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

A Bride Draws Near! Command?
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
20-40 Hours
+ Monster recruitment is fun
+ Charming, meaningful characters
+ Well-balanced difficulty
- Dated DQ mechanics hinder gameplay
- Soundtrack lacks variety
- Little new here at all
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   Having limited experience with Dragon Quest titles, but wanting to expand my knowledge of them, I took the recommendation that Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride was one of the most accessible in the series. Considering it was a portable title, I figured this would be as good a chance as any to give the series another shot. It turns out that the recommendations were right, this is a very easy Dragon Quest game to jump into, but was it good enough to stick with through the long haul?

   The story starts off with charm, focusing on the main character in his youth. From there it progresses through his young adulthood and beyond, and the overall arc is very fluid. However, it is not very deep. The game does a solid job of following the main character's life across multiple generations, but there is little development for the team and only a few foreshadowed twists or turns throughout. Aside from the central hero, there are a handful of other playable characters, though these are also fairly shallow. A nice feature of the story is the option of selecting a bride a little over halfway through the game. The experience does not change dramatically based on this decision, but with each of the potential brides having a unique personality, it's a fun addition. The party talk feature that allows for party members to chat with the hero about what's on their minds and is a nice addition at least, even if it really adds little overall content. Though the plot is rather straightforward, it is charming and the focus on family makes it very personable. So despite its shortcomings, especially considering this is a faithful remake of a much older title, it is impressive that the story is as pleasing as it is.

   Another area where Dragon Quest V plays it safe is with the combat system. It's a standard, no frills system that will easily be familiar to anyone who has ever played a Dragon Quest game or any other of its derivatives before. At the start of battle, players select actions for each party member and select a group of opponents to engage. Specific enemies cannot be selected, so players have to hope that the target within the group is the one they wish to hit. The system is very barebones, but at least tends to make for fairly quick encounters, as the only thing lengthening battles is the constantly scrolling status text.

Metal Slime Hunt Hunting Metal Slimes takes a long time.

   Shaking things up just a little is the monster recruitment system. As players explore the world, occasionally defeated enemies will offer to join the party after battle. While only four characters can be used in combat at one time, in specified areas a wagon is available to store backup party members who may be retrieved as needed, even during combat. Hunting for unique monsters can be very addictive, though players can spend hours attempting to recruit an elusive monster never to succeed. These monsters compliment the hero's family and friends quite well.

   Overall, combat is solid, though very bland. Sadly, the game's interface does little to enhance it. Equipment management is cumbersome, both in the party inventory and while browsing in shops. The interface makes it difficult to shuffle items around or even to use more than one item quickly without having to jump back through menus multiple times. It's the game's original system, and while it works, it is far from efficient. The save system is traditional Dragon Quest, thankfully never sending users to a Game Over screen, forcing a return to town with reduced gold. While it's hard to call that out as a fault, the quick save function is ridiculously limited to only working in certain areas, not everywhere. Quick travel items are available, but those are limited in specific areas by the game's linearity. This would not be a problem if it weren't for the fact that usage is often restricted solely for story reasons with no logical explanation in the game's world. Most of these problems are minor annoyances retained for the sake of keeping the experience the same as the original game. Authentic or not, these end up hindering the overall package.

Pretty 3D waterfall Amazin' Waterfall.

   The 2D sprites and other artwork found in Dragon Quest V are fine. There is nothing uniquely original here, as the graphics serve their purpose without fault. The area that is lacking is the soundtrack. So much of the music is recycled that it quickly becomes boring. The enjoyability of the soundtrack itself is not in question, and neither is the sound quality. The fault lies in an extreme lack of variety. Dungeon and town tracks are recycled, making it impossible to distinguish one area from another. Combat tracks are also reused and the music that plays when enemies are encountered becomes maddening to listen to after awhile. Unlike the interface, the presentation doesn't take away from the experience, but does little to help it.

   Dragon Quest V is not extremely challenging and actually has a very satisfying difficulty. The game doesn't require a lot of extraneous leveling, as thoroughly exploring areas and hunting for monsters should be more than sufficient to make it through the game. A typical playthrough could last at least thirty hours with lots of extra time required for finishing a majority of the side quests. The pacing for the first part of the game is well-balanced, though as it reaches the end progress begins to become a bit of a drag. By the end, many will just be glad that it is over.

   When looking at Dragon Quest V, there are two ways to view the game. If looked upon as a classic game remade for a new age of gamers, it does very well. Even when compared to more modern titles, the game still holds its own, though it does have some obvious shortcomings. Regardless, this title has an enjoyable monster recruitment system and a charming story and characters. It does show its age, especially further into the game. Despite these issues, there are still enjoyable aspects of Dragon Quest V for gamers on either side of the fence. It's hard to say this title will appeal to everyone, but for those looking to try a classic Dragon Quest game, this might just be the right starting point.

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