9 in ’09, number two: Dragon Quest V

Dang, this blog series is dragging. I gotta wrap it up before 2010 is over.

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Artepiazza/Square Enix | DS | The game of life

Huh, I’m not sure I have much else to say about this game, come to think of it. I recently wrote an article about it, and I talked about it at length on the episode of Active-Time Babble we recorded today. And really, my original review of the game was probably sufficient, if you want to be completely honest. But let me try anyway, however briefly.

Dragon Quest V is a remarkable game: It is very simple and completely predictable in every way except for how powerful and moving such a simple and completely predictable RPG can truly be. Yuji Horii and Chun Soft really established the Dragon Quest series’ nature with this game, originally released for Super Famicom (Super NES) in 1992. See, when Final Fantasy went 16-bit, it completely reinvented the series’ battle mechanics and narrative presentation, adopting pseudo-real-time combat and an unprecedented focus on a linear plot and characters. Dragon Quest V, however, was… pretty much the same as Dragon Quest IV. The one real gameplay innovation it offered was the ability to recruit monsters into the party, and Megami Tensei had already trod that ground on Famicom a few years prior. There was nothing new about DQV, really! It was practically the antithesis of what a 16-bit game should be. Heck, it even looked like an 8-bit game.

What DQV lacked in mechanical innovation, though, it more than made up for with — yes — heart. It’s a heartfelt game, it tells a moving story, and it’s clearly a labor of love. Its most memorable moments are alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking. Falling in love even factors heavily into the story; you are literally unable to destroy the game’s main villain without doing it. Yet unlike other games that claim to be emotional and go about proving it by hitting you over the head with sentiment at every turn, DQV prefers to be understated. It lets the player experience the life of a man who plays an important role in destiny’s grand scheme; his life is inextricably interwoven with a mission to save the world, and by allowing you to play out the whole of his quest you also experience the whole of his life. Family and friendship are integral to the tale. It is a thoughtful game, and unlike most RPGs, I think its story is the sort of thing you’ll appreciate more as you grow older.

The DS remake is actually the second remake of this RPG, so clearly I’m not the only one who fell in love with it. It is, however, the first to reach America… and from what I understand, we received the definitive version. In any case, this is a game that belongs in the library of anyone who enjoys RPGs. And of anyone who claims to care about meaning and humanity in their videogames. DQV is a quiet masterpiece.

11 thoughts on “9 in ’09, number two: Dragon Quest V

  1. I got this game in February of last year, and I keep getting stalled trying to do something stupid like get a Liquid Metal Slime to join my party. Most recently, though, I now have to tend to the snag of my precious children regularly dying in random battles. I don’t want to harp on how today’s kids are soft, but I’m just saying, I bet ten years of torture and slavery would toughen them up quick.

  2. Pfft, a good father would teach them the value of defending until they’d bootstrapped a few levels.

  3. Funny, I just got done writing a post about Crusader of Centy being an interesting game to check out because of how it tells it story in a way only video games can do, and then you post about this game, which not only does just that, but is actually a good game too boot as well.

    Now if only I had finished it. :(

  4. It was great to finally get to play this game, especially in a prettier form than the bland and boxy Super Famicom original. It’s kind of a missing link in the development of RPGs and it makes a few other venerable titles from that era look a bit less impressive in retrospect – in particular, Lufia 2’s story incorporates the same sort of sentimentality but is a lot less coherent about it. DQV’s plot is probably the single best example of how a silent protagonist can be emotionally effective.

  5. It’s one of my favorite games, worth every penny (paid like 61 dlls for it), great story it was good then and it clearly still good now, to bad the only thing left to do is to kill the extra boss for me, but then again im playing DQVIII right now and I hope VI & IX dont take that long to get to America.

  6. It’s good to see so much Dragon Quest love from you Jeremy. This game is probably my second favourite next to DQVIII and up there with one of the best games I’ve ever played. Let me tell you, wasted a lot of time on this baby when I should’ve been studying. Don’t feel any worse for it though!

  7. I decided when I was at the end of the game to try and recruit a liquid metal slime, assuming it would take forever and I’d give up after an hour… I think I lucked out and got one on my third try, took about 30 minutes.

  8. The only problem with DQV is that there’s no real reason to wrap up the game. I mean, after a certain point, it felt like my personal stake in the events had passed, save for wrapping up the loose ends. I guess you can say that about most DQ games, though.

    But yeah, otherwise, fantastic game through and through.

  9. Indeed, it’s a great game. This iteration marks the second time I’ve played through the game, having played the fan-translated Super NES version several years ago.

    Ironically, at the time, it was probably not my favorite Dragon Quest game, but the DS version seemed to refine everything about the game, and it’s certainly up there now in terms of my favorite DS RPGs, if not favorites of all time. I’m still a little more partial to Dragon Quest IV, given my history with the NES version of the game, but this is great stuff.

    I’m really looking forward to Dragon Quest VI. I played the mostly-finished translation of that game around five years ago as well, and it still boggles the mind that it didn’t make the jump across the pond. Granted, Enix was having real issues then, but SOMEONE should have considered it. It’s up there with Final Fantasy III/VI and Lufia II, and you couldn’t say it wasn’t really, REALLY pretty.

  10. You know, for years DQ4 was pretty much my gold standard for RPGs. It was fun, engaging, and had a really clever story. But now that i’ve played 5, I realise that i’ve been wrong the whole time.

    Actually, I’m glad I waited until now to play five. it resonates so much more strongly to an adult with responsibilities and a family than it would to a 14 year old. Frankly, this is the most mature title i’ve ever played.

  11. What a fabulous game. Is DQIV or DQV better? I don’t know. I love them both so much.

    Of course, I also love DQI, III, VI, VII, VIII, Rocket Slime, DQ Monsters… (I’m only fond of DQII)

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