ELF's outing into the strategy RPG genre meets with
The version of Dragon Knight 4 (hereafter DK4) reviewed here
is the Chinese-translated PC version. It may be difficult
to locate in some countries, but will run without requiring
Chinese DOS/Windows. Names from Dragon
Knight 3, where applicable, are taken from the "renamed"
US version. The PlayStation version is similar, but without
the H scenes.
Upon first look, Dragon Knight 4 appears to be a standard
H-RPG along the lines of its immediate predecessor. However,
it's actually an entirely different beast: an H strategy game.
Those of you who've played Tactics Ogre, Sakura Taisen or
the Lakers series will feel right at home here.
As noted above, years have passed since the end of DK3, and
a new generation of heroes (err... maybe not quite) has arisen.
Kakeru, the son of Desmond from DK3, is (obviously) the main
character here. Sent on an errand to his father's friend Rolf
(another point of relation to the previous game), Kakeru is
THEN sent on another errand together with Rolf's son Seiru
to send a message to the king. To his horror, when he reaches
the royal city of Raymond (where do they get these names anyway?),
he discovers that a dark cloud is covering over the lands
he left behind to the west, turning all it touches into stone!
Worse, the evil Red Dragon Knights have launched an invasion
from the east, and Kakeru and Seiru must go straight through
them to escape the dark plague. Will they, with the assistance
of the mysterious knight Eto ("Arthur"?), be able
to stop the invasion AND reverse the effects of the darkness?
The story is actually quite a bit more complicated than the
above, and although the darkness and the Red Dragon Knights
provide convenient excuses for the characters' never-ending
stream of battles, there are numerous plot twists and subplots
(including a HUGE plot twist halfway through the game, which
I won't give away) which provide an intriguing perspective
on what would otherwise be a very staid good vs. evil (or,
in this case, H vs. evil) tale.
DK4's graphics are somewhat dated. The CGs are in 256-color
(or possibly less), but they still look gorgeous even when
placed next to more recent games' CG. ELF outdid themselves
with this one; the artist(s)' skill is obvious. There are
nearly no animations in the game, except for the battle sequences.
OK, this is where it gets interesting. DK4 features a wide
and varied cast of characters, each of whom has an individual
class (ex. knight, fighter, archer, etc). At several points
in the game, the player will have an option to recruit one
of two characters; this reviewer must inform the reader that
it is usually advantageous in story terms to go for the female
characters, as each of them has an individual background story,
unlike their cookie-cutter male counterparts. The interaction
between the characters is quite amusing, so much so that there
is even a fairly long sequence in the middle of the game with
no battles to fight and nothing to do except advance the story
interactively. From Natasha the mage (Kakeru's childhood friend,
which - for the SLG-challenged - equates to his main love
interest) to Maureene the elven archer who is more than she
seems, the characters are vivid and memorable.
Unlike your typical "visual novel" where you just
have to click the right options in the right order, DK4 is
HARD. The strategy portion of the game is best compared to
Advance Wars, with each character leading a unit of 8 anonymous
soldiers of the same class (mage, fighter, etc). The resemblance
grows deeper when you consider that the game objectives for
each stage are exactly identical: destroy all enemy troops,
or capture the enemy city, within the time limit. Even veteran
strategy gamers will face a challenge here, especially as
there is no in-battle save.
The redeeming features of the battle system are threefold:
first, your units DO gain experience in RPG-like fashion.
Secondly, you can find "Strength Seeds" and "Defense
Seeds" during your town sequences (more on this below),
which allow you to boost your units' stats. Finally, during
your units' movement on the battle map, they may discover
hidden power-ups. Some of these can have absolutely unexpected
effects - for example, they could increase the speed of your
unit or its attack range, neither of which can normally be
altered. These factors do help to put you more or less on
par with the enemy, and make combat much easier.
The town-exploration sequences in DK4 do leave something
to be desired, as they have only 3 possible objectives: 1.
Advance the story and get to the next battle, 2. Find Strength
and Defense seeds, or 3. Do the horizontal polka with some
(un)fortunate female character. DK4 does add the option of
NOT doing it when you are about to; typically this does not
change the story very much.
Overall, DK4's gameplay is much richer than most of the H-games
currently on the market.
The sound effects are nothing special. Music is pleasant,
and you won't find yourself wishing for a way to turn the
music off (unlike some other games).
As stated above, DK4 usually makes H actions optional. In
fact, it is (AFAIK) possible to get through the game without
a single sexual encounter (a couple of H-scenes will still
be seen though). The good thing here is that the H scenes
are mostly well integrated with the plot, a departure from
DK3 (plot? What does Little Red Riding H - sorry, Clara -
have to do with the plot?).
There are a couple of scenes that may be objectionable to
some. The most glaring of these is a scene with a WAY underage
girl; also, there is at least one non-consensual sex scene
not amounting to violence. Bear in mind that these scenes
are entirely optional, although the player MAY still see some
H-images leading up to the option.
The H interface, as such, is similar to Doukyuusei/Nanpa,
where the player has the option to "touch" his "partner"
in any number of hotspots via mouse click. H scenes in the
game are not excessive; the bucketfuls of semen present in
many other H-games are absent here and there are few or no
"fetish" scenes. Overall the designers seem to have
been going for a slightly tamer approach, which fits the story
DK4 combines challenging gameplay with a very involving storyline
and memorable characters. Its few faults are overshadowed
by the sheer scope of the game. Recommended.