The original, indomitable Japanese RPG series, Dragon Quest, had a rough start in North America. Between a renaming (Dragon Warrior) due to trademark issues and a competitive market where Final Fantasy seemed to dominate, it’s no wonder that Americans originally missed out on Dragon Quest V and VI for SNES. We also missed countless remakes of the games in the series.
But after the Square Enix merger and the success of Dragon Quest VIII for PlayStation 2, it was clear that the English-speaking audience was ready for more Dragon Quest. And so it was that when Square Enix announced that their Zenithia trilogy (IV, V, and VI) would be remade for the Nintendo DS, they were quick to add that both Japanese and English markets would be getting these games. It was a huge blessing for American Dragon Quest fans, considering that V and VI had never before made it to America, and the only version of IV we’d ever seen was the original NES game “Dragon Warrior IV.”
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride tells a tale that spans generations, where the power of marriage and family literally overcome all evil in the world. It also breaks tradition from earlier DQ titles by adding a variety of new gameplay mechanics. Read on if this sounds like something in which you’d be interested.
In the opening sequence, the player witnesses the birth of a baby. That baby is the game’s protagonist, the one whom the player will control for the entirety of the game. He is, by necessity of the plot, a boy, but you choose the name for him. Sadly, the child’s mother (Mada) and father (Pankraz) have the blessing of a peaceful family life taken from them in short order when Mada disappears soon after the birth (presumably captured, and assumed dead by many). The player takes control of the self-named protagonist when he reaches the tender age of 8. Pankraz is travelling the world to determine what evils are plaguing the land, and hopefully find his long lost wife in the process. You accompany your father because you don’t want to be left at home without him, and also because you turn out to be quite the skilled fighter yourself.
Your early travels with daddy make up the first of three portions of the game. In the second portion, you play as a young adult (somewhere between age 18 and 21), and during this portion of the game, you escape near certain doom with a childhood friend, and then you get to choose whom you’ll marry among three different women. The expected choice is the blonde, Bianca, with whom you work as a child to bring peace to a haunted “ghost” castle. However, you can also marry either of the wealthy Briscoletti’s daughters. The dark-haired Debora is a feisty woman who will treat you less like a husband and more like a slave (she would argue that they are the same thing). Older sister Nera, Debora’s polar opposite, is a blue-haired beauty who can’t fight but is a powerful magic user. Regardless of which one you choose, you and your wife will give birth to twins (a boy and a girl, who come with default names “Parry” and “Madchen,” but you can rename them as you wish), and in a disconsoling act of repeated history, you and your wife are soon separated from your children and each other. The final portion of the game has you playing as a full-fledged adult (late 20s), and with effort, you will be able to have your wife and children rejoin you. The four of you, alongside other friends, will then go and tackle the evil that has plagued your family, and so many others like yours, once and for all.
The baby-and-wife-snatching villains aren’t fleshed out quite as well as those in Dragon Quest IV, but their purposes are made clear before the game is over. The impact of the story is found in the loss, and the subsequent reunion, of different family members. The familial plot is simple, yet powerful.
As the second game in the Zenithia trilogy, Dragon Quest V takes place at some point after Dragon Quest IV. I cannot say whether it is centuries or millenia that have passed, but the changes seen in the topography of the world map suggest it’s been a fair bit of time. Also, the floating castle Zenithia seems strangely absent early in Dragon Quest V. Its whereabouts are revealed later in the course of the game.
The script for Dragon Quest V is enormous. Every NPC in the game has something different to say during different portions of the game’s events. And, in response to each NPC’s statements, you can press a button to hear what your party members think. This “party chat” feature is truly extensive: thousands of lines were written and subsequently translated for this game. To hear it all, you’d have to play the game three times, as the three potential wives you’d choose all have very different perspectives on the world.
Though I personally loved the strong dialects written into Dragon Quest IV, I know that there are many gamers who disagree with me on the value and effectiveness of written dialects. Know this, then: the quantity of strange-talkin’ folk is drastically reduced in Dragon Quest V. Bianca’s got a Southern/Texan accent, and the villains have all gone Russian (as opposed to the French demons of DQIV). Your family’s servant and caretaker, Sancho, is (obviously) doing the Mexican thing, much in the vein of Speedy Gonzales. And speaking of beloved cartoon characters with unique dialects, one extremely important character (whose name I won’t reveal) talks like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. There are “diddly-iddlies” all over his dialogue. It’s cute, but it’s a little over the top at times.
The full plot arc for the game requires somewhere between 25 and 30 hours of play time. Unlike Dragon Quest IV, which has post-endgame content that leads to a second ending, DQV’s bonus content is far less relevant to the overall plot, as things are resolved by the end of the game. The additional content is more for fun (gameplay) than it is for holding your intellectual or emotional interests (story).
