|A wonderful piece of 8-bit RPG goodness, though perhaps clinging onto tradition a wee bit too much. Dragon Warrior 4 represents the separation point between the story of Erdrick (Loto in the new GBC remakes) - the Dragon Warrior who fought the savage beasts and their dark overlords - and the stories of Zenithia and its champions - the warriors who fought in the name of their great dragon-god. It also represented the last game (to my knowledge) Enix created for the 8-bit Nintendo; what a way to go!
While the graphics in battle are top-notch drawings courtesy of Akira Toriyama, special effects are merely represented by colored background flashes. And although this was fine early on in the 8-bit's era, later games by and large rose above this sort of effect. Recent efforts on the Color Gameboy (which has comparable processing power) are much more vividly animated, proving that such effects were possible. Still, the maps etc retain the classic Dragon Warrior feel, and a special bonus to the effects used in the final battle - it's the only 2D game I remember to have THAT sort of thing going on mid-fight!
While I thought of giving this a much lower rating (like 6) I came to realize that much of the negative comparisons I was doing were contrasts to the SNES - which has a much more powerful sound chip. To compare tunes to the next-higher system is an honor indeed! And while still on the tinny side like most 8-bit games, the musics themselves were very well done. Sound effects are somewhat lacking - not much improvement over the first 3 games - but none of them seem hokey, just sparse.
Ah, where DW4 truly shines. My only complaint with the gameplay is the lack of a manual override AI routine for combat (a problem that has yet to return to the series - 5, 6, and 7 all had Manual as a combat tactic). Beyond this design flaw, the game plays wonderfully. There's more character development, subplots, and main storyline present than I've ever seen in an 8-bit cart. Battles can be tedious, but also interesting with the computer controlling much of the action. The AI is surprisingly effective at not getting you killed by way of stupidity. And for kleptomaniacs, the ever-popular Tiny Medals made their first appearance here - finding them all can be quite the challenge.
The game remains true to Dragon Warrior form while evolving the series by quite a lot. DW AI, Tiny Medals, and the Casino made their proper debuts here (The DW2 slots and the Coliseum of DW3 aren't true casinos in my book, Pachisi is a mini-game), all staples in the later games. Classic gaming at one of its finest hours. Barred from the perfect score due to the slightly excessive need for mindless level-boosting without incentive, as well as stagnation in the overall battle engine (unchanged from DW3 apart from the AI)
This game marked the start of the Heaven trilogy of Dragon Warrior games (probably better recognized as the Zenithian saga), and sets a goodly part of the stage for Dragon Quest 5 and 6 (both of which have translation patches floating around). This also marked the first appearance of Taloon (Torneko), the rotund everyman who managed to get two action-RPG games of his own (Torneko: The Last Hope being the only one that made the trip stateside). Definite recommended playing to gain a better grasp of those games' backstory. Also useful to better appreciate a few cameo apperances in DW7.