As if to make amends for the fragmented reasoning behind its recent DS rehash of Final Fantasy IV, Square Enix's Dragon Quest: The Chapters of the Chosen does the remake right -- or rather, the first local release, if one is to be pedantically accurate on localisation history. As the fourth entry (never mind the omission of a numbered title) in the Dragon Quest franchise, yet second proper game to receive domestic grace -- 2006's Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King for PlayStation 2 being the sole other thus far -- Chapters of the Chosen (hereto forth referred to as CotC) achieves more from the outset than any traditional remake can hope for in its favour; that of a distinct lack of predisposition toward how the subject matter is handled. And no, that's not (necessarily) because Final Fantasy has a larger Western fan base than Dragon Quest.
Of course, it helps that developers Cattle Call had a little unintentional help from Heartbeat, the now-defunct developers of the previous and near identical remake of CotC for Japanese PlayStations in 2001. Regardless of any perceived 'laziness' on Cattle Call's part to merely repackage Heartbeat's efforts for Western audiences, the DS' CotC does a marginal tad more than offer a glossy sheen to its proceedings for attention span's sake. There's certainly no disengaging pre-rendered cinema scenes, with all important story points instead extrapolated upon in real-time. There are also no lifeless polygons and lacklustre animation sucking the charm out of an era of videogames that was for all intents and purposes more about the aesthetic and gameplay quirkiness of RPGs than eye candy realism. What you get with CotC is a game, and indeed remake that somewhat refreshingly stays true to its Famicom/NES origins.
Evidently enough, that loyalty to CotC's root source could be seen as much of a detriment as an advantage to today's average player. The game largely consists of as 'old' an 'old school' role-playing experience as one could hope to crave. Hailing from a series renown for formerly being the only real opponent to Final Fantasy's console RPG crown (at least, in Japan), Dragon Quest games old and new have long ago established themselves for sticking closely to the pro and con traditions of 8-bit era RPGs. That may very well mean an unattractive emphasis on random battles, turn-based fighting, falling back on magic spells to save the day, and a heck of a lot of levelling up to begrudgingly look forward to for most. That said, playing CotC also means facing off against an eclectic cast of enemies straight from the pencil tips of Akira Toriyama, a sense of character statistics and development that would put the needlessly overly contrived systems of most current day MMORPGs to shame, and the feeling of no-bars-held-back accomplishment from overcoming the maze-like dungeons therein. And all without a single piece of broken NES 'Engrish' to trawl through.
Living up to its namesake by literally being divided into several chapters, the story of CotC sees players slowly becoming familiar with the protagonists that play a vital role to the core narrative with each passing chapter. By not obliging the tried and tired all-at-once approach of introducing the hero of the story and their usually forgettable party members, the initial separation of CotC's key characters goes a ways in establishing their individual relevance, personalities and all-round uniqueness. Sure, while CotC's narrative on the surface is about as archetypal as the RPG's of the Dragon Quest lineage come (e.g. characters seeking revenge and/or wealth, other characters attempting to prove one's strength, etc), the measured pacing make the proceedings all the more memorable. It's no wonder the most popular characters from the Dragon Quest series are often name-dropped wholesale from CotC, with certain party members, such as the ever affable portly merchant, Torneko having had become the subject matter of the DQ franchise's very first spin-offs. In fact, CotC's segregated style of storytelling was so effective and significant for it's heyday, that it's paid direct homage by the likes of Nintendo's modern day Mother 3.
The impact of CotC's narrative is made all the more memorably charming by the unarguably fantasticly fresh English translation Square Enix has graced players with. On top of staying true to the original Japanese Famicom Dragon Quest IV in terms of the naming of the game's characters, items and locations, or for that matter, risquÃ© subject matter (give or take a couple of sexual connotations), the thirteen lovingly written regional dialects communicated with upon your travels drive that endearment in. The Scottish dialect, with its 'cannaes', 'dunnaes', 'ochs' and 'aboots', is a firm favourite in particular, if only for its head-scratching yet chuckle-worthy comprehension. Verily an example of the continuing pride and attention to detail that was evident in the voice acting of PlayStation 2's Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King, it's almost a shame that the Dragon Quest games in general will never achieve the mass attention of Western fans that the franchise's style of storytelling so dearly deserves.
Fortunately, CotC's attention to detail has also copiously been applied to its presentation. As mentioned earlier, CotC's visual factor does not trouble itself, or the DS for that matter with pushing frame rates and polygon counts. On the contrary, every single character, be it friend or foe, is rendered in splendid 2D sprite work. A factor all the more appreciable and quite worthy of examination through the thoughtful implementation of a fully rotatable camera view. So while the environments are replete with an updated, if PlayStation-quality level of 3D splendour, the esoteric 2D pastel goodness of one's party and the surrounding environment's texture work is a warming reminder of CotC's roots, rather than the engine's limitations. That synchronised sense of nostalgia is only bettered by CotC's audio department. Similar to every and any Dragon Quest title worth its weight in blue slimes, the game's sound effects and music do their utmost best in paying traditional tribute to the series signature Koichi Sugiyama tunes and distinctive 8-bit fanfares.
Indeed, the need for tradition is practically the sole 'problem' holding The Chapters of the Chosen back from a 'perfect' final score. Far be it for this review to become yet another futile diatribe of all that is wrong with game reviews, it certainly goes without saying there's nothing fundamentally revolutionary about CotC. There's its inclusion of custom town building and sharing system between DS', but such negligible trivial pursuits, among others, are admittedly side attractions to the main course. A course that, as vivid and memorable as it is, may not necessarily be recommended for digestion by the non-enthusiast of Japanese role-playing games. There's a definite venerable charm to Dragon Quest: The Chapters of the Chosen, and its would-be fans could likewise do good in appropriately placing their playing mindsets in a long since established, if flawed bygone era.