It's strange coming to Dragon Quest 4 so late. We've come so far since the game's 8bit heyday that the App Store is already chock full of retro RPGs that borrow liberally from the DQ play book.
That means the game doesn't feel as fresh as it once might have done. This is a port of the DS version, that itself is a version of a PSOne re-polishing of the 24 year old NES original.
And it's age shows a little on shiny Retina displays. The sprites and the backdrops never quite click together the way you feel they should,
But it's still a magnificent experience, full of quirky characters, clever twists to the RPG formula, and a huge, interesting world to explore.
Dungeons and dragon
The game is split into a series of chapters that intertwine into a bigger story about a world in peril. You play as a series of different characters, adding new party members as you wander through the adventure.
Play is split into distinct chunks. You walk around towns gathering information, pushing the narrative forward, and buying new equipment and gear. Then you stomp through the world map, finding new locations and fighting random battles.
Those battles take place in a strange first-person perspective. The monsters are arrayed in front of you, and you take it in turns to beat each other. Knock down a foe's hit points and you win.
Like Dragon Quest VIII you're playing the game in portrait orientation. It doesn't work quite as well here as it did there though, with the smaller sprites and 2D view not lending themselves to the shifted perspective as well as DQ8's 3D style.
All about perspective
There's still a gorgeous pop to proceedings though, and a surprising flow to the narrative even though it's made up of different interlocking stories.
One thing it is guilty of is meandering, failing to point you in the direction you need to be headed. It's something old school RPGs often get wrong, but stumbling around the world unsure of what to do next isn't that much fun.
When the game is running well, and you're bouncing from dungeon to dungeon, slowly unveiling new pieces of the story, you can't help but get swept away by the quality if the JRPG experience.
Heart of the dragon
At its heart, Dragon Quest 4 is still a fantastic game. It might not have aged particularly well, and this iOS version might not be presented in a way that best shows off its charm, but none of that has enough of an affect to sully the experience underneath.
The Dragon Quest games aren't as well known over here as they are in Japan, and this is as good a way as any to get an introduction to one of the games that really fixed the template of the series.
There are Slimes to kill, chests to unlock, and a huge game to get deeply lost in. And if that's the sort of thing you're looking for, then it's unlikely you'll leave Dragon Quest 4 disappointed.