Dragon Quest: The Chapters of the Chosen is a remake of a vintage 1992 NES game, a title which has previously been remade for the Playstation. This latest version sees a few new tweaks of its own and retains the extra chapter included in the PS version.
The Dragon Quest series is notable for its refinement and simplicity. Square-Enix’s other big-hitter (at least this side of the world) is the bombastic and pompous Final Fantasy series. Back in ’92 these differences were probably less substantial, although Dragon Quest IV (its original moniker) is definitely a smaller, simpler game than its contemporary Final Fantasy IV.
The plot is, to put it kindly, a hoary old chestnut: a hero has been born and his destiny is to save the world. To his cause a band of chosen warriors and magic-wielders are rallied from all over the globe. What makes Chapters a bit more unusual in that it breaks the story of its heroes into chapters, focusing on their individual beginnings through to their discovery of the cause for which they have been chosen.
What this means in terms of gameplay is that every few hours the player will be starting afresh with a new character or set of characters. This might seem potentially frustrating, but the chapters are paced well enough that they strike a fine balance between rewarding the player’s investment of time and forcing them to move on to a new setting. The knowledge that you will be returning to your characters for the final chapter helps, too – you’re not losing your beloved party, instead you’re just shelving it until the final match.
The game itself is straightforward and charming, an exemplar of the formula that has made the series a success. Eschewing the melodramatic excesses and bewildering customisation that swamp many a JRPG, it focuses on a simple representation of the formula. The core elements – combat, magic, exploration – are presented in a cute, endearing and even sometimes amusing fashion. That the game is broken down into chapters is, you come to realise, a significant strength, as it helps keep things fresh.
The monster animations are a particular delight. The creature designs will be familiar to anyone who’s played a Dragon Quest game before – I’ve only played Dragon Quest VIII, so to me they’re familiar but not to the point of contempt. Those who’ve played more titles in the series might find the lack of variety a little dull, although in fairness this is a remake and not a new game. Still, their animation combines the smooth rendering and memory capacities of modern gaming devices with the simple pixellated charms of the 8- and 16-bit eras, meaning you’ll regularly be fighting monsters that are as cute as a whole sack full of puppies.
Chapters is great to dip into for a few minutes or to play for longer sessions. Speaking as someone quite tired with the JRPG formula, I’ve found it refreshing and wonderful fun, particularly after the tiresome MMORPG stylings of Final Fantasy XII and the forced reinventions of Valkyrie Profile 2. I wouldn’t recommend this game to everyone, or even all RPG fans – its lack of depth won’t appeal to all, and there’s nothing new here. But if what I’ve described does sound appealing to you, give it a try: you may, like me, be very pleasantly surprised.