Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride – Staff Review

The immense popularity of the DS has allowed North American gamers to get their hands on several games that previously never saw release on this side of the world. Like so many other games of the 8-bit and 16-bit era, Dragon Quest V has been completely remade as Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride.

Dragon Quest V is actually the last piece of the Zenithian trilogy and takes place a long time after the conclusion of Dragon Quest IV, which takes place after the events of Dragon Quest VI. As is usual, the player begins by naming the hero, a young boy. The child has a happy dream about being born a prince before waking up on a ship. He and his father, Pankraz, are traveling the world. For the most part, it means that Pankraz will go off and talk to the adults while you are left to your own devices, which usually consists of some small-scale adventuring with Bianca, the daughter of one of Pankraz’s friends.

Not surprisingly, the story does not end with the hero as a boy. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of Dragon Quest V is that the game covers multiple generations; you watch your hero become an adult, get married, and even have children. This allows for much more depth into the development of the hero, and it really allows you to become attached to your in-game counterparts.

Never did Merlin feel so alone as the time when he shouted 'Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care.' And nobody cared.
Never did Merlin feel so alone as the time when he shouted ‘Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care.’ And nobody cared.

Dragon Quest V has some amazing human players, but the most dramatic change is the ability to recruit monsters into your party, a move that predates the Pokémon series by several years. Once one gets a wagon in the game, players can begin expanding their ranks immediately, but it’s not exactly easy. Obviously, not every monster can be recruited, and some monsters will be more difficult to acquire. The result is a considerable variety in how the player can assemble their party. Most people will probably end up recruiting a slime knight, a faithful companion from the time it joined all the way to the final boss fight, but the immense freedom and luck involved in the monster recruiting means that the game will probably never be played the same way twice. It can also change your strategy; some monsters will easily eclipse the hero in raw power. But for those that do not wish to go hunting for monsters, it is not required. The decision to employ slimes, golems, mudrakes, or even dragons is entirely optional.

Though there is certainly a lot of plot to be found in this game, the bulk of your time adventuring will be spent in battle. Dragon Quest V uses the same battle mechanics as the previous installment, so anyone that played that game will find it instantly familiar. Battles are turn-based. The player inputs the commands for your team, and then actions for both sides take place with faster characters usually going first. Fights proceed in this manner until one side is decimated.

With the return of the wagon from Dragon Quest IV comes the ability to swap party members before any turn, allowing for up to eight characters to participate in some fights. Fortunately, any character can be swapped, including those that have died in a particularly hard battle. You can also bring in a magic user for a quick stat buff and go back to a physical fighter on the next turn, but this feature is only available when the wagon is traveling with the party. In most caves and dungeons, the wagon stays behind, so the characters that venture in are one their own until they emerge from its depths.


Dragon Quest is not the first to employ a turn-based system, but it does have a unique mechanic. Monsters will typically attack in groups, and when this happens, it is not possible to target individual members of the mob. Instead, you select to hit that group, and the game’s AI will determine where the hits go. Fortunately, the game selects the most efficient method of doling out attacks, so it’s never a big deal. In fact, it’s frequently helpful. Critical attacks will usually target a different enemy so the extra attack power isn’t wasted on a monster that is nearly dead. Should a targeted foe get slain before your character has a chance to attack, the game will automatically assign a new quarry.

The main reason that the bulk of the game will be spent in battle is that Dragon Quest games require a significant amount of grinding. Fans of the series will find this par for the course, but it can be more of a chore this time around. Considering it is entirely possible to get a new party member at nearly any point in the game, it can take some time to get your new ally up to speed. In Dragon Quest IV, this job was easier; there were an abundance of metal slimes that sped up the leveling process. Sadly, those experience-rich critters are much scarcer this time around, so it can make grinding slightly less palatable. Fortunately, the game does have one silver lining for griding. Members traveling in the wagon receive the same experience as the characters that are actively fighting, and the experience gained per party member stays the same, even as the group increases in number. This allows new additions to the group to be safely leveled until they can stand on their own in battle.

Visually, the game is gorgeous. Akira Toriyama’s art is very well suited for two-dimensional sprites, and his famous and iconic art style is once again showcased. The various locations throughout the game are extremely colorful, and the cast of monsters is one of the most diverse yet. Though there are several mainstay foes that appear in each iteration, there do not seem to be as many palate swaps. Only a handful of enemies come in more than two varieties.

Aurally, Dragon Quest V meets the high standards for which the series is known. In particular, the Tokyo Symphonic Orchestra performs the main theme beautifully. None of the other tracks stand out as much, but the rest of the music is still a joy to listen to. Fans of the series will also find several familiar songs. The sound effects are nothing to write home about, but they serve their role dutifully.

For most players, the major draw will be the story. Dragon Quest V has a superb story that easily surpasses the plot found in the previous installment and is almost as engrossing as the plot seen in Dragon Quest VIII, an impressive feat indeed. Though the game does not really start off in a very exciting manner, the overarching plot crescendos up until the last boss fight. The ending of the game drops the ball a little, but that can be forgiven when weighed against the overall quality of the game.

It was certainly an odd career choice for a demon to become a televangelist, but then again, John always went against the grain
It was certainly an odd career choice for a demon to become a televangelist, but then again, John always went against the grain.

Somewhat related to the plot is the decision to use dialects again for the character dialog. Mercifully, it has been toned down a bit. The dialects work well with voice acting, but it can be distracting when presented purely in text. For the most part, they actually add to the characters in this game, but one character you meet towards the end of the game stands out in a negative light. For some reason, it was decided that he should talk like Flanders from The Simpsons. Quite frankly, this was a mistake. Hopefully, that accent will not show up in future installments of the series.

Completing the game will take between 30 and 50 hours, depending on how much time one spends monster hunting or level grinding. Overall, the difficulty is slightly lower than what fans of the series will probably be expecting, so you could finish faster if you wanted. The thing is, with the fun of monster hunting and minigames like the TnT, a board game played by rolling a virtual die and moving towards a goal, most players will probably take longer than the bare minimum number of hours to finish. The monster-hunting alone gives nearly endless content to the game. There is also a bonus dungeon with an extra boss to defeat after the main quest has been finished.

The only thing that makes the game difficult at all is that dungeons must be completed in one go; there are no save points before bosses. Permanent saves can only be made in towns. Temporary saves can be made nearly anywhere, but this feature is buried deep in menus. This is compounded slightly by the fact that death is no trivial matter in Dragon Quest. Items to revive fallen characters are rare, and the spells to raise the dead are not learned until the end of the game. Should anyone die, players will have to go to a town and pay a hefty fee for revival. If everyone dies, the party loses half its current gold, and the player still has to find some way to revive everyone but the hero.

Another important thing about the game has considerable replay value, which is bolstered by a choice of one of three paths at a certain point. Ultimately, the plot for the rest of the game stays virtually the same no matter which choice the player makes, but several important scenes are different. Also, a permanent member of the party changes, so the decision is not without consequence.

In the end, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is classic Dragon Quest. The series has stayed close to its roots throughout every numbered entry, but ultimately, there are three major factors that stand in this game’s favor. Firstly, even though this is a remake, it was never released in North America. For many fans, this will be the first time playing. Secondly, the characters in this game weave a plot that is very endearing, and finally, the monster-catching element is addicting. For someone completely new to the game, it’s like the best parts of Dragon Quest were mixed with the best parts of Pokémon to create an amazing hand-held experience. If you’re new to the series, this might be a good entry point, and if you’ve played Dragon Quest before, this is a must buy.

One Comment

  1. Duke Gallison:

    This game definitely deserves every bit of praise that’s been heaped upon it.

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