ask me which one, since I barely know enough about the series to pick up the heavyhanded reference.) A Simpsons joke when you’re learning about your mother’s exile by said god is not really funny to me. The accents feel a bit racist at times – in that there’s no good reason to have the strength and amount of accents present. Later translations for the DS did not have such strong accents, and the humor slid more toward puns and less toward inappropriate pop culture references.
The DS translation removed the party talk option. In Japan, you could hit a button, and your party would talk among themselves about what’s going on, their opinions about events, and so on. Without this, it feels annoying to, for example, have a silly conversation with someone, and your party just stands there like cardboard cutouts. The plot isn’t terrible, or annoyingly brief, but it hinges on dramatic events and quests. Your party having nothing to say about it feels cheap and like they’re not really well written.
There’s a plothole in the game. In a certain part of the game, you end a chapter with a tragic assault on a palace. In the end, you find the king in the prison, and you escape. Later, you destroy the imposter. However, the dead king’s body is left in the prison for the rest of the game.
Now, this may sound fairly negative, however, you must understand that these are really my only problems with the game. I don’t like the DS translation that much, since it detracts more than it adds to the game in my mind. I don’t like the plothole involving that king. The chapters are an innovative and unique idea. They do a good job of providing small stories and showing you the growing menace in the game. For me, Dragon Quest IV was a game that I saw discussed in Nintendo Power growing up. I never played the game, but I remember maps and tips about the various characters and chapters. I remember that the female characters in the game were particularly singled out as having fun and interesting chapters.
While I don’t think Dragon Quest IV is a new and fresh experience today, I still think you can learn interesting things from playing it. I think you can see an early attempt to make a chaptered and cinematic story. I think you can see early ideas about controlling party members. You can see experimentation with “winning” conditions – for example, Taloon’s economic simulation chapter or the fact that some chapters don’t even have a completely positive ending.