The basics of Dragon Quest gameplay are all intact here. Combat involves four characters, first-person perspective against the enemy, in a strict turn-based setting. Like most DQ games, the buffing and debuffing spells and abilities play extremely important roles, particularly against bosses. You’ll need all the attack and defense up you can get, and if you don’t have the spell that decreases damage from fire and ice attacks, heaven help you.
However, because of DQV’s unique monster-recruiting system, savvy players can get whatever spells and abilities they need long before the staple (read: human) characters would learn them. Early in the game, you are able to procure a Wagon, and you befriend an old man named Monty who allows you to store monster-type party members at his place while you adventure. There are over 70 different monsters that will join your party. To get them to join your party, you simply defeat them in battle, and there’s a small chance that after the battle they’ll ask to join your party. As long as there’s a free slot, they’re in. Different monsters level up at different rates, and some of them have level caps on them. Doing your research is important; fortunately, the in-game Bestiary is almost as helpful as the thorough guides one can find on the ‘net.
(Note two important exceptions: your pet cat Saber, and a dwarf named Dwight, are monsters you can recruit, but this is done through story-related events. Saber is considered a major character, but is also handled by Monty instead of “Patty the party planner,” who moves human members in and out of your party.)
Exploration remains largely the same as in previous entries, though there are a variety of transportation methods in Dragon Quest V. By the end of the game, you actually have three different modes of flight-based transportation, and each is specialized for flying over and landing on different types of ground. Other than these, you can take a boat, use teleportation spells, or get old-fashioned and travel on foot. Note that random encounters can take place on foot or at sea, but they do not take place when using any of the flight-based methods of travel on the world map.
A variety of mini-games exist in DQV, one of which (“Bruise the ooze!”) makes use of the DS touch screen. I highly recommend players take some time building up tokens in the Casino in order to get some of the best equipment found in the game. Both of the game’s Casinos have save points near them, so once you’ve built up a fair amount of tokens by playing poker or betting in the monster arena, you can keep attempting to win big at the slot machines; save the game when you win big, restart the game when you lose too much. Before you know it, you will have quite the collection of handy weapons and armor at your disposal.
The mini-games, particularly those at the Casino and the “T’n’T” board game, help to break up the game’s otherwise intense pace: that is, town/dungeon/town/dungeon ad nauseum. Hey, it may be a great game, but it was originally made in 1992. It has all the trappings of a traditional 16-bit RPG, and if you can’t forgive that, you’ll have to skip over this otherwise excellent game.
The biggest problem I had with the game, actually, is knowing where to go. For all the text built into party chat, you think they’d drop more hints as to what you need to do, or where you need to go, to further the plot. But at some points in the game, it’s sheer guesswork (or, rather, FAQ-lookup work).
Other than the addition of the whack-a-mole-clone mini-game, DQV is similar to DQIV in that it makes no use of the touch screen whatsoever. Frankly, that doesn’t really bother me. I’m much more impressed by the incredible use of the camera. You can rotate the camera 360 degrees in most areas, and the top screen functions as a “long-range sight” for you, which you simply couldn’t get on a normal console platform. I love the functionality of the camera.
Menu navigation is fairly simple, though it’s easy to get lost when you’re sorting items between your individual characters and the party’s bag (the latter has no space limitation). This, of course, is just like with DQIV, and it will be the same for DQVI as well.
Graphics and Sound
Again, the graphics engine and sound capabilities are exactly the same as DQIV DS. So all I can say is that there are different character designs from Akira Toriyama, all of which seem equally good to me (I like that your children get different hair colors depending on which wife you choose). As for the sound effects and music, they are classic Dragon Quest as well. Personally, if I were to rank the Koichi Sugiyama’s Dragon Quest soundtracks from best to worst, DQV would fall right in the middle, but still far below DQIV (my favorite of the bunch). The synth used on the DS is surprisingly effective at carrying the melodies originally intended for a full symphony orchestra.
In case you didn’t play DQIV for DS, or didn’t read my review, you should know that despite being entirely sprite-based, there are some decent animations built into the game, particularly during battle. The monsters you fight are animated extremely well, and are definitely the one thing that “steal the show” in terms of visuals.
There’s a lot I couldn’t say in this review, because there are things I don’t want to spoil. Some might say I already spoiled the reader by giving away the basic layout of the game (the “generation” system, which has been re-used in such RPGs as SaGa Frontier II). But there’s more to it than that, and if you’ve never played the game before (and if you don’t speak Japanese, you probably haven’t), you really ought to give this one a try. If you’ve played and enjoyed other games in the series, then there’s no question that you’ll want to add Dragon Quest V to your roster. The memorable cast, the party chat feature, and the simple-yet-addictive gameplay mechanics will have you coming back for more. And in the case of Dragon Quest V, you might just do that, since the story has slight variations depending on which woman you take to be your lawfully wedded wife.
After playing this game, and taking time to weigh out all the good and bad in this review, the only thing left for me to say is this: “I can’t wait for Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie!” Let’s hope Square Enix does another excellent job localizing that one as well, so we’ll have a wonderful, complete trilogy for the Nintendo DS.