IGN Review of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
With the speed of this business, and the sheer amount of titles that release on a monthly basis, it always feels like we're juggling dozens upon dozens of games at once for review. For me personally, that stack usually has at least one Square Enix title in it, and that means a lot of character grinding, story development, and battle systems to critique each and every go around. With that in mind, I haven't found a single RPG out there yet from the company (outside of maybe The World Ends With You) that has hooked me as hard as Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride has. This never-before-released RPG gem from 17 years ago is finally hitting the US and Europe market, and while there are things I'd most certainly like to see changed in Square's offering, I simply didn't want to ever put it down. This is truly one of the classic greats.
Dragon Quest V – like the upcoming Dragon Quest VI as well – is a game that's never before seen an English translation outside of devoted fan communities, so when a title like this finally makes its move over from Japan after so long, it's going to be a must-buy for a lot of people despite any downsides it might contain. The sheer fact that we're getting this game after nearly two decades is baffling, so while it's my time to wear the critic hat and really compare the DS package when stacked up to other RPGs on the system, as a fan I'd recommend this game 100% to anyone that calls themselves a connoisseur of role-playing games. It's just one of those must-play games.
Hand of the Heavenly Bride is an almost verbatim re-make formula as Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen was just a few months back, though this time around there's one big, big difference; nobody's played DQV outside of Japan, and the "new to you" concept I mentioned in the original IV review now applies to just about everyone. The game is basically a port-down of the Sony re-makes (Japan only), bringing down the visuals a bit to accommodate the DS hardware, but keeping the same style and 2D/3D fusion that was originally designed for the upgraded versions.
Just like with DQIV's offering, there are obvious changes I wish Square Enix would have added, such as a fix to the extremely simple and archaic menu systems – all done in plain, white text, and very slow overall – and for the higher DS price you won't get any CG work or animated sequences that Square Enix often blows us out of the water with on DS. Battles still make use of a pretty dull, unattractive top screen, including original art but throwing together plain character boxes and a backdrop consisting of only a color gradient, and outside of a Nintendogs Bark Mode-inspired roaming option, there isn't a lot that makes DQV a DS game, rather than simply a port of an older (awesome) RPG that just happens to be on DS.
With that out of the way though, Dragon Quest V is one of the best RPGs on the system, and you'd be a fool not to pick this game up, and let it take over your life for a good 100 hours or so. Not only is Dragon Quest V out for the first time in US and Europe, but it's also a story worthy of every moment it'll ask of you. The tale follows the main character as he grows up from a young child, adventuring with his dad, until he eventually grows into a man, gets married, and has kids of his own that he'll nuture through the quest.
As for the core story itself, you've got a pretty basic "evil guy wants to own the world" template, but it goes way, way beyond that, and the storytelling itself is some of the best on the system, showing off some specific scenes and concepts that will stick with you long after finishing. Something as simple as a tiny tree branch, a four-building village, or floating barrel on the coastline of a beachside church shouldn't mean much to anyone, but it will. For whatever random flaws the DS game has in terms of flow and updated gameplay players are used to expecting, the game repays random inconvenience with timeless gameplay and a gripping story.
That isn't to say you'll be cruising through this one with no disputes. Random battles are at large in this game (obviously, since it's a classic RPG), and those that can't stand them in more modern RPGs will go crazy with them here, as enemy zones can spawn random attacks in as little as two seconds of post-battle walking. A simple maze that would take you as little as 30 seconds to figure out in basic walk time could mean a half hour of grinding, mixed with a stop back at town if needed to fill up on additional supplies and take a quick stay in the inn.
There were only a few times when I really felt it was too much, though if you don't love to battle, you're going to have a huge hurdle to get over in order to really enjoy DQV to its fullest. Along those same lines, you've got grinding to do, and while battles are quick and relatively simple, there's no auto-battle function like in Square Enix's own FFIV remake on DS, so you'll need to manage it every step of the way. For me, grinding is just part of the fun (yes, fun) – for everyone else, that might not e the case. The reward is well worth the effort though.
