Console: NES Company: Enix Release Date: December 1992 Genre: RPG Number of Players: One Save Feature? Yes!
Despite the first three games in the series being quite good, the fourth Dragon Warrior epic is far and away the best of the series. With its captivating story, larger-than-life world to explore, and intuitive gameplay, Dragon Warrior IV is the cream of the NES crop as far as RPGs go. As far as I am concerned, it could even make a strong case for being one of the Top 5 NES games ever made.
Overview: Although this might come as a surprise to fellow veterans of the series, Dragon Warrior IV really surpassed my expectations! Despite the fact that I had heard positive praise and gaudy accolades from fellow gamers (including my good friend Jon Pursel), I was still amazed with this game by the time I finally got around to playing it back in 1996 or so. It just had incredible depth for an NES game and was even more enjoyable than its predecessors.
At the time of my initial playthrough of Dragon Warrior IV, I had just recently conquered the third Dragon Warrior epic. What amazed me to no end is that Enix somehow improved in virtually every aspect with the fourth Dragon Warrior game. Since Dragon Warrior III was already a fantasic game, that's saying something!
What's so ironic is that you just didn't hear a whole lot about Dragon Warrior IV back when it was first released. The chief cause of this is probably the sad truth that the NES was beginning to die out during this time. For whatever reason, several popular video game magazines such as Nintendo Power and GamePro were developing a real anti-NES sentiment during this time as well. As a result, late-release games like Dragon Warrior IV never really got a fair shake. Although my personal, objective review comes a whopping thirteen years after the initial release of Dragon Warrior IV, you can rest assured that this review will tell you the truth about the greatest RPG for the NES.
First of all, it is safe to say that fans of the first three Dragon Warrior classics can rest easy because the fourth game is very similar to its counterparts in terms of gameplay. The layout hasn't changed much (if at all) and you'll still use commands such as Talk, Search, and Equip on a regular basis. Thankfully, there is now a Door option which allows you to open doors without having to go through the cumbersome process of selecting the proper key(s) like in DW3. As long as one of your characters has the proper key (e.g. Thief's Key) in his/her inventory, you'll be just fine. In addition, the battle system is virtually identical to the one found in DW3 until Chapter 5 when the Tactics system kicks into high gear (I will discuss this system in more detail later on/)
Of course, a sequel can't really be considered a truly great game unless it improves on its predecessor in some way and Dragon Warrior IV certainly comes through there! One of the new features that really impressed me was the new Chapter layout. Basically, Dragon Warrior IV reads like a really intriguing novel. It tells the story of one or more of the main characters in Chapters 1-4 and brings it all together in perfect harmony in Chapter 5 (which happens to be larger than the first four Chapters combined). What makes this new element so enticing is that each chapter involves completely different characters in various areas of the Dragon Warrior IV world. Instead of being like your typical RPG and having one main story, there are four very intriguing background stories in the first four chapters with quiet undertones that finally reveal themselves in Chapter 5 when the real battle begins! I don't want to get into this too much now (see the Storyline section) but having the game neatly separated into five chapters made all the difference in the world from a story standpoint. It affects not only the story but the whole atmosphere/feel of the game as well!
Another feature that was tweaked nicely was the search option. While you were able to search the ground for secret items in the previous three games, there really wasn't a need to use this option more than perhaps five to ten times throughout the course of the game. However, DW4 is different because there are a whole slew of items and rare goodies that require you to use the search function...a lot! You are finally able to interact with your environment a little more and search in the various cupboards and pots located throughout the game (I know that you can search that one pot in Jipang in DW3 but that doesn't really count!) In addition, graveyards, gardens, and other unique/obscure places like the dirt around a well can even contain special items! While a plethora of seeds (e.g. Mystic Acorns that increase MP) can be discovered this way, there are also a whole truckload of small metals to seek out. While some can be found in cupboards and pots, a few really require you to go out of your way to discover their whereabouts! It really takes a keen eye as the location(s) of these rare gems are hardly ever obvious. You have to search for thin strips of land that seem to go out of the way and just dark corners in general. This might seem like a chore but the rewards are definitely worth the trouble as a King in a far off land will give you incredible items in return for small metals. The Hat of Happiness (replenishes MP as you walk) and the gaudy Sword of Miracles (replenishes HP each time you attack) are just two of the four possible items. If you enjoy being meticulous and searching for goodies like me, you'll really love this newfound emphasis on exploration!
