Dragon Quest V

Review

posted 3/24/2009 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
One Page Platforms: DS
Hot on the heels of Final Fantasy III and Star Ocean: First Contact, Square Enix is bringing eager adventurers another handheld remake of a long-lost classic role-playing game. Like so many of Square Enix's 8- and 16-bit games, this 17 year old adventure game never made it to these shores. It's a shame too, since Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is easily one of the company's most engaging and emotional adventure games. It's full of memorable characters, a cool time-shifting story and enough good ideas to remind you why around the world Dragon Quest is one of the most important franchises.

In a lot of ways Dragon Quest V plays exactly like every other game in the series. You play an adventurer (that you get to name at the beginning of the game), fight a bunch of adorable monsters and ultimately save a lot of people from being enslaved. However, where this game sets itself apart is when it comes to the way the story is told. Instead of being a straight forward tale of a young adventurer's struggles to defeat evil once and for all, this game expands on the story to encompass twenty years of this one hero's life. It's a unique idea that only proves to heighten the drama and make the emotional core all that more rewarding.

You start out the adventure as a young boy, the son of a famous warrior. After sailing the high seas, your famous pops decides to get some work done at a local village. Unfortunately that means you're going to have to entertain yourself, which certainly spells trouble when you're an adventurous young boy. Before long our hero (and his new friends) are getting into all sorts of trouble, battling monsters in caves, saving cities and befriending ghost-like characters who uncover an alternate dimension. You know, kid's play.

Unfortunately, early on our young hero is captured and forced to watch his father die on the battlefield. Now he's a slave and forever changed, looking for answers (and his long-lost mother). And so the adventure begins. Throughout this lengthy adventure you will run into all kinds of new (and old) friends, take vengeance on the people that ruined your life and ultimately save the world from pure evil. And you'll do all this by using the tried-and-true turn-based combat mechanics of all other Dragon Quest games.

It's the game's twenty year time span that really makes this game special. In so many other Japanese role-playing games we are rushed from one city to the next only to never fully understand each character's plight. This game is different. It may have a simple look and traditional gameplay, but over the course of the game you get to see how your actions alter the fabric of this game world. Sure it sometimes gets sucked into a number of role-playing clichés, but there's something about coming back to the city you grew up in only to find it changed because of your actions. The game really feels like it's about something, even if it is ultimately telling the same kind of story you've heard before in other Dragon Quest games.

Like it or not, the combat in Dragon Quest V remains the same. That is, you see all of the battles in a first-person point of view, lining up all of the bad guys right in front of you. You choose whether each character is going to attack (and whom they are going to attack) or if they want to use magic. The game does give you a little more strategy than that, but that is, for the most part, the crux of the combat engine. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I found the game's simplistic combat to be rather refreshing after having to memorize all of the menus and nuance of recent Square Enix adventures.

What really strikes me about this game's presentation is just how old school it all looks. The developers (ArtePiazza) have done an excellent job of recreating every town, cave and other world in beautifully textured polygons. However, this game does not look like either of Square Enix's other recent 3D-enhanced role-playing games. You are not up close and personal with these characters, instead you see the world exactly how you would if you were to import the game on the Super Famicom (Super NES over here). You can rotate the camera angle, but outside of that the game's perspective is exactly how it was 17 years ago. This ends up giving off a decidedly old school look, all while looking like a modern interpretation of the material. I like it and would certainly like to see more Square Enix remakes take this graphic style.
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