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Review: Dragon Quest IV

Nathan Grayson | 31 Oct 2008 20:59
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Unfortunately, slicing and dicing the plot means that focused character development doesn't really happen - at least, not in a traditional sense. Each character under your direct control is unable to speak, and tiny 16-bit character sprites aren't particularly emotive. DQIV focuses on your characters in the same way GTA focuses on cars: They're finely calibrated vehicles through which the player takes in the sights and sounds of the game's expansive world. Each mini-adventure serves as an expertly planned tour through everything from towering kingdoms to rotting, impoverished villages. And so, even though every in-game location is static, with NPCs literally rooted to their tiny plots, DQIV's world beats with a believable sense of life - one that next-gen RPGs only wish they could imitate.

But what about the game part of the game? Sight-seeing is nice and all, but is DQIV fun? That depends. This may sound counter-intuitive, but in order to really sink your teeth into DQIV, you have to do a little leg-work. Yes, work. In a videogame. Let's go back to my little battle scenario from earlier. On-screen, I saw poorly-animated monsters "fighting" a team of HP bars in a more boring version of a Mexican stand-off. Thumping behind my brain's moist walls, however, was an action scene narrated by the late, great Don LaFontaine. And therein lies the secret to enjoying DQIV.

It's a simple recipe, really: one part emotional investment and another imagination. Sure, belly-full-o'-jelly Torneko Taloon's strangely attractive wife may whisper the same pre-programmed, ideal-wife phrases to her portly husband every time he wakes, but if you're willing to suspend disbelief, her rote utterances become beautifully endearing. Torneko, your character, has a wife and a kid; he's a hard-working, hard-fighting family man. Suddenly, it's much easier to give a damn about what's going down in DQIV's span of mountains, forests and more mountains. The game provides the outline - you fill in the gaps.

In a sense, DQIV deserves a place on the podium next to games like Spore and LittleBigPlanet. After all, what is imagination if not a form of self-expression? But if games - as well as movies and television - prove anything, it's that modern audiences' imaginations are withered, emaciated things. And for that reason, it's quite possible you will hate DQIV. Unless you can put forth the effort to enjoy it, you won't. Gears of War it most certainly isn't.

Ultimately, DQIV's superficial sparseness could be its greatest flaw or its most potent strength. All that remains is the obvious question: On which side do you fall?

Bottom Line: Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is a solid RPG set in a fantastic world. But there's a catch - if you're not willing to apply a little imagination to the game's sparse surface, you'll probably spend more time returning the game than playing it.

Recommendation: Buy it if you fulfill the above criteria. If you're unsure, give it a rental and see what you think.

Nathan Grayson wants to name his future child "HERO" in order to see what everyone else will call it.

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