After Pressing Start: Dragon Quest IV Chapters of the Chosen
When the world is falling into despair, the Hero is always ready to catch it. The Villain will inevitably have a head start but the Hero’s accelerated growth will always save the day in the nick of time. Heroes rise to the occasion. They’re punctual. On the other hand, Villains are pretty relaxed about their evil plans. They’ll make time to stop and say hello as the Hero struggles through trials untold. Sometimes they won’t even appear until much later in the plot. They’ll even sit and wait for the Hero to come to them, so unconcerned with the power of friendship and love and confident in their abilities. If villains are the instigators, heroes are the go-getters.
Which makes Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen and its opening somewhat alarming: where is the Hero?
You think it’s Ragnar McRyan at first. After all, he is the first character you play as. That’s how it works, right? Sure, he might look a bit unorthodox for a Hero, with a great blue moustache and hot pink armor, but he can hit things good and he serves a King. That’s Hero material right there. But there was that title screen before the game, though. And Ragnar’s quest doesn’t feel that earth-shatteringly important. He just has to rescue some kidnapped kids. That sounds like standard procedure for a knight in a typical fantasy setting.
But when Ragnar slays the evil monster at the bottom of the dungeon and saves the children in a record three hours, we uncover a plot to kill the Legendary Hero and honestly feel a little emasculated. What do you mean we’re not the Legendary Hero? If we were playing any other game but Dragon Quest, we’d have an elongated sequence where our character falls into an existentialist angst of uncertainty, but Ragnar takes the news remarkably well. If I’m not the Hero, clearly it’s my duty to find The Legendary Hero now. They’ve clearly been slacking off.
Before we can even start the new adventure, we lose control of Ragnar and leap to another protagonist and their separated yet inevitably intertwined narrative. The intriguing Chapter 1 title screen before Ragnar’s adventure starts to make sense and the greater meaning of the game’s subtitle comes into focus. Ragnar McRyan, Tsarevna Alena, Torneko Taloon, Maya, and Meena are not the Heroes, they’re the chosen Hero’s companions. Each chapter explored reveals another aspect of the villain’s scheme as each protagonist travels across a vast world. We learn of the villain’s name, Psaro the Manslayer, and witness the fear he strikes in the populace through their hushed remarks in the village’s you visit. His criminal network is scattered across the different continents and affects each protagonist’s journey to find the Legendary Hero. The world already feels like it’s on the brink of ruin with Psaro’s influence looming so large and each passing hour you spend looking for the Hero is an hour wasted.
When the Chosen finally find The Legendary Hero, it’s too late. The Hero’s village has burned down and his friends and family have been murdered by Psaro the Manslayer. We were too slow. And while the orphaned Hero is a familiar trope in any JRPG, here we see it from an outsider’s perspective peeking in. Even the traditional silent protagonist is subverted with the notion that the Hero could be reeling in shock from his parents death.
But it’s in that journey to find the true Hero of the story where the real heart of Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen lies. Those simple two sentences about a greater evil and an illusive Legendary Hero uttered by a middling lackey at the very end of Ragnar’s chapter illustrates not only where the story will take you, but how entrenched Psaro’s villainy is. The DS port includes a prologue before Ragnar’s chapter that introduces the Hero and his family but it only weakens the significance of the narrative. You don’t get to go on that same journey to find the Hero when you already know where they are. And that journey is noble. It’s a journey where good people realise their role in the grand scheme of things and struggle to find the person who can help. The world is saved at the end of it all, as it always is, but the focus on your companion’s trials adds unexpected depth to an outwardly simple narrative.
After Pressing Start is a series running on Nightmare Mode every Friday by resident narrative guru Tom Auxier. It focuses on beginning, on the stories that happen directly after pressing start, and how those introductory stories influence the arcs of video games. This guest entry of After Pressing Start was written by Alois Wittwer. Check out some of the other APS articles: After Pressing Start