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Title: Dragon Knight 4
Platform: DOS, Sony PSX
Credits: ELF

Eldwulf's Description: Years after the events in Dragon Knight 3, Desmond (Takeru) and Luna have finally settled down and started a family. (Who'da thunk it?) Now, an evil shadow falls over the land once again, and only Desmond's teenaged son Kakeru can stop the invasion of the Red Dragon Knights...

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Eldwulf (10.28.2002)
ELF's outing into the strategy RPG genre meets with mixed results.
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.

Story:
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.

Graphics:
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.

Characters:
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.

Gameplay:
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.

Sound:
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).

H Level:
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 better.

Overall:
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.

Art/Animation: 7 Story/Plot: 7 Characters: 8 Sounds: 6 Gameplay: 8 Ecchi Level: 7


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