Japan is so lucky. They get all these games that we never get over here, and everything that’s worth playing over here ends up over there. It’s not fair.
One of those games that was released over in Japan was Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. It has often been viewed as one of the best in the Dragon Quest series, and it’s seen release on the Super Famicom and the Playstation 2 in Japan, but never over here. This travesty has finally been rectified, with the DS version that was just released here. Obviously, excitement among RPG fans like myself has been at a fever pitch. Was Dragon Quest V really worth the wait, or did we get all excited for nothing?
The remake of DQ4 looked great, and DQ5 follows that up by looking even better. Once again, Square Enix has learned how to play to the DS’s strengths and minimize its weaknesses. You don’t get a lot of really detailed, closeup views of your characters. What you do get is the ability to rotate maps 360 degrees with the L and R buttons and some truly unique-looking locales.
The battles all look great. They might look bland at first glance, as you don’t see your characters, only the enemies. Once an enemy attacks, you’ll be shocked by how well it looks. The enemy sprites are well-drawn enough that they look like fluid 3-D. There’s no pixelation. There’s no distortion. It’s a thing of beauty, it really is.
The music in DQ5 is excellent. It sets the mood perfectly, whether the mood is somber and downhearted or epic and boisterous. The other sounds are well done as well, although they are a little repetitive and overly familiar to fans of the series. Even with them being repetitive, they’re still not cloying or annoying, and you’ll never want to turn the volume down.
Menus are all organized in the manner you would expect in an RPG. They’re fairly intuitive, and you’ll never be at a point where you don’t know where something is in the menu. The ability to rotate your view of the world with the L and R buttons is also very smooth, and you’ll never be wondering how to do much of anything.
One caveat: I have a problem with some buttons being assigned to tasks. For instance, the B button talks to other members of your party. If you bump the B button, they’ll tell you stuff. This isn’t awful by any means, but it is somewhat annoying after the 20th time that you’ve accidentally hit the B button when you’re walking around.
Gameplay is standard for most 90’s RPGs: You walk around, get into random battles, level up, find a quest hook, go to the next area and repeat. The battles are pretty straightforward, with the player assigning the characters to attack enemies with weapons or spells. You buy better weapons and armor from shops around the world. It doesn’t necessarily sound exciting, but it’s not the meat and potatoes of the battle system that makes the game fun, nor the gaining of experience points. These things are the foundation upon which a great game is laid.
The story is one of the most engrossing that I’ve seen, with some genuinely emotional moments. Characters are very well-drawn, with real motivations and intelligent personalities. Locales are different, and feel real. It’s just plain well-made, and detail oozes from every part of Dragon Quest V.
Another notable feature is the ability to have monsters join your party. After you defeat some monsters in battle, sometimes one will pop up and ask to join. You can either accept or deny its request, and then equip the monster with weapons and armor like a normal party member. There are some things in this system that look like mistakes on the outside, but were actually thought through quite well.
First, some new monsters in your party will only be level 1, with low HP and weak attacks. If you leave these monsters in your active party, they’ll get killed over and over again, which means you have to run back to town and pay to have them resurrected. This is solved by having a wagon that the monsters who are not in your active party can ride in. They still earn experience, and you’re able to insert them back into the party when they’re fully ready.
Second, sometimes you’ll order a monster to attack or use a spell in combat, and it won’t use it. Instead it will defend or do something else that you didn’t want it to do. This seems like a mistake, but it actually makes sense: Once your creature has leveled up to have 20 wisdom points, it’ll do what it tells you to. If not, it might choose to, and it might not. Sure, it’s a little annoying, but it makes sense in the game world.
That’s not to say that everything is sunshine and lollipops. Sometimes, you can look around for a long, long time before latching on the next quest hook. I’ve wandered in some towns more than I care to admit just looking for the one character that says the one piece of dialogue that gets me to the next area. And yes, the combat itself is not very deep. The same types of fights you have in the beginning are the same types you’ll have later on.
If those are issues that stop you from playing Dragon Quest V, so be it. I won’t stop you. But if you want one of the best examples of old-school RPGs that you play, play Dragon Quest V.
Sometimes, when you hear so many good things about a game over a period of years, expectations can get built up to an impossible degree. Then, when we finally play the game, it’s good, but not the world-beater we’ve been expecting. That doesn’t happen with DQ5. It’s every bit as good as advertised. The story, gameplay, and little nooks and crannies sprinkled throughout are all worth the wait. It’s a game where you want to see everything that the game offers throughout its 30-plus hours of gameplay just because it’s all so good.