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Rating: Not Rated

A Truly Classic RPG

Talraen's Review of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (DS) (Video Games)

I never understood why Dragon Quest was such a big deal. Then, I played Dragon Quest V. This has quickly become one of my favorite JRPGs of all time, and more importantly, has completely reinvigorated my interest in the series. This game is a masterpiece.

Like many JRPGs, Dragon Quest's story and mechanics are somewhat divorced. In the case of DQ5, both are very good, but the story is really what stands out. I've played a few RPGs in my time that have drawn me in to the point where I'm thinking "in character" - Baldur's Gate II, Mass Effect, many Ultima games - and DQ5 is among the best of them.

The game's gimmick is being multi-generational, where you start as a child adventuring with your father, and progress to grow up and have a family of your own. This construct seems to be very popular among RPG fans, yet it's fairly rare to see a game attempt it. DQ5's story tugs on your heartstrings in what really ought to be transparent and obvious ways, but by god, it works. The scene that starts the third phase of the game immediately jumped near, and possibly at, the top of my list of favorite RPG moments ever.

It should be noted that the actual bad guy plot is pretty standard here. Evil being trying to destroy/take over the world and all that. It's not bad, but it's not particularly noteworthy either. It's a great story because it's personal and it's earned, not because it's over-the-top and epic.

In gameplay terms, now is when I admit that I misjudged Dragon Quest. I had previously only played the first two games in the series, and the second game definitely gave me a glimpse into what makes this series a big deal. Without that game's balance issues and brutal endgame difficulty spike, these mechanics are great. Where Final Fantasy is largely about exploiting elemental and status weaknesses, Dragon Quest is all about buffs and debuffs, and that is definitely something I can get behind.

DQ5 introduces monster recruitment, a very fun mechanic that I suspect was added as a way to compensate for the wildly varying party size due to story considerations. These monsters fill out the group, and add a lot to combat. Most are much more specialized than your human characters, and which ones you luck into during the game can change your strategy pretty drastically. In many parts of the game you can even keep four characters in reserve in addition to the four in your battle party, swappable at each turn. It can make battles into a chess match, and the game designers had the foresight to allow this against the toughest bosses even if the internal game logic should otherwise prevent it.

Based on the first two games, I expected DQ5 to be grindy, and was initially not disappointed in this regard. The first real dungeon took me a dozen runs to level up and be able to beat, but that never actually happened again. I don't know if I overcompensated there or it just represents a singular difficulty spike, but I didn't really need to spend much time leveling until the very end (and only at a minimum there).

Really all that needs to be said is that, after playing DQ5, I decided to give the series another chance. I immediately bought the original NES versions of II, III, and IV, as well as the copy of VII I never bothered to get for PS1. Dragon Quest V was a revelation.

Score: A+

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