Last fall Square Enix reintroduced the world to Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen. This was a remake of the last NES Dragon Quest title and the last main entry in the series to see release in America until Dragon Quest VII on PSX. Using the new found popularity of the Nintendo DS, Square Enix has also put part 5 on the handheld, and this time released it to North America for Americans to experience for the very first time.
Dragon Quest V shares a similar history to Dragon Quest IV. Both of the titles on the DS are not actually remakes, but ports of remakes not previously released here. While this is of little concern to most of North America, who have never actually played the game in English officially, It wont take long to see the many shared aspects between the two games.
The most striking similarity will be the graphics. They are literally the exact same as Dragon Quest IV. Naturally the main character sprites are different but that doesn't go for much else of the in game graphics. Town models, textures, sprite work, enemy models, item sprites, fonts -- all are identical to the last game. While they work well enough in the confines of the game, it will make you wonder if this is lazy development or artistic intention. That is not to say it's entirely the same, as there are nice little touches of graphical flourishes and certain areas in particular do look a step up, but on the whole it has a lot of the same within it.
The music in the game of course opens with a beautiful new orchestrated arrangement of the Dragon Quest Overture, and then falls right back to the midi sounds throughout the rest of the game. The music is generally very good and a little more light sounding then most Role Playing Games. The only real problem with the music is that because of the nature of Dragon Quest games, you're going to be hearing the same music a lot as you grind your way to victory.
While It may sound as if it is to much of a retread, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride might just surprise you with how different it can be below the graphical and interface surface. To start with, Dragon Quest V has a much better storyline then Dragon Quest IV. In Chapters of the Chosen, the first third of the game was played out in bite sized mini stories of the different party members before finally arriving to the real story. In Dragon Quest V, you start the game as a child, move on to adulthood and marriage and then finish as your descendant. More than just that, the storyline is filled with much cooler scenarios, and lots more interesting twists and turns in the plot. In the early stages of the game you fluctuate party members a lot, and you never seem to have a big ensemble cast of characters like in Dragon Quest IV. This is remedied by the monster taming aspect of the game. This allows you to catch and train the various monsters roaming throughout the land; yes, it all probably sounds a bit like Pokemon, but keep in mind that Dragon Quest V predates Pokemon. Speaking of predating, one of your more constant companions in the game is a big bad ass saber-toothed tiger looking cat appropriately named Saber. While he doesn't talk, he might remind some more modern gamers of Red XIII/Nanaki of Final Fantasy VII fame.
One aspect that will probably disappoint is the actual marriage part. You might think being a part of the title it would play a large role in the game. The truth is that you only spend time with one of the bride candidates before hand, while the others are pretty much thrust upon you right as you come to the time to marry someone. Unlike Harvest Moon where you have to spend hours courting a lady, here it's a much smaller selection and you only really have established time with one and not nearly as much as you would think at that. It almost feels as if the game intends for you to marry a certain girl as opposed to the other options. Regardless, the story is still very interesting and actually ties together with Dragon Quest IV. It almost feels like a more word heavy Zelda-type story about a legendary hero, his bloodline, and the reacquiring of the legendary Zenithian sword and armor.
It goes without saying that Dragon Quest games are hard: even in the very first areas where you fight alone you have the chance to run into eight enemies at once. If you're patient you can level up to make the game more manageable -- just don't expect to simply run through most areas as you would in another RPG. It can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it definitely gives you your money's worth out of game length. On the other it can make the game tedious and boring. It also feels questionable with how much the game borrows from the previous entry asset-wise. While it is understandable Square Enix is in the business to make money, and you certainly can't argue you won't get your money's worth time-wise, It does sometimes feel like IV-VI should be bundled into one DS cart.
Final Verdict - 8/10
A much better storyline helps this one shine above the last Dragon Quest on DS. However, much of the game's battle system and graphical interface are copied over from part four. It still is a good RPG that will keep you busy for a long time, and an easy recommendation for the more determined RPG fan.