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Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride Review Rewind


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On 02/18/2019 at 08:00 AM by Jamie Alston

Family Matters
RECOMMENDATION:

An excellent choice for anyone looking for a well-balanced RPG with a heart of gold.

August of this year will mark the 20th anniversary since Dragon Quest was introduced in the US. With 10 core sequels and many spin-offs since then, you’d think an RPG fan such as myself would be well-versed in the series by now. But in reality, my Dragon Quest knowledge over the years has only been cursory at best. I got started about eight years ago when I completed Dragon Warrior (the series’ name in the US until 2005), and I’m currently nearly halfway through the massive adventure that is Dragon Quest XI. My depth of familiarity with the series pretty much ends there. Or at least it did until I recently finished Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride- a Nintendo DS remake of the beloved Super Famicom original.

At its core, Dragon Quest V is a game about family- more so than I expected. The main character (whom you’ll eventually name) is introduced as a young child adventuring with his father, Pankraz, in search of the legendary hero. Over the course of the game, you will grow into adulthood, get married, and eventually have children of your own. As you advance through the story, your family members can fight by your side in the same way you did with your father. It’s a dynamic I haven’t seen implemented in other role-playing games quite like this.

 

Typically in RPGs from this era, the hero’s immediate family members were often background characters who were either dead, in peril, or some such situation to serve as motivation without actively participating in the main quest at all. At the start of the game, it initially appears to lean on that trope since your character’s mother has been missing for many years and may or may not be dead. However, the family dynamic and discovery of the legendary hero played out in a way that left me satisfied with the resolution.

The traditional turn-based battle system returns with a few refinements that made for a smoother experience than in previous Dragon Quest games. Whips and boomerangs can now hit multiple targets- great for quickly finishing up battles against grouped enemies of the same type. You can also change your party lineup at any time during battle without losing a turn. Like Captain Kirk circumventing the rules of the Kobayashi Maru, no longer are you faced with the no-win scenario of either being stuck with an ineffective party or losing a turn, only to watch your replacement character(s) get hit with debuffs or instant death before they can act. The ability to swap out party members without penalty made the battles less daunting than they otherwise would have been.

While those aspects of the battle system were a welcome improvement, the most notable feature of Dragon Quest V was the ability to tame monsters and use them in battle- a mechanic that predated Pokémon by at least four years. Initially, most recruited monsters won’t always obey your orders. I can’t tell you how many times my young Sabercub would ignore the “attack” command and defend instead. But as they gain experience and increased level stats (wisdom in particular), the monsters eventually become more cooperative and you’ll be able to consistently make use of their skills without jeopardizing your chances of success.

 

I’m not usually into monster-collecting in RPGs and avoid it if at all possible. But collecting monsters is essential since the human allies you make along the way often depart from you during the first half of the game. So you’ll need some tamed monsters to help pick up the slack. 

Once you acquire the wagon, you can journey with up to eight characters at once. And knowing that the Dragon Quest series has a reputation for requiring a fair amount of experience grinding, I was initially concerned that managing a party that large would be a drag. But much to my relief, Dragon Quest V allows reserve party members in the wagon to gain experience points in tandem with your frontline characters, as long as the wagon is with you in the current area. This makes it easier to level up new recruits without being stuck grinding in the same limited area if you aren’t inclined to do so at the moment.

While this remake has some notable improvements over the original game, there are a few issues that haven’t aged particularly well. The story sometimes loses focus at various points in your travels. Although the main quests are linked to your primary goal of finding the legendary hero, some quests take a while to get going before you can do (or find) the thing that helps you get closer to reaching your objective.

 

At other times, it can be difficult to determine how to reach the next area, especially in certain parts later in the game. And since random encounters were the modus operandi for the series back then, it can lead to feelings of frustration when you’re desperately trying to reach the next leg of the adventure. While there is a handy world map on the top screen that colors in each section as you explore it, helpful markers showing towns and other points of interest don’t appear until after you’ve visited that location for the first time. And while the Zoom ability that you’ll eventually acquire takes the hassle out of traveling back to certain places, it still would have been more helpful to have those waypoints visible on the map from the outset.

Purchasing armor and weapons get really pricey very quickly when you’re trying to upgrade a full party. Defeating enemies often yields higher rewards in experience points than money, so you’ll at times find yourself grinding for cash more so than anything else in the game. While it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, it was a bit tedious to save up money for multiple sets of armor for fear that I wouldn’t be able to advance beyond the next dungeon. Fortunately, the game does allow to store your hard-earned money in a bank for later use when you might need the extra cash for crucial purchases without having to grind for it all the time.

The lighthearted, whimsical tone that the series is known for is present here as well. The introduction to Pankraz really sets the tone from the beginning. Underneath his stern appearance and epic mustache is a good-natured dad who loves his son and approaches life with a glass-half-full mentality. That optimistic outlook permeates through most of the game. I particularly enjoyed little details like the hero being too young to read books and posted signs in the beginning, or later taking time to play the T’n’T board games while a generic game show theme plays in the background. Maybe my favorite detail was seeing my party comically bash their heads on the ceiling when attempting to use the Zoom ability in an enclosed area. These cute overtones are sprinkled throughout many parts of the game, infusing it with a personality all its own.

That isn’t to say that the plot is devoid of any seriousness whatsoever. On the contrary, the hero character and his companions are forced to suffer through some truly traumatic events which easily could have left them battered and broken. There were several key moments that I found to be quite sobering. Such moments were well-executed and functioned as the underpinnings that strengthened the game’s foundation. Even so, it never took itself too seriously to the point of bumming me out.

Dragon Quest V has one of my favorite English localizations in an RPG thanks to the clever use of puns and everyday references familiar to an American audience throughout the adventure. I’ll never forget my time spent with such characters as the eccentric Count Uptaten and his wife Miss Count, whose names alone might garner a light chuckle or two. I won’t mention too many other references because half the fun is discovering them when they happen. But I will say that the plethora of puns and onomatopoeia add a certain warmth that would be sorely missed if it weren’t there. During my time with the game, it felt like I was hanging out with an old friend who I could always share a laugh with.

Its faults aside, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is still a fantastic RPG that deserves the praise given to it, especially in the last 10 years since it was officially released in America for the first time. The improved battle mechanics and ease of switching party members on the fly were the upgrade the series needed. It’s charming localization also can’t be denied, even if the puns and humor are some of the corniest dad jokes I’ve ever heard. I love it for what it is. And you can’t help but enjoy an optimistic story of a father adventuring with his loved ones.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

mothman

02/18/2019 at 06:42 PM

I enjoyed this game a lot. IV and VI as well but maybe this one more than the others. I don't know it's hard to pick.

My history with the series is all over the place. I started with VIII then went back to Dragon Warrior. Then I played IV, V, and VI in a row, then IX. I finally got to play VII on 3DS followed by a second playthrough of VIII on that same platform.

This year it was my pleasure to spend over 200 hours on DQ XI and I'll do it all again on Switch in the Fall.

I love the series, it can be silly and funny but at times it can grab you by the feels.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

02/19/2019 at 10:24 AM

Well put, man. I couldn't have said it better myself.

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