While the lighthearted side of DW4 is nice and all, there is of course the battle system to consider! As I mentioned a short while ago, the battle system as a whole is virtually identical to the one in DW3. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Enix simply copied the code. The only real difference lies in the Tactics system which is brought into effect in Chapter 5. Basically, the Tactics system adds a whole new element of strategy and allows you to tell your party what to do...without requiring you to give your fellow members commands like in a typical Dragon Warrior battle. While you still have complete control of the Hero (who represents you basically), you have no control over the actions of your other party members. This might sound a bit perplexing on the surface but it's actually quite useful. Let's say you're in a typical battle. Before each turn takes place, you can specify the battle strategy to your liking. The strategies/tactics that are available include the following:
Normal: Characters will use a lot of typical attacks and a variety of attack magic but won't be overly aggressive. A well-balanced battle tactic.
Offensive: This is by far the one I choose the most! As the name indicates, this strategy involves attacking enemies relentlessly. You can expect your party members to use their strongest attacks and most powerful spells without mercy.
Defensive: Although I've found this one to be unreliable at times, it involves using more support/defensive magic than normal. A greater emphasis is placed on healing and defensive prowess than going on the offensive.
Save MP: As the title suggests, this strategy is useful when certain party members are running low on MP. This tactic does not cut off magic entirely but it does limit MP use (e.g. Mara might use the less powerful Blaze spell instead of the MP-sucking Blazemost spell).
Use No MP: When you're really hurting in the MP department, this tactic is the way to go. Absolutely, positively no MP is consumed when this strategy is in force. It can also come in handy when magic is ineffective and/or enemies have used the Bounce spell which reflects magic back at the party!
Try Out: Of the six tactics, this one is by far the most unpredictable. Since you never really know what to expect when utilizing this strategy, you probably don't want to use it during a big battle. Also, make sure that your party members are not carrying valuable items when implementing this battle tactic. It's not uncommon for a character to use a Wizard Ring (rare item that restores MP) on another character with full MP when using the "Try Out" option. It is possible to see some positive things transpire but the alternative is certainly true as well. You've been warned.
Although it can be frustrating during a huge boss battle to not have total control of your party (I lost to Balzack in Chapter 5 in a battle that I would have never lost had I had control of my characters.), the Tactics system has a lot going for it. Generally speaking, your characters will make wise decisions based on your strategy choice and it is definitely worth mentioning that they will learn from past battles as well! If Cristo's Defeat spell was successful against say one of the Blizags (blizzard monster), it is very likely that he will use that same spell again should he encounter more of the same monsters. Conversely, if it is not successful, he will eventually stop casting the spell and try something else. Granted, I wish that a character would stop casting a spell after it fails one or two times instead of the usual four or five failures but I digress. It's not flawless by any means but the Tactics system is a real timesaver (no more navigating endless menus for each character) and gives the game a certain thrill element (are my characters going to pound the enemies or screw up immensely?) not found in your typical RPG. And it's also worth mentioning that you do have complete control of your characters during the first four chapters so there is a healthy balance there.
The last thing that I want to mention before getting into the graphics is, of course, the casino! While Dragon Warrior III gave us the enjoyable fight ring where monsters would battle to the death, Dragon Warrior IV was the first game in the series to have a full-blown casino! It might not seem like anything extraordinary now but for an NES game, this feature was the definition of "going the extra mile." Although it wasn't necessary to beat the game, you could easily spend hours upon hours playing the ultra-addictive poker game, betting on enemies in the fight ring, or as it said after each spin, playing the slots "one more time." Not only did these games give you an incredible thrill if you were lucky enough to win but the prizes were not to be believed! While the Metal Babble Shield was the golden ticket at a whopping 50,000 tokens (that's the equivalent of 500,000 gold pieces for you math majors out there), you could purchase the valuable Meteorite Armband (increases agility greatly...get one for Ragnar already!) or must-buy Wizard Rings (restores MP and could be used between 1-20 times) here!
