While Dragon Quest IV, released late last year for the Nintendo DS, was an enhanced DS port of a game that had seen North American shores in previous years, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is brand new to the region, as it was the first of the Dragon Quest games to not see a stateside release. It’s a shame that it took so long for this to happen as well, because Dragon Quest V is easily the best of the classic entries in the series, rivaled only by the underrated Playstation 2 masterpiece, Dragon Quest VIII.
No matter the wait though, as Dragon Quest V has been released in North America, localized for the first time by Square Enix as a follow-up to Dragon Quest IV and another lead-in to Dragon Quest IX’s eventual release. Hand of the Heavenly Bride is the second entry in the Zenithian Trilogy, and despite being nearly 17 years old, is a joy to play thanks to its successful game mechanics and classic Dragon Quest gameplay.
Feb. 17, 2009
All of the Dragon Quest games share a number of themes and elements. The battles are turn-based, and in these older versions, in the first-person perspective. You have your basic fight, magic and item options, with a variety of spells and items to use to aid you in battles. You will spend a lot of time level grinding so that you can battle tougher monsters and survive boss fights, but you will also need to spend time fighting in order to raise money for equipment. There’s almost always new equipment in each town you come across, and it does not come cheap.
When you die in Dragon Quest, you are revived at the Church where you last saved, but you get to keep all of your experience and the items that you acquired. What you do lose is half of your gold-that may not seem like a big deal, but when you lose half of your gold and can’t afford that new armor to avoid dying again, it becomes a problem. You can stop this from happening in two ways: level grind to buy new equipment and make your fights against bosses easier, and once you reach a town with one, start putting your extra gold into the bank. When you die, your money in the bank remains; you can only deposit in units of 1000 coins though, and you will still lose half of what you were carrying when you perish. Dragon Quest does not apologize for being old-school and grind-filled, so if you’re not into that, this is not the RPG for you. You’re missing out on everything else it has to offer if you avoid it, though.
The game has a day/night cycle, with certain shops closing or opening at night and NPC’s having different things to say to you depending on the time. You can go to sleep in the inn at any time to set the time at early morning again, but there are certain things you can only do at night; those you will have to wait for, as you can’t just sleep until evening. This is a good time to get some level grinding in.
You play as the anonymous hero, who you will have to name when you begin your game. Unlike most Japanese RPGs though, where you play as the doe-eyed, naƒ¯ve youth who will someday save the world, you start as a curious six-year old following his father around. Pankratz, your father, is a local hero of sorts, the friend of the rich, powerful and ordinary citizen alike. Just because your six years old doesn’t mean you can’t cause some trouble though, so while your father is off on his daily routine of heroism, you find different caves and areas to explore in the meantime, building up your experience against low-level enemies and making your father proud of you.
You don’t stay six years old forever though, as, following a major story event a few hours into Hand of the Heavenly Bride, you fast forward to a time when you are 16 years old. Your father is dead, the mother you thought was also dead is rumored to still be alive, and you begin your search for her in earnest. You learn of the legendary hero, the one who is meant to save the land using the fabled Zenithian equipment. You would think this is the moment where you learn that you are indeed the hero, and the sword works for you, but when you finally get your hands on the sword, it’s unwieldy and cumbersome for you-you are not the legendary hero.
You spend most of the game searching for this hero, and when you find them in an unlikely way, it’s then time to save the world. Before that though, you will get married and have your own kids-Dragon Quest V spans three generations, but not without some input from you, as you get to choose one of three options to be your wife. This, along with the multiple generations, separates Dragon Quest V from much of the competition, even today, 17 years later.