Over the last few years I’ve been slowly playing my way through the Dragon Quest series. One of the things that I’ve noticed about these games is that while they are all similar to each other both visually and in tone, each game also has something very unique to offer. The first Dragon Quest game was very much a cookie-cutter example of an early-gen RPG. It featured one playable character and a handful of classic RPG tropes. The second entry in the series took all of the elements in the original game, but added a party system. This allowed players to recruit multiple characters, making battles much more interesting. The third entry in the series took this concept and refined it further. For Dragon Quest III, players were able to create custom characters of various classes. Your experience in the game would vary greatly depending on the class combination used in your party. This large number of options also made the game very replayable. But it was the fourth Dragon Quest title that really took a radical turn in terms of presentation. Instead of simply adding a few new tricks, Dragon Quest IV completely revamped the formula. This time, the game was comprised of different stories, each one focusing on a specific character. At the end of the game, all of these characters come together to work as team. This concept was a vast departure from what was seen in the previous games, but it paid off in a big way. At the time these games were being released, fans could only wonder what was in store for the next chapter in the series. This brings us to the game I’m going to talk about today, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride.
As always, before I get into the meat of the game itself, I want to take a moment to talk about the different ways you can play this title. For those of us in the west, Dragon Quest V was unobtainable for many years. Originally released for the Super Famicom in 1992, Dragon Quest V was a big deal in Japan. Japanese fans fell deeply in love with the game. But for various reasons, this original version never made its way to the SNES here in the US. The game was so popular that a PS2 remake was released in 2004, but again, this was only made available in Japan. Aside from graphical enhancements, this PS2 release featured a few quality-of-life updates as well as increasing the number of party members from three to four. (A controversial change at the time). It wasn’t until 2009 that an official release of the game was made available in the US for the Nintendo DS. Since that time, only one other western release has seen the light of day, that is a mobile port. As was the case with the DS and mobile releases of Dragon Quest IV, these versions of the DQ5 feature all of the updates from the previous re-releases, but also contain a bit of senseless censorship. (The longstanding puff-puff jokes that the Dragon Quest series is famous for have been removed). It is important to note that the mobile version of DQ5 does feature some graphical and audio improvements beyond what is seen in the DS release. But as I’ve said before, I typically loathe playing games on my phone, so for this review I did play the DS version. It is my hope that at some point in the future, we do receive a proper console or PC re-release of the game. But, if you don’t have the mobile hang-ups that I do, the Android/iOS version is probably the most definitive release to date.
Dragon Quest V is the second entry in what is known as the Zenithia Trilogy. Unlike the previous game that followed a number of various heroes, this game focuses on one specific character. The game itself is divided into several chapters, each chapter focuses on a specific period of the character’s life. When the game starts, the hero is a young child who travels the world with his father. The first chapter of the game focuses on this early childhood period of the hero. The second chapter picks up ten years later, during the hero’s teenage years. It is during this time, that the character learns about his secret history and settles down into a life of marriage. The third and final chapter of game, is where things really get interesting. At this point, the entire backstory has now been told and the narrative shifts to that of an epic quest that the hero must complete in order to save the world. Many of the decisions made in the early parts of the game have consequences that affect the gameplay in this final era. I’m intentionally being vague because I’d hate to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t played. The storyline of Dragon Quest V is nothing short of amazing and it’s best experienced first hand.
In many ways, this game will be familiar to anyone who has played a Dragon Quest title before. Just about everything you’ve come to know and love about the series is present here. For the most part things like combat, character development, and item management remain unchanged from the last game. But there are a few new gameplay concepts introduced in this entry. For starters, after a certain point in the game, players can now recruit monsters to join the party. Occasionally after a battle ends, a monster will ask to join the player’s ranks. These monsters can level up, use items, etc. But as you might expect, each monster also has their own set of unique skills. Some of these skills can prove to be extremely useful in certain situations. This makes seeking out specific monsters a very important tactic. Of course, monsters are not the only option when it comes to party members. Various other NPCs will join the hero as dictated by the story.
As the subtitle for the game suggests, there comes a point in the story where the hero chooses a bride. The original version of the game offered two maidens for the player to choose from. The DS and mobile releases have added a third potential wife. The choice the player makes has a fairly big impact on the game, but it doesn’t impact the overall story. Later the in game the hero’s children become potential party members. Their physical appearance and other aspects do vary depending on their mother’s identity. This helps to add some replayability to the title, but again, it doesn’t completely change the story as a whole.