Graphics: Although they were by no means earth-shattering or revolutionary, I was very pleased with what Dragon Warrior IV had to offer in the graphics department. There is just a certain crispness about the visuals that I really like. Characters look a little sharper and the various castles/shops/homes just flat-out look better and even have a somewhat 3-D appearance thanks to some of the perspective and shading. It's nothing major but still, I was impressed that Enix even attempted this with an NES game. Just a minor tweaking like this adds a little to the game's atmosphere and actually gives you a feeling of height. When you're on the top floor of a house, you feel like you're on the top floor!
The attention to detail is truly remarkable as well. Cupboards, pots, plants, and beds line the walls in homes and gardens and red carpets are commonplace in castles. Some towns even have a hot spring in the center or a majestic tower rising into the sky! Characters move with more purpose than usual as well. Soldiers in Burland Castle march in unison, shop owners will literally run to the counter to greet you, and you might even run into a party of characters intent on "saving the world" (they regretfully refuse your company not knowing that you are in fact...ahem...the Hero!) Little, barely noticeable things like these caught my meticulous eye.
What really impressed me about the game's graphics, however, has to be the incredible diversity of the plethora of caves/dungeons/towers found throughout the game. Compared to previous games in the series, DW4 was simply unbeliveable in this area! Each new locale that you happened across during your travels was truly unique and some of the areas that you wind up visiting are simply amazing! Whether it's a dark tower filled with evil light, a volcanic cave full of fiery rocks, a musty area at the bottom of a beckoning well, or a mysterious cave with cascading waterfalls and azure water everywhere (great animation for the NES btw), each area looks incredibly original! How many RPGs involve you going inside of a world tree or deep underground into an ancient castle? There even comes a time when you go inside of a statue of all things! Once you reach the top, you have to jump through its eyes to reach its hands...all of which look outstanding for 8-bit graphics!
What amazes me even more than the suddenly impressive Dragon Warrior graphics, however, is the fact that Nintendo Power Magazine didn't acknowledge this in their review of DW4! For whatever reason, they felt that the graphics in Dragon Warrior IV were not as good as in some of the previous games in the series. Uhh...HELLO! Not to knock on the first three DW games (DW3 in particular had nice graphics) but this is simply a joke. It's almost as if the video game reviewers at Nintendo, Inc. played through half of Chapter 1 and figured that they knew enough to write a full-length review. Of course, this is not true (they did cover all five chapters) but it sure seems to be the case. From a completely objective point-of-view, you can't sit there and tell me that the fourth Dragon Warrior game has graphics of a lower quality than DW2 or 3. Without question, DW4 has the most impressive graphics in the series and could even hold its own against any of the other NES games that came out during this time. Its award from Nintendo Power for this great accomplishment? A lousy 2.9 out of 5.0 in the graphics department. Still think there wasn't an anti-NES bias going around during this time?
Music: Not to be outdone by the sterling graphics, the DW4 soundtrack is also a dandy! Although it lacks that one "staple" track that everyone remembers like a "My Road, My Journey" (overworld track found in DW1 and 3), the Dragon Warrior IV soundtrack was probably Koichi Sugiyama's finest performance. The reasons for this are twofold. Like the game's graphics, the sheer variety really stood out to me. Instead of the typical one or two overworld tracks, there are a whopping six overworld tunes in DW4! Six tracks...just for the overworld!! The characters in Chapters 1-4 have their own themes and the Hero of Chapter 5 has two; a soft ditty initially and a more heroic one that plays once the entire team is brought together. All of these tunes are fantasic too! Ragnar's is very melodic and hopeful, Alena/Cristo/Brey's is calm and relaxing, Taloon's is ambitious and...well...Taloon's, and Nara/Mara's is sorrowful and captivating. Both of the Hero's destiny-laced themes are nice although I probably prefer his/her initial tune.
Although there is only one town theme found in the game (contrary to the two found in DW3), it might very well be my favorite track in the entire game. If nothing else, it has to rank in my personal Top 5 list of "catchy" video game music tracks. Maybe it's just me but I find this tune to be unbelievably addictive! I can't tell you how often I'll be going somewhere and this track will randomly pop in my head. Like any of the great catchy tunes out there, it's incredibly simple yet extremely rich in melody (ala Super Mario Bros. or Bubble Bobble). Graciously, it's also a very enjoyable track.
