Review: Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (Nintendo DS)

In this review, we collect the mini medals in the Nintendo DS game Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. We find out how well this RPG game plays.

This game was released in 2009. It is, as the name suggests, the fifth instalment in the series. It is also the first game we’ve seen in the series to carry over the original Japanese name as opposed to having the game retitled “Dragon Warrior”.

We are growing familiar with this particular series. We first tried Dragon Warrior on the NES. That game got a fairly mediocre score. Next up, we played Dragon Warrior II on the NES. That game wound up being disappointing and bombed. From there, we tried Dragon Warrior III on the NES. That game did improve things slightly, but wound up being only barely passable. Finally, we tried Dragon Warrior IV (also on the NES). That game improved on things, but still only managed to get a mediocre score. So, we thought we’d continue the series to see if this series gets any better.

Unlike previous instalments, this game is a 3D remake and is the earliest North America release. Other versions were released earlier on, but this is the earliest North American version we are aware of.

You start off as a very young hero. You are basically led around the world by your father Pankraz. While Pankraz carries out various errands, you wind up slipping away, meeting new people and completing various tasks along the way. Your exploits don’t go unnoticed and you gradually build some respect with Pankraz. You meet up with Bianca, Sabre, and a number of other characters.

Eventually, your adventures lead you to a castle where you meet a trouble-making Prince Harry. While trying to befriend him, he runs off only to be captured by monsters. You tell Pankraz the situation and everyone sets off to rescue the prince. This initiates a whole series of events that sets up the rest of the game.

If you are like me, you’ll notice that this game takes on a number of features already established in previous games. You have a limited number of item spaces. Equipped items also use a space. The hero will feature a number of different skills from various other styles of characters. You can also collect items and gold from chests as well as explore dungeons.

Like previous games, you can obtain a wagon and allow more than the standard 4 characters to join your party. There is still limited space, but you do get to collect experience points for party members not fighting if you see your wagon visible.

In terms of character recruitment, this game has the most similarities with Dragon Warrior III. By the end of the game, there is even a party planner that functions similarly to the eatery, however, you cannot actually create characters.

This is where the game begins to depart from the previous games. Part way through the game, you find out that it is possible to recruit certain monsters in random encounters. You need to have a certain level to recruit them, and even then, it requires a certain amount of luck to recruit most of them anyway. Sabre is really your first monster recruit, but you simply get Sabre after completing objectives as opposed to just recruiting him in a random encounter.

As you collect monsters for your party, you’ll likely notice that you can’t easily control them at first. Some monster simply act on their own until they get a certain amount of wisdom. After that, the follow orders tactic will work every time.

Increasing a monsters wisdom is fairly straight forward. You allow that monster to level up just like a normal character. You collect experience points and everyone levels up. Some monsters only level up a certain amount while others will level up to who knows how high. While it may seem strange to swap out a high level monster for a low level monster part way through the game, some monsters have better levelling stats than others. All extra recruits you don’t keep get held elsewhere, waiting for you to use them if you change your mind.

Another major difference between this and other games in the series is the “bag” feature. In previous games, you had just your inventory slots and that’s it. You can’t stack items or anything like that. When you had many key items in your possession, this made micromanagement and sacrifice a constant problem. In this game, the bag has unlimited space. You can store up to 99 of an individual item type as well. The only limitation is the fact that you can’t access items in your bag during battles. While a limitation, this largely solves the inventory problem previous games had.

As a side bonus, monsters in your party can not only hold items, but use them as well. Something that previously didn’t happen.

In addition to this, when shopping for items, you can now see stats that those items improve. Also, you can also sell to all shops as opposed to being forced to sell items at the item store.

Battle sequences have also been improved. If you defeat all enemies in a group, all remaining attacks will simply go to another enemy monster still alive. Previously, you had to plan your attacks or have all remaining attacks hit nothing but air where the enemy used to be.

That’s not to say that everything is an improvement in this game. One notable setback is that information regarding experience to get to the next level has been removed. It exists in the game, but you need to speak to a priest to get this information.

Items have largely remained the same. There are medical and antidote herbs for healing purposes. You also have various pieces of equipment. Some are enchanted while others simple offer basic stats. You can equip an extra item with special powers as well.

You can progress through the game a bit like the previous game. Previously, you had “chapters” which separate the different sections of the game out. In this game, you sort of have this, only there aren’t any official titles. Some people refer to these sections as “generations”. This is largely because they take you through the different stages of your hero’s life.

Another carry over is the various modes of transportation you have. You have boats that can take you different places. On top of that, you also get access to magic carpets and other modes of transportation that allow you to fly.

Thanks to the duel screen, you’ll also have constant access to the world map whenever you are venturing through the overworld. A quill will denote where you are.

One final note, there are a couple of mini-games available. There are the goo races, Bruise the Ooze, and the full fledged board game T’N’T.

