Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is the second title in the Zenethian Trilogy of the Dragon Quest games. It is also the only offering, along with Dragon Quest VI, that has never been released in the U.S. in an official localized form. The original game came out on the Super Famicom in 1992 and was re-released on the Japanese PlayStation 2 in 2004. Square Enix has answered Dragon Quest fans' pleas by releasing an enhanced version of this lost gem for the Nintendo DS.
Players who played the DS version of Dragon Quest IV from last September should feel right at home, as DQ5 looks and plays much like DQ4. While the game is part of a trilogy, it's not a direct sequel; players assume the role of a brand-new hero, who is introduced and named at birth. The game skips ahead a few years until the hero is a young boy traveling with his father, Pankraz, who is a mighty warrior and has taught the hero some fighting techniques. When he isn't traveling with his father, the hero goes off on adventures with his childhood friend, Bianca, to ward off ghosts from an abandoned castle, rescue a sabrecat cub, and wander into dream worlds to save spring from an evil witch who wishes to keep the world in winter.
As the story progresses, Pankraz is forced to sacrifice himself to protect his son and the prince of a kingdom, who end up being enslaved for several years. Jumping to the next portion of the game, the hero is a young adult and manages to escape from his enslavement at a camp with the prince. The two travel across the world to return their homes, where the hero discovers his father's true intentions: seek out the legendary hero who defeats an impending evil being, find the Zenethian items and rescue his kidnapped wife. The hero inherits his father's quest and continues his journey. A major point in the game is when the Hero has to decide upon who he has to marry. He has the choice of Bianca, his childhood friend; Nera, the daughter of a wealthy family who possesses the Zenethian Shield; and Debora, Nera's haughty, older sister. In the previous versions of the game, Debora wasn't available as a potential wife. At this point, you know that you'll want to play through the game multiple times to see the difference that each wife makes.
In no more than two hours of playing time after being married, you discover your wife is pregnant, despite trekking dangerous waters, deserts and mountains. After reaching the hero's homeland of Gotha, where he discovers his family is actually the rulers of the kingdom, the hero's wife gives birth to twins, only to have his wife kidnapped immediately after. Despite the déjà vu vibe, the hero sets out to rescue his wife, and both are cursed and turned to stone for eight years. The game jumps to where the hero's statue is found and restored by his children, at which point the hero discovers that his son is in fact the legendary hero he's been seeking. The adventure continues with the hero and his family gathering the Zenethian items, restoring Zenethia (the floating castle that appears in the Zenethian trilogy) and rescuing his wife.
I enjoyed DQ5's story much more than I did that of DQ4. This plot grabbed my attention right away, and it didn't dwindle even though there were five introductory chapters before the main story actually began. Like the other titles of the series, the premise is still a medieval fantasy game about saving the world, but the way DQ5 goes about doing that makes it much more satisfying.
The gameplay remains the same as other Dragon Quest games, as the player guides the hero on the journey through towns, castles and caves in search of his loved ones. Staples in the series are still present, such as the OCD tendencies to search through every dresser and destroy every pot in search of items. Players fight from random battle to random battle, which still remains strictly traditional. All of this is fine, but there's one major change included in DQ5: monster recruitment.
During the second section of the game, players have obtained a wagon, which allows the hero to recruit monsters to fight alongside him in battle, and the monster allies are actually quite useful in comparison to human party members. It also appears that recruiting monsters to fight is what inspired the spin-off series of Dragon Quest Monsters. Recruiting monsters in this game requires a different method than what you may know from other games. You don't have any Pokeballs or taming abilities at your disposal. Certain monsters will only join your team if you've reached a certain level, and there are over 60 possible monsters.
Once a monster has been recruited, it'll immediately join your party if there's room or hop into the wagon. The monsters start at level 1 but gain experience even if they don't directly participate in battle. Once you feel a monster is strong enough to fight, you can swap it in. One thing to note is that some monsters, like the Golem, are ridiculously powerful and make the moderately simple game much more of a cakewalk. The monsters cast spells and attack just like a human, and you can equip them with weapons and armor.
Like DQ4 before it, Dragon Quest V is about 30 hours long, but you can easily go longer if you're trying to track down all of the monsters and max out their levels. Also like other Dragon Quest games, there are multiple casinos at which players can try their luck. Aside from the typical slot machines and blackjack tables, there's the TnT board, which is a giant board game. Players will come across TnT tickets in the game world, and they can be used for one round on the TnT board. Players are given 10 dice to roll to get to the end of the board, and each spot has random effects, such as battles, finding items, earning or losing extra dice and more. It's a nice distraction from saving the world.
DQ5 doesn't really use all of the DS features. It uses both screens for displaying more of the area, but the touch-screen is never used for entering commands or moving your character. I didn't mind it, but it's nice to have the option for players who prefer that style of play. I also stumbled across a Slime-themed whack-a-mole mini-game in one of the towns, which requires the stylus and touch-screen to play.
Graphically, DQ5 retains of the bright and colorful 16-bit sprites of the previous game, complete with 3-D drawn environments and structures. The battle animations are nice, though it's still the same as what DQ4 offered, which isn't necessarily bad. Akira Toriyama's art style definitely shows in this entry, and the characters looked more like Dragon Ball Z characters than they do in any of the other series offerings. For example, Pankraz looks like a variation of Hercule from DBZ, while older Bianca looks like Android 18.
Now that I'm done admitting my closet obsession with Dragon Ball Z, it's time to talk about the audio for DQ5. As usual, the music is good, though not quite as memorable as DQ8's soundtrack. Familiar sound effects are still around, like the victory chime at the end of battles and the sound effect for picking up items. There aren't any voice-overs for dialogue, which is something that I'm willing to concede with handheld titles.
I highly recommend Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride because it's an example of great storytelling, solid gameplay and excellent overall presentation. The monster recruitment system works well, though it's a shame that it only briefly appears in other games in the series. DQ5 should definitely meet your needs until the release of Dragon Quest IX later this year.
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