The second reason why the Dragon Warrior IV soundtrack is top-dog in the series is quite simple. Despite the impressive variety, there isn't a single bad track in this game! Not even one! The cave theme is calm and mysterious which is a big improvement over the more frantic one found in DW3, the tower track is upbeat but, once again, not too crazy, and even the battle tune is much better than the ones found in the three previous games. The ship and shrine themes are probably the tracks that come closest to being average and yet are still appropriate.
While most of the sound effects are identical to those found in the previous three Dragon Warrior games, that's perfectly fine with me. It gives the series a nice sense of continuity and, frankly, I've always enjoyed the sounds of going up/down stairs, opening doors, and opening treasure chests.
Play Control: Although the controls are virtually identical to those found in Dragon Warrior III, there are a few minor additions to DW4 that I found very helpful. The main one has to be the new "Door" option I briefed you on earlier. I absolutely loved being able to open any door with this one simple command instead of having to select the right key like in DW3. A real time-saver indeed. While everything else is pretty much the same, I did enjoy viewing the menus that showed each character's HP/MP figures in addition to the Offense/Defense stats for each character. These two charts really helped me to decide which characters to take to particular areas where the wagon could not reach (Note: Your party in Chapter 5 consists of nine, possibly ten characters).
Lastly, the battle controls, while familiar to those found in DW3, implemented the new Tactics system nicely. I liked how you could easily select your battle strategy and change characters before giving your Hero his/her battle command (Note: When the wagon is available, you can exchange characters mid-battle...Final Fantasy X style!)
Challenge: I'd say that Dragon Warrior IV is probably on the same level as Dragon Warrior III with a moderate difficulty level. It's not as cumbersome as the first DW game or insanely taxing as the second game; Enix really seemed to hone in and find just the right challenge level with DW4. Granted, the Tactics system could make some battles, especially boss battles, more difficult than necessary (why do magic users such as Brey and Mara attack instead of casting spells?) but I guess that some sacrifices had to be made to implement the new system.
Variety is once again the forte in yet another area of Dragon Warrior IV. While fighting enemies and attempting to use the right tactics against the super-powerful bosses presents the main challenge in DW4, there are plenty of additional obstacles that need to be overcome. One of the more unique challenges involves Chapter 3 where your main goal is to start your own shop. As the aspiring merchant, Taloon, you have to build up an immense fortune through any means necessary to make this dream become true. Searching for valuable treasures in secluded caves, earning spoils such as Broad Swords and Half Plate Armors in battle, and even working at the local shop in your hometown of Lakanaba will go a long way towards helping you to achieve your goal. You can even hire a soldier and/or a magician to protect you during your travels...for a small fee of course.
Another aspect of Dragon Warrior IV that adds to the challenge is that this game is, well, gargantuan in size! Without exaggeration, Dragon Warrior IV is easily the largest game to ever grace the NES...even larger in size than the immense world found in Dragon Warrior III. Enix didn't just add a lot of fluff to make the game so large either. The world is simply littered with castles, towns, shrines, and a seemingly endless supply of towers and caves at every corner. And in terms of linearity, the fourth Dragon Warrior game really created the best of both worlds. While it's pretty straightforward in Chapters 1-4, seekers of adventure and the unknown will be licking their chops once they reach the ginormous Chapter 5. Once you get the ship and later the balloon, the sky's the limit in terms of exploration and discovery. As a matter of fact, there are even optional areas that you don't even have to visit to complete the game. This is commonplace nowadays but in the NES era, this was simply unheard of!
For this reason along with the other items I discussed, Dragon Warrior IV is one of those rare 8-bit RPGs that you will want to play over and over again. The world is large enough and there is enough variety in the gameplay to keep you interested for a long time. And being a Dragon Warrior game, it's a given that the game is certainly no cakewalk with plenty of fierce foes and taxing puzzles to keep the juices flowing.