While the main questline is a big part of this game, there’s also plenty of optional content for players to enjoy. For example, there is a casino that offers a slew of various mini-games of exceptional quality. These provide a great break from the grinding and epic storytelling that take up the majority of the game. There’s also a handful of other sidequests that OCD players like myself will feel compelled to chase down and complete. All of this optional content is masterfully done. All too often, game developers will include additional content like this, but they will do so with little attention to detail. In the end, these parts of the game are often ignored by players. But that is not the case with Dragon Quest V.
In many ways, Dragon Quest V is very much a refinement of everything that the series has done prior. It takes all of the gameplay mechanics that the series has become known for and polishes them to near perfection. But it is not just the gameplay that shines. The storyline for this game is an absolute masterpiece. It is easily the best in the series thus far. I daresay it even rivals the Final Fantasy titles of the era in terms of writing.
My only disappointment with this game is the time that it took to reach the US. Despite its high level of quality, Dragon Quest V is still an early-era JRPG. It’s designed around older concepts that don’t always click with modern audiences. Retro gamers like myself will have no problems with this. But I feel that many players first experiencing this title in 2009 might have failed to appreciate much of the magic this game brought to the table. But I can’t help but wonder what influence it might have had on western audiences if we had got our hands on it back in 1992. I have no doubt that it would have had a major impact on western RPG development had it only landed in the hands of developers during its original release.
Version Reviewed: Nintendo DS
Difficulty: Medium – This game is a bit tough to gauge in terms of difficulty. During my playthrough I died quite a few times in the early part of the game. However, dying has very little consequence as you are able to restart in a nearby town. As the game progresses, the stakes do increase a bit when it comes to a full party wipe. But by this time, you are able to recruit monsters. Taking your time and planning a good party can turn this game from a challenge into an absolute cakewalk. Also, as always with these types of games, being patient and grinding out levels can also make this game considerably easier to conquer.
Story: The story told in this game is nothing short of amazing. Not only that, but the writing is superb. All of this combined makes Dragon Quest V into an absolutely epic masterpiece.
Originality: Many of the core gameplay concepts in this title have been seen before. But there are a few new elements to keep things feeling fresh. Between the refinements in the party system and the excellent storytelling, the developers were able to prevent this game from feeling like more of the same.
Soundtrack: As expected, this game contains some amazing classical-style compositions. It’s been true for every game in the series so far, and this one is no exception. The soundtrack is a pleasure to listen to. My favorite in the series thus far.
Fun: Players who relish JRPGs are likely to find this game enjoyable. There’s more story and lore than you can shake a stick at. There’s also plenty of content for collectors and those who wants to replay the title later on.
Graphics: DQ5 continues Akira Toriyama’s art direction. This is seen in all of the promotional materials for the original Japanese release and it carries over into the game itself. While those of us in the west never got to experience the 16bit version of the game, it did look considerably more colorful than the previous 8bit games in the series. Of course, the DS/mobile releases, are hands-down the best looking versions of the game. Most of the monster/character art actually looks hand drawn in the remasters and the rest of the graphics are vibrant and colorful as well.
Playcontrol: No real complaints. This is a turn-based game that doesn’t rely too heavily of precise controls.
Downloadable Content: No.
Mature Content: N/A
Value: Getting your hands on a copy of this game is going to be a little tough. DS titles are getting difficult to come by and any place that still has a sealed copy is likely going to sell it at an inflated price. I’ve seen some new copies go for $100-$200. Used copies don’t fare much better, usually selling for $80-$100. As much as it pains me to admit it, most players may have to turn to the mobile port to enjoy this game at a reasonable price. Hopefully, we will see an affordable digital release of the game on a proper system at some point in the future.
Overall score (1-100): 95 – Dragon Quest V is a masterful JRPG and a high point for the series. It is easily the best in the series so far. Everything from the storytelling, artwork, soundtrack and even the gameplay are simply excellent. If you enjoy JRPGs, this is one title you really can’t afford to miss.
Original System: Super Famicom (Japanese SNES)
Available today on: iOS/Android – (Updated as of Spring 2022)
Best Experience: iOS/Android – (Updated as of Spring 2022)
Other Reviews In This Series:
Dragon Quest Swords – Dragon Quest Heroes – Dragon Quest Heroes II
Dragon Quest Builders – Dragon Quest Builders II