The Lost Chapter
To say that the release of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride has been a long time coming would be a serious understatement. Dragon Quest V was originally released in Japan in 1992 on the region-specific Super Famicom. Since the series was not yet that popular in North America, the series was initially passed over for localization, and then once again in 2004 when the game was remade on the PlayStation 2.
Needless to say, North American Dragon Quest fans have been waiting quite awhile to play what has long been considered to be the best title in the Dragon Quest series. And after more than 15 years, this game has definitely retained the charm and gravity that made it so popular (and groundbreaking) when it was released.
One of the chief reasons why Dragon Quest V is such a big deal in the RPG world is the story. The story takes place over the course of the main character’s lifetime, from his playful childhood, to his marriage, and through the growth of his family. The hero’s life is punctuated by tragedy, and all of these unfortunate happenings seem to involve a sinister evil presence that has been guiding the events of his life.
A lot happens in this game, and if this plot synopsis sounds vague, it is definitely intentional. There are so many facets to the story that it is difficult to put the entire experience into words. There are also a lot of variables that, much like Chrono Trigger, can affect the shape of the overall story. What you do need to know, however, is that there are no quick twenty hour run-throughs with Dragon Quest V. The story elements alone will take you at least 40 hours, and that is being extremely conservative. When I tell you that the story here is “epic” it is definitely not an exaggeration.
Although the story really is the chief reason to play Dragon Quest V, it doesn’t hurt that the gameplay is very good either. Dragon Quest V definitely plays like an older RPG, akin to Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy IV, and has a dungeon-like construction that favors random battle encounters and plenty of leveling up. The game’s central battle mechanic relies on your hero’s capacity to train and gather various monsters and use their abilities during battles. Your character will also have traditional warrior characteristics and will be able to equip weapons and armor as well as cast spells. The two-pronged approach to the battle system really works well and adds some extra strategic elements to the battle. There are plenty of different monsters
In addition to the main battle facets of the gameplay, Dragon Quest V features numerous extra collection missions as well as repayable mini-games. Although these little diversions are completely extraneous to the core gameplay, they are a nice distraction from long grinding sessions that make up the bulk of the experience. The mini-games are fairly straightforward and range from slime-based mini-games to the ever-present Tombola mini-game.
If there was one thing I would caution potential players about Dragon Quest V, it would be the very traditional style of the grinding element in this game. All the maps have random-encounter battles, and the grinding element of Dragon Quest V is punishing. Of the 50-60 hours you will spend with this title, I would say that 70% of this will be spent in random encounter battles, which is considerably higher than most other RPGs. Travelling an inch on screen can take up to an hour because of the sheer density of the random battles. Those who are used to this old-school dungeon-style mechanic will probably not be bothered by it, but if you are a fan of more modern RPGs like Final Fantasy XII, which ditches the random battle system completely, then the density of the random battles might take some getting used to.
The graphics in Dragon Quest V are definitely reflective of the source material, but small upgrades have been made to the character sprites (which look a fair bit more detailed) as well as the different environments and backgrounds. One thing about the graphics in this remake that is somewhat disappointing is the lack of animated cutscenes. Although they weren’t in either of the Japanese original releases, some bonus animation (a la the Chrono Trigger remake) might have been nice, and would have served as a great incentive for those who played an imported version of the original game.
The audio in Dragon Quest V is also very impressive. The score remains the same, but certain songs have been re-recorded and sound great on the DS. One song in particular, the Dragon Quest V theme, has been re-recorded and orchestrated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and it is absolutely beautiful to listen to. Although there are no real sound effects or voiceovers, the sound is pitch-perfect as it is.
Control in Dragon Quest V is extremely organic and uses the DS’s D-pad and face buttons to move around and select items from the in-game menus. Because the combat is exclusively menu-based, the control here recalls plenty of old school RPG titles, and veterans of the genre will take to the control immediately.
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride has certainly been a long time coming. Almost 20 years after the original release in Japan, Dragon Quest V has finally made its North American debut, and I couldn’t be happier with it. The game is definitely a must-buy for the serious RPG fan, as it has all the ingredients of a truly great RPG: an epic storyline and a solid yet unique battle system. Although it has been ported to the DS, Dragon Quest V is one of the biggest RPGs of all time, and it is certainly an adventure worth taking, even if it has taken more than a decade to be released!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.6 Graphics
Dragon Quest V looks great on the DS, and the graphical upgrades are definitely noticeable. However, the lack of bonus animated cutscenes is regrettable. 4.5 Control
Menu-based controls are very organic, and the use of the DS’s face buttons and D-pad is very effective. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The score is nicely varied and richly orchestrated. The main theme is beautifully performed by the TMSO. 4.8
There are 50+ hours of straight plot-based gameplay, and if you take the time to participate in side-quests, find mini-medals, and play mini-games, you will definitely be able to sink some long hours into this one.
4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.