Handheld gaming is more than a compromise of power and portability. Whether it’s the ability to play anywhere, multitask or hold an entire console in your hands, it’s a special experience consoles have never replicated. In a world where high resolutions and teraflops reign supreme, we take a look at a portable relic every month and reflect on what makes it memorable. Be warned, spoilers may occasionally populate these articles.
One of the drawbacks of liking RPGs in the ’80s and ’90s is that a lot of them were never localized for American audiences. The internet wasn’t around during most of that time so we were blissfully unaware of such things, save for game magazines informing us of such things on occasion. Dragon Quest was one of franchises that fell victim to this. The first four games were released on the NES, with the seventh entry coming stateside long after its Japanese release and the fifth and sixth entries never seeing the light of day in this country until much later. Originally released in 1992 for the Super Famicom, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride finally got an American release in 2009 for the Nintendo DS. Story spoilers are ahead so this is your warning.
Dragon Quest V is the second game in the Zenithian trilogy that began with Dragon Quest IV, introducing new legendary hero criteria after completing the story of Erdrick. There were a changes to the the Dragon Quest formula with this entry that makes it one of the more unique entries in the series. Previous Dragon Quest titles didn’t specify any significant passage of time, save for the day and night cycle introduced in Dragon Quest III. Dragon Quest V takes place over about a thirty year period, beginning during the hero’s childhood leading up through adulthood, marriage and starting a family. One can only imagine Nintendo of America’s reaction to an in-game pregnancy in 1992 when their game content guidelines were extremely strict.
Dragon Quest games have always had monster designs that looked like they could be Pokemon, and the goood slimes that speak entirely in slime puns isn’t too far removed from Pokemon only verbalizing their name, but Dragon Quest V had players feeling like they gotta catch ’em all before that was a slogan. Monsters defeated in random encounters would sometimes ask to join the player’s party, making party composition of mix of traditional story characters and recruited monsters. How useful each monster could be to the player varied heavily on party make up but this gave the player immense freedom in building their own unique party. Dragon Quest V wasn’t the first game to use this mechanic, and by the time an English language localization was released the idea had many incarnations in popular games and it didn’t feel as exciting as it must have during the initial release. But there was something amusing about watching the party march in single file with jailcats and archdemons among the ranks.
The game begins where the player gets to name the hero, which is actually fitting since this is during the hero’s birth. The hero and his father Pankraz travel where the hero meets a girl named Bianca. This is about where things stop going well, as some evil character named Ladja shows up and kills the hero’s father before taking him into slavery where he spends the next ten years toiling away in a temple, growing the desire to crush his enemies and see them driven before him. The hero is able to escape and travel to land where he meets a wealthy nobleman. The hero now has a choice of three potential brides: the nobleman’s daughter Nera, Bianca who he’s known since childhood, and new for the DS version Debora, who is considered to be the most unlikable of the three. The three choices do have practical differences. Debora is the best physical attacker out of everyone while Bianca wields powerful attack spells while Nera is useful as a healer. With the monster recruitment feature whatever skills the bride lacks can be made up with other party members so the game can be completed with any bride, though it’s believed Bianca is the canon choice.
After the marriage the hero returns to his homeland and becomes king. The hero is thinking things are starting to turn around, “my dad was killed when I was child and I had to spend ten years as a slave,” but now things are looking up. Foolish hero. Soon after he starts enjoying his royal life his wife and kids are kidnapped. When the hero goes to rescue them, he and his wife are turned to stone and remain that way for eight years until his kids come to their rescue by removing the petrification case.
Managing the monster companions can be an involved undertaking if it’s something the player wishes to do. The party can accommodate four active members, and the wagon allows for eight people available at a given time, but the player can have up to eighty other monsters under the care of Monty the Monster Monitor. Recruiting monsters is a random occurrence and generally it’s only the last monster defeated in battle and each monster requires a certain minimum level for the hero. To get the maximum benefit from this system the player will need to devote some time to balancing the right assortment of monsters with the human party members to figure out which monsters are the most effective. It’s also difficult to sometimes choose monsters based on their utilitarian value to the party over a player’s favorite monster type from Dragon Quest.
Looking beyond the new additions to the gameplay such as the multigenerational story arch and monster recruiting system, Dragon Quest V plays how any fan would expect a Dragon Quest to play. The game holds the player’s hand early, walking them through the basics to help acclimate them to the world under Zenithia’s heavenly castle before throwing them to the wolves. Once the game gets going it offers the story-driven exploration of the world, with hidden secrets to uncover and difficult battles to conquer. The gameplay offered in Dragon Quest V is the perfect marriage of traditional Dragon Quest gameplay elements and innovative features for the series.
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is a must-play title for Dragon Quest fans and JRPG fans in general. Due to it not being localized until seventeen years after its original release, some of the innovative features may seem like old hat by the time we get to play it. But that aside, Dragon Quest V is one of the more memorable Dragon Quest titles due to it’s tragedy-filled saga of the hero’s family and his small army of recruited monsters. Completing it takes about thirty hours, which is rather modest compared to modern JRPGs, but it’s easy to put in several more hours just building up a battalion of monsters. But the amount of time is less important than how enjoyable those hours are and Dragon Quest V is an enjoyable DS experience. Dragon Quest V is also available on iOS and Android platforms for those interested in playing but don’t have access to a DS.
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