Since there's so much in Dragon Quest V that's pure RPG fare, I was relieved to find just how many breaks in the main game there were, whether it was via a town full of cleverly-written NPCs (game AI characters), fun little mini-games in the form of casinos and challenges, added weapons and items in shops that encourage players to go out and grind a bit, and the monster training system that debuted in DQV. Casinos could take up dozens of hours in themselves, with a token system and various skill/luck games included. You've got slots, monster fights, a little time-waster "whack-a-slime" mini-game that uses the touch screen, and my personal favorite, Treasures & Trapdoors, or "T 'n' T" for short. This live-sized board game is a mix of dice rolling, random battles, and something like the board game Life with events strewn around it, all built with a gambling format thrown in. Players pay with T 'n' T tickets found around the world, and then have 10 dice rolls to make it through a board filled with cash spaces, monster encounters, lose/gain turn squares, and a few that even kick your butt right off the board and back to start. Of course the end of the challenge means big cash and other prizes, so it didn't take long for me (and it won't for you) to become an obsessive T 'n' T junkie; good fun.
As with any good casino inclusion, you'll not only get cash and entertainment for your time, but dedicated players can also earn exclusive items at the prize center, gain massive amounts of cash for upgrading your team, or win mini medals which can be brought to King Dominicus for even more unique items and weapons. Monters that are raised within the main game can be put to use as well, with the slime races allowing for your own slime to compete and not only be bet on, but win additional goodies. Good stuff. As an even stranger addition to DQV though (added during the PS2 remake, and expanded on for DS) is the museum, which allows you to collect random items from around the world, and show them off in your own "ode to Dragon Quest V" are in the world. The "knick-knackatory" can be used to display random and story-based items you find throughout the world, and while this was included in the original remake, that "bark mode" I touched on earlier is actually a local wireless roam mode that lets you create your own treasures, name them, and send them out to anyone else with a DQV copy. It's simple, but it's just another way of making DQV stand out from the bunch.
The monster battling aspects though, are were the game really sold me. As a self-admitted Dragon Warrior Monsters fanatic, I played the original Game Boy Color games way, way too long, and DQV is a trip down memory lane as it's the first actual monster battling experience for the series, and an obvious piece of source material for Nintendo's own Pokemon. In the original DQV, 40 monsters could be "caught" and trained, leveling up at their own pace, capping off at a specific level, and equipping weapons and armor along the way. With Hand of the Heavenly Bride, that number jumps to 71 total, which means it's not only a seriously deep RPG, a fun little time-waster with its mini-games and casino hook, but also a full-blown monster trainer game as well. For those doubting the Pokemon influence, players have a wagon that maxes the party at eight total players, with everyone on the team gaining experience as you go along. If others are caught, they can automatically be sent to a monster day care/farm of sorts, where they'll be kept by a nice old man. Catching monsters is also just the first step, as they won't obey commands until raised to a proper level – the inverse of the Pokemon formula that would arrive just four years later in Japan with Red and Blue.
As for the overall package, Dragon Quest V has some limitations to it, specifically when dealing with what could have been after seeing Chrono Trigger's remake, or the extremely ambitious Final Fantasy III and IV, but it's still well worth the cash. The music is beautifully done, including a mix of classic synth DQ tones and a few orchestrated tracks as well, and even though so much of the soundtrack is exactly what we've heard in previous games, it still sounds great, and the unique songs are amazingly done. On the visual side, I mentioned the dated look to menus and interface (and the fact that moving things from your bag to party members is also a hassle, feeling archaic and unnecessary after 17 years), but there's also a lot of great visual work being done. The 3D presentation is great, the sprites still read very well on the screen, and battles showcase varied backdrops and animating skyboxes. Enemies attack with more advanced animation as well, including dive-bombs and swooping melee, mixed with more impressive magic effects as well. It's still a very aged look, but it also stands up to some of the best sprite work out there in character design as well.
©2009-02-11, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved