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• Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

developed by ArtePiazza/published by Square-Enix/2009.02.17
1 Player/1 Flash-ROM/Nintendo DS, SONY PS1, PS2 (Japan only)

The first four Dragon Quest games sold relatively poorly in North America late in the life cycle of the original 8-bit Nintendo, causing Enix to lose faith in the market. Despite fans clamoring for the release of the Super Nintendo sequels, the two “lost chapters” in the Dragon Quest series would not receive worldwide releases until the DS remakes. The original Japanese Dragon Quest 5 is now 18 years old, and has finally received its official English translation. Yuji Horii, the series creator, considers it his favorite chapter in the series, and in 2006 fans ranked it 11th in Famitsu magazine’s Top 100 Games of All Time.  So what is so special about this game?

Story

One of the main reasons for its longstanding reputation as one of the best games in the series is its storyline, which is fairly unique to the medium.  The game centers around the adventures of a family across three generations, beginning with the hero in his early childhood accompanying his father.  Over the course of the game the hero grows up and gets married (hence the game’s subtitle) and eventually has children of his own.  There are three potential brides to choose from, each with their unique personality and abilities.  The friends that are made along the way change and grow over time, and strange developments happening in the world are key to the events of the plot.

Very few games have what I would call “heart”; the Dragon Quest games are among those few.  Other RPG series such as Final Fantasy have placed great importance on spectacular visuals and movie scenes to the detriment of substance and character development.  In sharp contrast the Dragon Quest series has remained low key and fairly lighthearted, opting to craft entertaining scenarios and charming characters.  It is this invisible quality which reveals itself slowly over the course of each game that has converted me into a real fan of the series.

Game Play

Dragon Quest games are very straight forward, starting off quite linearly before opening up about 2/3rds of the way in.  You fight monsters to build your strength, and talk to townspeople for clues to mysteries or potential adventures.  You’ll explore a great many caves, dungeons, and towers infested with monsters.  Simple puzzles will sometimes block your path, and the many secret treasure chests lend motivation to sniff out every nook and cranny.  Most of the time you can get by just fine by setting your team mates to fight automatically using a variety of strategic settings.  They’ll make intelligent decisions like knowing when to heal or cast spells without any fuss.  Thankfully this makes the game’s many random encounters go by very swiftly.  It’s mainly when fighting the bosses that you’ll want to plan each round carefully to improve the odds.

Monsters & Mini-Games

Dragon Quest V’s primary innovation allowed players to recruit monsters to the party for the first time.  It’s not common, but randomly after battle a defeated monster will offer to join you.  Monsters aren’t quite as good as the main characters, but they can be useful during parts of the game where the hero would otherwise have to fight all the battles alone.  A cureslime, for example, has useful healing spells which can make all the difference when you find yourself between a rock and a hard place.  Monsters gain levels just like real characters and can even be equipped with a variety of weapons and armor.  You can bring a total of 8 characters with you at a time, 4 of which will be active in battle.

There are a great deal of mini-games and side-quests to be enjoyed, most of which can be accessed at Fortuna’s casino.  You can play the slots, bet on slime races or the monster arena, and so on.  A recurring mini-game plays out similar to dice and board-games, where each round you role the die to determine how many squares you can move.  Landing on specific tiles will reward or penalize you.  Ongoing side-quests involve collecting mini medals (which you can trade for rare gear) and knick-knacks (which you can exhibit in your very own museum).  There’s even an online sharing function for the knick-knack quest, but I didn’t bother using it.

Presentation

Like Dragon Quest IV’s remake on the DS, this game has relatively simple graphics and music.  There are no elaborate CG movies to watch, and the soundtrack is fairly limited which results in slightly annoying repetition.  That said, I like the way this game looks.  The 3D backgrounds are simple but look handmade, and the often comical monsters are wonderfully animated during the battle scenes.  In general, it has a decidedly oldschool look – which is fitting for a remake of a 17 year old game.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see why the Dragon Quest series is so revered in Japan (more than 50 million units have been sold there over the years).  Dragon Quest V stands out as a particularly great chapter due to its strong storyline, which tells the life story of the main hero and his family.  You will grow to care for these characters, and the many twists and turns can be astonishing.  Above all the game is simply a joy to play – the battles (while quite frequent) are over in the blink of an eye, and exploring the world across both of the DS screens means you can often avoid dead ends or spot treasures from afar.  Handy spells allow you to warp instantaneously around the world and out of dungeons.  Finally, the game provides at least 30 hours of questing, with the potential for many more.

It’s baffling that more gamers haven’t taken advantage of this rare opportunity to experience such a fantastic game now that it is finally available in English.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Great Cross-generational Story
  • 30+ hours packed with Adventure
  • Fast battles practically fly by
  • Easy to Pick Up & Play

CONs:

  • Limited music gets repetitive
  • Not very challenging
  • No frills (no CG movies)
  • 17 Years Late!

One Sentence Review: True to its 16-bit roots, Dragon Quest V sits comfortably next to revered classics such as Final Fantasy 3 (6), and Chrono Trigger, and should not be missed.

One Word Review: Timeless.

Dragon Quest 4, 5, and 6 are considered the “Zenithian Trilogy”, named after the floating castle in the sky.  However, each game has its own self-contained storyline and characters, so you don’t need to play the other games in the trilogy to enjoy them.

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