(aka Dragon Warrior IV)
Famicom (1990, Japan / 1992, North America)
PlayStation (2001, Japan only)
DS (2007, as of writing Japan only)
Like all of the others, Dragon Warrior IV (subtitled Michibikareshi Monotachi or The Chosen Ones) begins by asking the player for their name, but it quickly switches gears and introduces something completely different. The story is broken up into five different chapters, each taking place in the same world but starring different characters. Each of the first four chapters are fairly short, usually taking only a few hours to complete, but the final chapter sees all of the party members coming together in a quest longer than any of the previous games.
In Chapter 1, a knight named Ragnar sets off alone to investigate the mystery of some missing children, which is a pretty simple and straightforward quest. Along the way, he recruits Healie, a healslime that wishes it were human. This is the first instance of a monster joining your party, something which was drastically expanded upon in later games.
Chapter 2 stars Princess Alena, a tomboy princess who's sick of life in the castle and wants to explore the outside world. Alena and her guardians escape from the castle in search of adventure. Their light-hearted meanderings eventually turn serious when danger threatens the kingdom, and it's up to Princess Alena to save not only her father, but her entire kingdom. While Ragnar's chapter is pretty straightforward, this is one is a bit more involved, especially since you now control three characters who are primarily magic users, rather than a single physical powerhouse.
Chapter 3 is a huge departure from most RPGs. It stars Torneko (aka Taloon in the original U.S. translation), a simple merchant who's grown sick of working for The Man, and wants to start up his own shop. He begins his quest by leaving behind his family for the big city, but eventually gets caught up in a quest for some powerful weapons. At a certain point in your quest, your goal is simply to amass as much money as quickly as possible. You can do this any number of ways. You can kill enemies like in any other chapter, and since Taloon is a Merchant, enemies drop treasure chests more frequently. You can work in your boss's shop, deciding what prices to sell items for or what items to take into stock. Once you buy your own shop, you can take the profit or equipment and use them however you want. You can raid the local caves and sell their treasures, since Taloon can't equip most of it anyway. A lot of this has an Indiana Jones-style vibe, right down to a very particular puzzle -- like the intro Raiders of the Lost Ark, there's a precious statue on top of a switch. You need to push a boulder into the room, grab the statue, push the boulder on the switch, and then escape.
Chapter 4 stars two sisters -- Mara, a dancer, and Nara, a fortune teller, as they set off to avenge their father's murder.
In the fifth and final chapter, you finally assume the role of the Hero, who is being raised in a remote, unnamed village. Apparently, you have some kind of special powers, and with along with them, an important destiny. Not long after the chapter begins, your village is suddenly attacked by monsters looking for your blood. You're hidden away, and your best friend -- a shapeshifter -- assumes the your form to get killed in your place. Thinking their task is completed, the monsters leave, with the Hero in the ruins of his or her hometown to discover the reasons behind this tragedy. You must travel the world and regroup with all of the characters of the previous chapters and take down Necrosaro together. You learn that all of the previous stories were simply building up to this tragedy by highlighting a number of troubles in the world, but here you finally get to take down the bad guys.
Although the battle system is the same as its predecessor, Dragon Quest IV introduces AI-controlled characters. In many of the chapters, you only control the main character, and all other party members attack automatically. It's especially bizarre when you get to the final chapter, and you can only control the hero -- the rest of the characters, who were previously under your command, now act on their own accord. You can set "tactics" to modify their behavior a bit, and most of the time, the AI works pretty well, but some of the spellcasters can be a dimwitted, constantly using spells that are ineffective. While this speeds things up, it also makes battles less involving when you're only giving orders to a single character.
Also, there are a total of eight heroes in the final chapter, and you only control four at once in battle. In order for you to be able to control all of them, Dragon Quest IV introduces the Caravan. At any time in battle, you can swap characters in and out of your party. However, the Caravan can't be taken into certain areas like caves, so whenever you go dungeon crawling, you're limited to four people.
A number of other additions have been introduced to Dragon Warrior IV, including casinos, where you can gamble away your cash and earn exclusive items. Also new is the Medal King -- there are now tons of Medals hidden throughout the world, and they can be used to purchase even more exclusive items. The day/night cycle from Dragon Quest III has also been retained. You can also save your game at churches, which can be found in practically any town in the world.
Dragon Quest IV was eventually ported to the PSone in 2001, using the same engine as Dragon Quest VII. The graphics have been upgraded to use 3D landscapes and 2D sprites. Naturally, much like Dragon Quest VII, this is pretty ugly, but it's still a big step up from the NES version, especially seeing as how the character sprites actually have some level of detail. The enemies in battle are now animated, and there are visual effects with some of the spells. The music has also been enhanced, and actually sounds better than Dragon Warrior VII (though that may be just because Dragon Quest IV has a better soundtrack anyway.) The improvements are more than just skin deep, as there are plenty of enhancements that make this a more complete experience.
For starters, there's a new prologue where you play as the Hero and walk around town for a bit. In the FC/NES version, you'd name your character, and wouldn't be introduced to them until late in the game. The remake totally loses that, but it's cool to see your transforming friend, whom you get to play around with a bit. Then you see what happens to her by the time the fifth chapter rolls around, and it's all the more crushing, so it balances out. There's also a whole brand new sixth chapter which expands on the background behind Necrosaro and why he's so angry at mankind. You even get to resurrect him and join up with him, as your party takes on an even greater evil. The immigrant town from Dragon Quest VII also shows up here, as well as the Bag, the Monster Book, the Talk function, and other additions that were added in the later games.
More importantly, however, is that you can now turn off the AI and control all of your party members manually. As a result, some of the attacks and spells have been toned down, as to not make the game too easy (they could be pretty overpowered when the computer controlled your party) but it basically fixed the one major problem with Dragon Quest IV. This version was scheduled to come out in America -- it's actually advertised on the back of the Dragon Warrior VII manual -- but was cancelled when the Japanese studio closed down; the tools required for localization became unavailable.
Dragon Quest IV was also released for the DS in 2007, ported by Arte Piazza. It's mostly based on the PSone version, but displays the landscape on both screens. The battle interface has been redone, the menus now finally use the Toriyama artwork as character portraits, and all of the monsters have idle animations in addition to attack animations. Strangely there's no stylus controls at all. In general, the game moves a bit faster, and sounds a bit better too. The immigrant quest has been changed (and dumbed down) and the bonus dungeon is completely different from the PSone game. There's also some orchestral music played in the intro, and some throwaway wireless trading options.
As of right now, the game's only been been released in Japan with no announced plans for an English localization; hackers found a rough English script in the Japanese version. It's a complete retranslation of the original, with some interesting touches -- the characters in Chapter 1 all speak with Scottish accents, and everyone in Chapter 2 speaks like Eastern Europeans. There's also some attempts to explain the differences between the old Dragon Warrior IV character names -- Ragnar/Rian is now named "Ragnar McRyan", much as how Taloon/Torneko became "Torneko Taloon" in the English translation of Dragon Quest VIII.