Review by WishingTikal
"An incredible adventure that remains through the ages"
I was wrong thinking Dragon Quest IV was the best. The new remake of DQV is now officially the best traditional RPG on DS. We'll see if that stands when Dragon Quest VI is released, but for now, the fifth entry in the series takes the cake. Dragon Quest V already had a remake released on PS2 (Japan only) in 2004 with beautifully remade graphics, and now DS has its very own too, for the first time in North America. If DQIV was an example of a perfect old-school RPG, then DQV is ultimately a masterpiece of an incredible adventure that all RPG fans should live.
What's so special about DQV compared to other RPGs is that it's one of the rare that has you play as the main character starting from his childhood, up to adulthood, and throughout all cycles of his life. The hero has no set name, so it's easy to really get into the character and feel like you're really living this life with him, or as him. There are just so many things to this game, from fighting alongside monsters, choosing your wife and being married, getting kids and having your whole family as party members, that it's almost overwhelming.
The game is so vast and has such a powerful impact that I know it will remain in my mind for a time. The funny thing is, this is no Final Fantasy. It has a very different kind of impact, but still remains tremendous. Dragon Quest is known for its lighthearted appeal, colorful visuals and cheerful, non-serious atmosphere. Whatever bad happens along the way, the game never gets mushy and melodramatic. It always remains joyful and cheery, while still making you care for what's happening, and that's why it's so moving in its own way. The characters don't talk much, but you get attached to your little family, and DQV definitely has its moments.
There is no big storyline in this RPG, nothing beyond the usual evil being that you must stop, but the plot is still immensely expansive. DQV's world comes to life not from the main storyline itself, but from the many local storylines in each village you come across during your travels. It's a very lively game; everywhere you go there's something going on, many sub-stories, and it's really important to speak with the NPCs to expand the storyline and really get the most out of the experience. There are a lot of places to visit, other worlds, and many means of travel, including a boat, a dragon, and even a flying carpet. DQV5 just never ceases to surprise with new elements from start to finish.
Dragon Quest 5 plays in the same fashion as the previous titles, there's a lot of walking around the world map, exploring villages to find items hidden in pots and closets, trekking through caves and dungeons, and uncovering secrets. It's traditional enough, yet it manages to bring up new stuff on the table, that even to today's standards still impresses, and makes it a mix of old-school and modern. As opposed to Dragon Quest 4, DQ5 doesn't feel old at all. As mentioned previously, you will start playing as the young hero who travels with his dad, then you'll continue to follow him through his life as a teenager and adult, and his childhood female friends will grow up as well, until you ought to choose which of the three girls you wish to marry.
Choosing either girls doesn't make a difference on the storyline, but each wife has unique skills, and depending on the girl you select, your children won't look the same. This adds to the replay value, but there's also much more than this. Starting from the middle of the game, you'll have your wife accompany you throughout the adventure, and then later on your two kids, a boy and a girl, will also be on the party. However, before that, the hero will often be alone on the quest, with his longtime friend the sabrecat, a monster who follows you throughout the journey. During those lonely times, you'll be able to recruit other monsters to join your team, who will fight alongside you.
I was really excited by this feature at first, since I love the whole monster catching aspect, but I ended up being slightly disappointed. There is no proper way to get the monsters to join you; they will only occasionally ask to join your party on their own at the end of a fight, and it seems to be random and out of luck. I overall only got about five or six crappy monsters to join me during the whole adventure, which is not a lot. I however quickly forgot about the feature because it doesn't really matter in the end -- this is not what the game is about, it's more of an extra, and soon enough, more human characters join your team, overshadowing the monsters. It's just too bad the feature isn't exploited more along the way.
Even with the small shortcomings, Dragon Quest 5 still is a very memorable RPG. Newcomers might be turned off by the old-school turn-based battle system, which offers a first-person view in which you only see the enemies, and not your characters, but Dragon Quest is one of the only series that still, to this day, has kept this very traditional battle system, so it's not a bad thing in itself. The difficulty level is pretty fair, I found the game a tad easier than DQIV, and it's not so much of a hassle to find out where to go next in this one. The game is also a bit longer, lasting an average 30 hours, which is a decent length for a title of this scope.
I wasn't exactly amazed when I first saw Dragon Quest IV last year; while the graphics are pretty, they're not groundbreaking either. However, now looking back over DQV, which uses the same graphical engine, I find them quite beautiful, to be honest. It takes a while to really appreciate DQ's particular art style, with its extremely colorful visuals, happy-go-lucky settings and use of both 3D environments and 2D sprites. I'm not a big fan of the 2D world map and character sprites, but the in-town graphics are very simple and nice. The 3D effect isn't huge, but the fact that the world is displayed on both of the DS' screens and that you can rotate the camera around really adds a neat touch. DQV isn't the best looking game on DS, but it definitely has style. Plus, the environments are a lot more varied this time compared to the last game; the towns all look very charming, with a lot of attention paid to little details.
Dragon Quest V is without any doubt the cream of the crop right now on DS, an endearing RPG adventure that is very different from Final Fantasy, a breath of fresh air amongst all the cheesy RPGs, with its humorous, yet convincing approach. It has a couple of small flaws, but it's just such an incredible and packed experience, from the whole journey through decades and the many subplots and varied locations, DQV is something RPG fans shouldn't miss at any cost. Even against some recent RPGs, Dragon Quest 5 still delivers more and is even better than most of them. There's just something about the Dragon Quest series that is so appealing, and DQV takes all of it and creates an unforgettable adventure.
Presentation A great remake of a great game. The storyline is basic, but it's easy to get attached to the characters who form your family, and the various ongoing sub-stories add a lot to the experience. 9/10
Gameplay One of the finest traditional RPGs out at the moment, with both an old-school and modern feel. The quest feels full and the game is rich in details. The lack of party members at some points is a little tedious, but DQV makes it up with its compelling adventure. 9/10
Graphics Nothing mind-blowing, but the visuals look even prettier than last time around, with more variety in the surroundings. The towns and dungeons look beautiful, but the world map and sprites are a bit disappointing. Still a charming looking game. 8/10
Music The music is still always as cheerful and nice sounding, with exquisite musical pieces that follow you through the journey, adding to the overall happy atmosphere. The old-school sounds remain intact. 8/10
Replay Value This is one of the rare RPGs I would actually consider replaying, for its fun and engaging adventure alone, but there are also some reasons to replay it, like choosing a different bride on the next playthrough. Plus, once the game is over, you can always come back to it for a few sidequests, an extra boss and dungeon, and the monster catching. 8/10
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/25/09
Game Release: Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (US, 02/16/09)
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