Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

The combined forces of Square and Enix under the same umbrella at first glance seemed to be a golden age for the latter company’s Dragon Quest series in North America, given the unique localization of the eighth installment for the PlayStation 2 and decent sales. Countries outside Japan had before then endured a dark age of the franchise where the fifth and sixth main installments for the Super Famicom lacked English versions, although the announced trio of remakes of the fourth through sixth games for the Nintendo DS, collectively known as the Zenithian trilogy, gave the fifth game in particular, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, a chance in North America, one well-deserved.

The fifth game at first glance seems to have a structure similar to that of prior games when it comes to the battle system, with randomly-encountered foes (the rate of encounters reducible through magic and certain items) and turn-based battles that often have random and unpredictable turn order that can fudge with things such as healing weak characters. During the title’s second generation, however, defeated enemies may randomly ask to join the player’s party, and can level and wear equipment similar to the human characters, which become significantly more abundant during the third generation, when fewer vanquished foes offer to ally with the male protagonist.

What really redeems the battle system is the higher-than-average speed of most encounters, with adjustable battle text speed really increasing the pace of the average battle, though there are rare slow parts, particularly when the player or the enemy uses magic or abilities that affect more than one character, or, when the hero’s carriage is present, every available character, which can somewhat tax the player’s patience. Aside from that and some tough end-game battles, the combat engine helps the fifth Dragon Quest far more than hurts.

However, Dragon Quest V bequeaths some of the negative elements of its predecessors in terms of the interface, where shopping brings with it countless conversations and confirmations that can spoil the pace of the game, not to mention a useless quicksave feature only available on the game’s various overworlds. There are, still, some decent minigames including T ‘n’ T, a board game-like diversion with decent rewards. There is, though, sometimes a poor direction on how to advance that even speaking with the player’s party doesn’t resolve, and ultimately, interaction is the fifth game’s weakest link but does have some redeeming aspects.

The story is actually fairly decent for a Dragon Quest title, taking place across three generations, the first following the protagonist as a young boy traveling alongside his father Pankraz. There are some possible variations during the second and third generations that add replay value to the fifth game, although the sometimes-poor direction on how to advance is a mark off the plot. The translation, however, uses regional dialects similar to the fourth game, with the primary antagonists, for instance, having Russian accents, the script consequentially being memorable. In the end, a good story and localization.

Koichi Sugiyama, as always, does a nice job with the soundtrack, with sweeping epic tracks such as the sailing and battle themes, although the fifth game retains the franchise’s primitive sound effects.

The graphics also derive from the fourth game, although they still look nice, with fluidly-animate enemies designed by Akira Toriyama in battle despite the retained first-person perspective of fights, nice environments, and so on.

Finally, the fifth game is shorter than average for an RPG, with some players potentially being able to finish it in as little as fifteen hours, with some extras to boost playing time such as a postgame dungeon, alongside the excellent replay value the story provides. Overall, Dragon Quest V is a solid continuation of the Zenithian trilogy, with pretty much all of its aspects aside from the interface shining, what with quick, fluid combat, an enjoyable narrative and localization, gorgeous music, and nice visuals. Unfortunately, the release of the fifth game in North America would be something of a turning point for the franchise outside Japan, given its poor sales, consequentially causing Square-Enix and then Nintendo to usher in a new dark age of the franchise outside the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Good:
+Quick battle system with nice monster-catching element.
+Good story with potential variety and superb localization.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Polished visuals.
+Nice replay value.

The Bad:
-Endgame battles can be hard.
-Retains franchise’s archaic traditions.

The Bottom Line:
A great remake.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 15-30 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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