Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride - Reader Review  

The Castle in the Sky
by Harrison Gallen

20-40 Hours
+ Solid combat/monster capturing.
+ Good story with superb localization.
+ Looks nice, sounds better.
- Retains franchise's archaic traditions.
- Sometimes weak direction on how to advance.
- Quicksave is useless.
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   For about a decade, Enix's Dragon Quest franchise was largely shunned in North America, with the temporary closure of the company's American branch not helping matters. However, after the merger of Squaresoft and Enix, the franchise was given a more serious chance outside Japan, with remakes of the Zenithian trilogy (the fourth through sixth installments) announced for the Nintendo DS, all of which Square-Enix announced for foreign release. The second chapter of the Zenithian trilogy, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, marks the first time the fifth installment has seen a North American release, and provides a general solid experience in spite of retaining some of the series' archaic traditions.

   As in most other Dragon Quests, battles are randomly-encountered, with the player's active party of up to four characters (up to three from the Super Famicom version) facing off against an enemy party in turn-based combat, with several options available before inputting commands. These options include attempting to run from enemies (an option that naturally doesn't always work, regardless of the party's power), changing the party's A.I. tactics (though odds are the player will want to manually input character commands), and changing the active party when the carriage is available (which it often isn't in dungeons).

   Once the player has inputted all active characters' commands, characters and enemies execute their commands in a round, with turn order likely depending on speed, though it doesn't always remain consistent, and thus leaves occasional instances where the player could attempt to heal a character low on HP, only for the enemy to kill that character before the healing executes. There are other instances of fake difficulty, for instance a revival spell that only works half of the time, but luckily, the game is fair to players when they die, reviving them at a church if all characters die at the cost of half their money, a penalty largely nullified by putting money into banks.

Queen of her own domain Cleohatra 2525

   During the second generation of the game, the player will notice a deficit of human allies, although during that time, once the player has acquired a wagon, defeated monsters, after battle, may randomly offer a chance to join the player's party, with certain consumable items increasing the chance of specific monster types of joining. The player can outfit monsters with weapons and equipment like normal human allies (more of which come in the third generation of the game), with players only able to have eight characters, the protagonist included, in the party at a time; special facilities can take care of monsters currently not in the player's party.

   All in all, Dragon Quest V's battle system is simple, effective, and enjoyable, with some nice features such as the ability to increase the speed of battle text to avoid having to manually scroll through it. The game definitely does make some nods towards difficulty, such as the general expense of outfitting all allies with the best equipment throughout the game, and the consequential need to pick a "favorite" party and stick with it for most of the quest. Even so, the game mechanics have far more going for them than against them.

   Control could have been somewhat better, though, since Dragon Quest V retains much of the franchise's dated interface conventions such as endless dialogue when performing menial tasks such as shopping and saving at churches, along with a sometimes-vague direction on how to advance the main storyline. Moreover, a quick-delete-save feature is available, but like the DS remake of Dragon Quest IV, however, DQ5 botches this, disabling the feature outside most dungeons even though it wouldn't have impacted the game's difficulty at all. Other features aren't so bad such as a generally-easy menu system and the ability to warp to most visited towns and to instantly exit dungeons, but the other areas of interaction could have been better.

   The original Dragon Quest V was something of a pioneer in its time, given the presence of monster-capturing, a feature that some future installments, including the Dragon Quest Monsters subseries, and other franchises such as Pokémon, would use, a feature that admittedly originated in early Megami Tensei games. The fifth installment, however, also had some distinct story-driving features (such as the hero being able to get married) that set the game apart from other RPGs, and ultimately helped it feel inventive in its time.

Pretty addictive One of the mini-games

   The fifth game's plot follows a hero across three generations, initially as a child following his father across the world in search of something, although there are some good twists and even a plot-affecting decision during the second generation, where the protagonist can marry one of three different brides. The story does have some similarities to the fourth installment, such as a "demon world," although like Chapters of the Chosen, the fifth iteration features a solid localization, again making use of some regional dialects, with the main villains, for instance, having Eastern European speech patterns. Moreover, the party-chat feature cut out of the fourth installment's North American version is present in the fifth installment's English version. Overall, Dragon Quest V has one of the better stories of the franchise, even if there are a few parts that could have been somewhat better-developed.

   Series composer Koichi Sugiyama again provides the soundtrack, which is solid as always, with some standout tracks such as the cheery town theme and bombastic battle themes, though the fifth installment retains the franchise's dated battle sounds. The second iteration of the Zenithian trilogy also retains the visual style used in the DS remake of Dragon Quest IV, not that this is a bad thing as they still have a nice charm, with Akira Toriyama's character and monster art in particular shining, and enemies in battle having fluid animation, even if the first person perspective of combat is still present. All in all, DQ5 both looks and sounds nice.

   Dragon Quest V, finally, is about a twenty to forty-hour game, with some occasional sidequests, mini-games, and a post-game dungeon possibly adding extra time, and some replay value present in the form of story differences due to the aforementioned choice of different brides in the game's second generation.

   In the end, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is a solid continuation of the Zenithian trilogy, what with its solid battle and monster-capturing systems, good story, and great music and graphics. It certainly won't appeal to those who haven't enjoyed other iterations of the series, but that fortunately keeps things simple: if you like the Dragon Quest series, you'll definitely relish at the chance to finally be able to play the fifth installment legally, but if you don't like Dragon Quest, you can guiltlessly avoid it.

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