This 3D remake of the Japan-only Super Famicom release offers tried-and-true RPG gameplay with a few fantastic twists.
Dragon Quest V: The Hand of the Heavenly Bride harkens back to a different era of role-playing games with its borderline archaic gameplay mechanics. The original incarnation came out for the Super Famicom in 1992 and was remade by ArtePiazza for the PlayStation 2 in 2004. Dragon Quest V for the DS, also remade by ArtePiazza, brings the game stateside for the very first time. The first 16-bit Dragon Quest game is a classic; this wonderful DS remake accentuates that fact.
Part of what makes DQV so impressive is its story, which is structured differently from most RPGs. It begins with the hero's birth and subsequent death of his mother, and then goes on with the hero as a rascally kid, continuing with his life as a young adult, a husband, and a father. While it retains the ridiculous accents that have plagued previous Dragon Quest localizations, it is a pretty compelling tale throughout the game's 20+ hours of playtime.
Although the story might be unique, the basic gameplay isn't anything special. From a first-person perspective, you attack enemies using weapons and magic, and subsequently gain experience and levels. In the original, up to three characters in your party could fight at a time; this is upped to four in the remake. There are many weapons that can be bought or found, including swords, axes, and boomerangs, and almost every playable character learns magic spells as they level up. There is nothing wrong with this archetypal RPG gameplay besides the sense of déjà-vu you get when grinding through random battles. The gameplay is still very fun and gripping; it's just that DQV doesn't bring many new ideas to the table.
One of the few new features introduced in DQV (and found in subsequent entries) is monster collecting, which provides more variety to the set of playable characters. Early in the game you obtain the wagon, which is used to carry excess party members. After that, certain enemies might join you once defeated (according to a probability unique to each enemy). The best thing about the recruitable monsters is that they function as a regular member of your party. The number of enemies that can be recruited total to around 70, and they can learn magic, wield weapons, and wear armor. Including the main protagonists, you can only have a total of eight playable characters in your wagon at one time; excess monsters are watched over by a character in one of the towns. Although the collecting side-quest doesn't quite have the depth of a Pokémon game, it complements the main quest perfectly.
Another high point of the game is its revamped graphics, which gracefully walk the thin line between being faithful to the original and being pleasing to the eye. Specifically, the characters are detailed and colorful, and having the maps spread across the two screens really benefits the game's scope. You can rotate the camera using the L and R buttons to better appreciate the characters and environments. However, this is disorienting because the camera obscures other areas when rotated. Luckily, it can be reset easily by pressing the L and R buttons at the same time.
Besides the updated graphics, the DS remake also adds some touch screen mini-games, such as whack-a-mole. They've been done before, but their organic placements in the game make them a nice distraction from the main quest. The re-mastered musical compositions faithfully update the original's, but, while good, they aren't overly different from the rest of the series' music.
Dragon Quest V is a fantastic RPG. While this conservative update is still mired by old-fashioned game mechanics, the fifth entry in the fabled series is carried by its unique story structure and the once-innovative and still engaging monster collection. It is highly recommended to all RPG fans, but newcomers to the genre should cut their teeth elsewhere.