Storyline: For an NES game, the background story in Dragon Warrior IV is truly a work of art. The new chapter format was a stroke of genius as it allowed you to really hone in on each of the nine main characters and learn so much more about them than you typically would in a straight-laced RPG. By the time one chapter ended, you had already grown attached to your party and didn't want to leave them behind! The cool thing is that the exact same thing would occur in the following chapter when you got to control a whole new character or set of characters. You just grew attached and the more you played, the more that you wanted to see what would happen next.
I thought that each of the first four chapters were intriguing as well. In Chapter 1, you play the role of the royal soldier Ragnar and attempt to discover the whereabouts of an alarming number of missing children. With the legendary Healie by your side, you go from a mysterious old well to the heights of an ominous tower in desparate pursuit of the truth. Chapter 2 involves the fiesty Princess Alena and her companions Cristo and Brey as they search for adventure and find it in the famous battle arena in Endor. In Chapter 3, you aid Taloon in his quest to own a shop. Needing well over 100,000 gold coins to reach your goal, this seemingly simple task is anything but child's play. And finally, in Chapter 4, you take control of two gypsy sisters, Nara and Mara, in their quest to avenge their father's untimely death.
What makes the story so cool is not just the events that transpire in each chapter but the way everything comes together in Chapter 5. You finally begin to understand the repercussions of some of the earlier events that took place. The reason for the disappeance of the children, the shocking event at Santeem, the seemingly innocent Golden Bracelet, and the mysterious character Necrosaro all come into play in the game's final chapter.
This is also where the Hero who was whispered about earlier in the game makes his or her grand appearance. In addition, all of the main characters from the previous four chapters are finally brought together! After journeying through each of the first four chapters, it's just so rewarding to see all of your favorite characters come together to form a really special team (or, as the Chapter 5 subtitle states: The Chosen Ones). These are not just some characters you found off the street; each one is truly significant in Dragon Warrior IV.
A lot of incredible events transpire in Chapter 5 as well. An ancient evil emerges in the most unlikely location, the elusive Necrosaro finally makes an appearance, and your party learns of a kingdom in the sky ruled by a great dragon! Many amazing events and neat surprises await you in this incredible final chapter. The ending doesn't disappoint either.
Funfactor: As I said at the very beginning of this review, Dragon Warrior IV was the first role playing game that truly felt like "greatness" to me. While the same can be said about Dragon Warrior III to a certain extent, the fourth game just has that extra umph and pizazz that pushes it over the top. Enix really seemed to hit their zenith with Dragon Warrior IV which I suppose is fitting for a game with a region known as "zenithia."
Everything about this game from the simple yet intuitive gameplay to the endless variety (there's that word again!) of mini-games and secrets to discover simply screams fun! For explorers and diehard RPG fans, this game was simply as good as it got back in 1992.
What's so incredible is that, despite the harsh "expert" analysis that DW4 received from its critics, it still somehow managed to win the silver for Best Overall Game of 1992 in Nintendo Power Magazine (Mega Man 4 won the gold). Second place! No NES RPG had even cracked the Top 3 before and that includes the first three Dragon Warrior games and the legendary Final Fantasy. And even though I am a huge Mega Man fanboy at heart, my heart tells me that Dragon Warrior IV should have won the gold that year. That's how good this game is folks!
Negatives: This isn't like me but I am truly at a loss as to what to say! The only real gripe that I can think of relates to the Tactics system and I've already discussed this issue quite thoroughly. While it's cool to be able to direct your characters and implement various strategies in battle, they can be unreliable in the already tough-as-nails boss battles. Attackers like Alena and Ragnar are fine because they primarily attack anyway. However, you don't see Cristo using his endless repertoire of support magic like Increase and Healus nearly enough and other magic users like Mara and Brey seem to enjoy using ineffective magic over and over again (e.g. fire spells on fire monsters). Granted, for the most part, your characters will not make porous decisions like these all that often. However, I suppose that it all goes to show that nothing can truly replace the human factor of controlling all of your characters in battle.
On another note, the same battle screen as before (black background, enemies facing you) was a little disappointing but by this time, I had resigned myself to expect it. I guess that it wasn't all that bad for the NES.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.0 Music: 4.2 Play Control: 4.4 Challenge: 4.7 Storyline: 4.9 Funfactor: 4.9 Overall Score: 27.1 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!
Back to NES NostalgiaLast Updated: June 7, 2006