DRAGON WARRIOR IV / Enix / NES
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The last master of an RPG finally wises up - send your minions to kill the Hero of Prophecy while he's still a defenseless kid! Unfortunately for him he didn't know that Enix would abandon the "create your own party" system they had just introduced in the previous game and go back to story-mandated characters whose class you can't alter. So the young Hero has seven divinely appointed bodyguards roaming the world, and we'll first play individual chapters as them (four chapters, as some of them are grouped together) before actually taking control of the Hero in the fifth and final chapter.
It's an interesting structure - how many games don't introduce the main character that you named until a third of the game is already done? - and it leads to DW4 having a bit more character development and depth of story than the previous games. I stress "a bit", though, because once you've played out the little mini-stories of the supporting characters in the first four chapters, they just wait around to be picked up by the Hero in the fifth chapter and all their development and personality comes to a grinding halt - they might as well be characters you created in the previous game.
It also features a main villain that has a bit of a backstory and development. Again, I stress "a bit", because it's pretty threadbare, but relative to the "LOL I'MA ANCIENT EVIL REVIVE BECAUSE LOL PROPHESEES" of the previous three games it's a step forward. A poor localization kind of butchers this, though, through a combination of ineptitude and insisting on referring to a major supporting character's death as a "kidnapping" because Nintendo was still in that really heavy-handed censorship era.
On the whole, though, the game is pretty well executed. It recycles the same ol' engine from DW 2 and 3, but at least there's a much more varied tileset especially in the dungeon types, and some of the towns are much more elaborate. There's even a rudimentary elevator puzzle here and there! Battles still have the lame black background but certain monsters have special animations and the game is known for having the first last master in JRPG history that form-shifts on the fly multiple times during the battle. Most importantly, it's much less grindy and tedious than the previous games. Only on a couple of occasions did I stop to grind for 20 minutes or so, and that was just to get money. Playing through the game naturally without running away from battles should keep you strong enough all the way to the end. The different chapters make the game feel like less of a slog, and in the later reaches you get a flying masheen that greatly reduces the tedium of world exploration. Oh, and this one even gives you a world map that shows your current position! Though it's kind of jankily implemented as an inventory item and slow to load up, but hey. PROGRESS. Also has the best sailing music in an NES game by far
DW4 was one of the last releases for the NES in the West, and while you'd like to see some more improvements after four entries, it's still a pretty good little RPG swan song for the system.