My brother and I continue our RPGTrek with Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. This game continues the Zenethian trilogy in epic fashion. In this game, you get married, collect monsters pokemon style, and travel the world to collect the hero’s Zenethian armor from the last adventure! Does this game push the series forward, or does it knock it down a few hit points? Your next RPGTrek review is only a click away!
JOURNEY OF A UTAHN POLYGAMEIST
DRAGON QUEST V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride – Review
Originally released in the fall of 1992, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride finally made its way to North America in Winter 2009. Dragon Quest V features video game’s first playable pregnancy, collectable monsters that fight at your side, and an adventure that stretches over thirty years. Few doubt that Dragon Quest V ambitiously pushed RPGs forward. However, in doing so, it misses a few basic steps taken by earlier iterations.
Dragon Quest V carries many of the traditions found in earlier Dragon Quest games. Players can expect an epic length adventure taking them to dozens of locations such as towns, caves, towers and castles. Plenty of characters wait to share information (and some great humor) with the main character and help lead him to his next destination. As players travel through more dangerous areas, combat takes place in turn based fashion with little deviation, in and of itself, from the previous games. The main plot revolves around the tried-and-true story of an evil guy who wants to unleash chaos all over the world, and only you can stop him.
Along those lines, Dragon Quest V on the Nintendo DS features most of the same graphics and musical style of its predecessors. The music works well enough, though I did not find it as memorable as Dragon Quest IV. However, one cut scene with a boss, in particular, impresses with its scope.
However, Dragon Quest V also brings a number of new innovations to the formula. While DQV does not have official chapter separations like Dragon Quest IV, it naturally divides into three acts depicting various parts of our hero’s life; his childhood, young adulthood (and marriage) and middle age / fatherhood. For perhaps the first time in CRPG history, players see the characters develop over decades. A spoiled friend you knew early in life grows up before your eyes, becoming a mature young man and responsible leader.
Some transitions are handled remarkably well, playing memorable scenes that keep one glued to the seat. Other times, months or years pass by with little more notice than an announcement that something large (and clearly time consuming) has suddenly taken place. This causes the pacing to feel uneven in places. Keeping the protagonist in a silent role, however, proved an even bigger misstep. Numerous scenes involving family lacked emotional connection as the expressionless main character stood silently by as others expressed anguish or helped the loved ones in need.
One of the first games to do so, Dragon Quest V introduces the ability to recruit monsters to the team. By defeating the same monster repeatedly, it may ask to join the player’s ranks. The system works well enough, but feels completely random in places. Some monsters have very low join rates and may not ask to come on board even after hours of grinding. Furthermore, some monster abilities don’t quite line up. A monster that constantly attacks the party with vicious swipes in combat may have caster stats and abilities once on team. New monsters join at level 1 through 10, needing plenty of time to soak up XP as part of the team. In the mid to late game, most will not want to make the grind investment needed to enable their new monster recruits to carry their own weight. Leveling, even at lower levels in the late game, moves quite slowly, discouraging use of mid to late game recruits who should have better stats in the long run.
Throughout the game, the main character must make yes and no choices. Unfortunately, none of them have any significant impact. While one may expect a multitude of ‘false choices’ in an older CRPG, one only needs to look at Dragon Quest (Warrior) III to see examples of how to implement meaningful choices with consequences that do not necessitate having to program multiple endings.
The main plot itself lacks originality, but the details make the story stand out. This time, the main character is not the fabled Zenethian hero destined to save to world, but someone close to him. Instead of picking up party members in various cities around the world, the main character’s family and closest friend joins the fray. As the second in a trilogy of games, one might expect a strong tie in with the first game. However, the first story merely provides backdrop, with numerous items and reoccurring NPCs making another appearance, insuring that players need not have familiarity of the first story to enjoy this adventure.
In essence, Dragon Quest V reaches higher than any other RPG of its time, but misses a number of easy enhancements which could have helped the game immensely. Without a doubt, Dragon Quest V is not only well made, but qualifies as a timeless classic due to its groundbreaking mechanics. However, these shortcomings keep it from reaching its full potential and possible status as a timeless masterpiece.
Make no mistake, however. This epic adventure propels the player with well written dialogue, unique locations and challenging, well-balanced gameplay. Many know the Dragon Quest series for these characteristics and DQV has them in spades. My play through ran about 10 hours longer than Dragon Quest IV, and I felt it could have lasted longer and still entertained.
Bottom Line: Is it fun today? Absolutely. While falling short of its ambitious potential, Dragon Quest V provides plenty of adventure from beginning to end. Even when the formula feels a bit stale, surprises pop up to delight and entertain the player. For everything it does wrong, DQV does two things right, due in large part to building on the solid foundation laid out by its predecessors. Dragon Quest V provides classic, entertaining JRPG action throughout its forty hours. While a few easy additions or changes would have made this the best JRPG of its generation, serious RPGamers should not miss Dragon Quest V.
GamePro Tip! Reload your final save game to access bonus content.
P.S. I did find a few puzzles in the game a bit too challenging. The Magma Staff, in particular, left my brother and I both scratching our heads for hours. He eventually figured it out, while I resorted to FAQ.