The T’N’T board game gives you a limited number of rolls to complete it. When you get to the end, you need to get the exact value to land on the finish to win (a bit Like “Sorry!”). There are a host of different spaces you can land on.

Some will increase your gold while others will cause you to lose gold. Some increase the number of rolls you have while others will cause you to lose rolls. There is even a wild card roll that gives you the chance to choose which number you want on the next roll. Green spaces will allow you to search the ground. Frequently, this gives you small prizes, but on occasion, you might get something bad. Electric spaces cause you to take damage and half magic spaces cause you to lose half of your available magic.

Spaces with hills or monsters on them mean you are going to get hit with a random enemy encounter. Mazes give you a limited amount of time to collect as many treasures as possible. Dungeon’s give you an extra board more filled with positive spaces. Warps teleport you to other parts of the board. Stairs take you from one level of the board to the next. There are plenty of other kinds of spaces you can land on as well.

Each attempt will cost you one T’N’T ticket unless you manage to find the T’N’T Free Pass. The other caveat is that there is only one character permitted on the board at a time. That means you must fight enemy encounters alone. Die in these encounters and you not only lose, but you also appear at the start with 1HP. Run out of rolls and you lose as well. Fall through a trap door and you’ll also lose. The best you can do is play and hope for the best.

In addition to this are the classic casino games. Like previous games, you spend 10 gold for every casino coin. There are slots, five card draw Poker (with a “higher or lower” double or nothing bonus game if you win a hand) and a small handful of other minigames. Note that there is more than one casino and not all games are available in every casino.

For me, this game represents a marked improvement over the previous instalments. In fact, a number of the improvements are ones I really hoped to see in previous games. Unfortunately, they seem to have been held over to a game release long after.

One of the improvements I see in this game is the issue with grinding. In previous games, you spent hours and hours just levelling up just to survive the next dungeon. For this game, grinding has been dialed back to roughly minimal. In fact, there is only the occasional instance where I felt the need to grind at all. Some of it revolved around the beginning while trying to get enough gold to afford the next armour upgrade. Otherwise, any grinding only serves to make the game easier later on. Even I found myself at an overpowering level 38 by the time I beat the game and only a handful of boss fights were challenging in my parties overpowered state. Honestly, I think the difficulty curve is finally properly done in this game, so that is a huge relief to see.

As mentioned, menus and inventory has been greatly improved. Besides the limitation surrounding level up information, the only real complaints I have for this are that you can only buy items 9 at a time at most. I also would’ve liked to see some items that can restore more health beyond the medical herb.

Another problem in this game is that there are plot breakups in later parts of the game. Frequently, you find yourself asking, “Now what?” because the game doesn’t do a great job at offering clues for what you need to do next late in the game. It isn’t as big of a problem towards the beginning because you have basically three possible location to go to. As such, it’s just process of elimination to determine where you need to go next. Unfortunately, this problem gets worse and worse thanks to having access to pretty much every location on the map. Once the whole world is explored, this becomes especially confusing.

One final problem with this game is that this game has a dates feel to it. While in some respects, this isn’t much of a problem, it is a problem with respect to innovative features. A lot of the features have been fully implemented in games around the SNES era or earlier. A small handful of features have long been a part of this particular handheld console (i.e. use of the Stylus on Bruise the Ooze). If you are looking for some exciting new features in this game, you just aren’t going to find it here.

Generally speaking, this game finally gets an RPG right for the most part. A lot of critical improvements such as menus, item management, and even grinding have finally been fixed. There are still plot gaps late in the game along with a small number of other flaws, but it’s the first game we’ve seen that does feature a reasonable number of features. Unfortunately, it seems to have come a bit late as there is nothing really here that I can see as hugely innovative by any means. So, it does feel a bit dated. Still, it is a reasonable game all around.

Graphics is a big weakness in this game. I could only count one or two characters as being fully 3D modelled. Beyond that, everything relies heavily on 2D sprites and gives this game a very SNES feel to it. Animation sequences are well done, but the only thing really 3D are environments and battle sequence backgrounds. There’s some decent special effects, but nothing too spectacular. Especially for a game released late in the systems life, the graphics are actually quite outdated. So, it’s OK, but nothing special.

The audio is fairly sub par. There is no voice acting whatsoever. There is a reasonable amount of sound effects, but nothing amazing. Meanwhile, the music is OK, but nothing to get excited about.

Overall, of all the Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest games we’ve played to date, this is definitely the best one. It fixes so many problems that plagued previous instalments including menu systems, items, and level grinding. There are still some flaws in this game as well – the biggest being plot gaps that cause players to be lost. Level info is pretty limited. Also, there isn’t anything particularly innovative about this game. The graphics are dated and the audio is a bit on the sub-par side of things. So, it’s an OK game, but pretty dated for 2009.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game at level 38.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 2/5

Overall rating: 66%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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