* Prices may differ from that shown
Looking through my games case it is very safe to say that the majority of the games in there are Japanese role playing games (JRPG's), there might be a smattering of puzzle games and I think there's a couple of strategy games hiding somewhere but they are massively outweighed by the sheer statistical power that is my RPG collection! And the Dragon Quest series makes up quite a few of these RPG's on its own, probably only outweighed by Pokemon and possibly Harvest Moon.
Dragon Quest is a long spanning game series that I didn't find out about until relatively recently. It was originally marketed as Dragon Warrior in North America, although that changed in 2005, and the series has been a best selling set of RPG games. Scarily the first game was published in 1986 which means it was published before the first Sonic game (1991), although rest assured Mario still beats it having been published in 1981. Needless to say because of this the game has been released in various forms and sequels on just about every Nintendo console going including the NES, the SNES, the game boy colour, the game boy advance and of course the more up to date consoles.
Having done some reading up on the series I've found that they have actually had quite an impact on the development of later RPG's for consoles, including Pokemon, Harvest Moon and many of the other JRPG's in terms of battle sequences and gameplay aspects. They were the first computer game to have a playable pregnancy in a game, and have been the forerunners in many of the aspects of computer games that we take for granted today even down to what we would see as the basics - collecting achievements and collecting everything in the game.
===Hand of the Heavenly Bride===
This game is a re-make of the original that was released on the Super Famicom (whatever that is when it's at home) in 1992 and then re-released on the PS2 in 2004. So hardcore gamers may well recognise the plot and be directly comparing against its original releases. Unfortunately I cannot do that due largely to the fact that I had no idea it wasn't an original release in itself until I came to look it up!
Right from the start of this game there was something different. Something that made it stand out from the crowd of JRPG's that are around. And trust me there are a lot, and there are a lot of clichés. Usually it's a fair guess to say that there will be a group of good looking but fairly asexual teenagers on a quest to single-handedly save the world, often with a young child who's good with magic tagging along for the ride. Usually the teenagers will be little more than 15, and at least one of the males will have a ridiculously large hair style...and they are nearly always blonde.
At the very start of this game, something changed. You see, you actually saw your character being born to a king and queen although there are some complications in childbirth. Then you play your character as a six year old child being chaperoned by his dad who for some reason is now not a king but an ordinary traveller. This in itself is unusual as you are not allowed exploring without your father...unlike many games in which even if it is an alternate universe there are some pretty poor parents who allow their young children to go wandering off alone on some major quest or adventure. Ok, the whole growing up with the character probably has been done before but not in a game I've played, and it works because on some level you bond with your character and you also build up links to characters which you will meet later on in the game. It's also a fantastic way to set up the game and do the tutorials etc, as you are a child and as such you are being taught every step of the way by your father; combat is taught but your father deals with that usually in one blow and if you do manage to get yourself injured at this point of the game he will automatically stop and heal you before moving on again.
The plot is then picked up again ten years later and you are now an adult, you've gone through hell and back, undergone numerous tragedies and now you are trying to reconcile your shattered past with the more global threats. One of the most fascinating things about this game is that it spans three generations; the hero's father Pankraz, the hero himself and then the hero's children all have a massive part to play in the game and are all playable characters for sections of the game. As you move through the game you are expected to marry and as I said earlier this was one of the first games in its original format to have a playable pregnancy, you even have a choice of wife and although this makes little difference on the outcome of the game it is nice to be able to actually have a choice.
Although to a point the plot does follow the clichés of JRPG games, it is also one of the most gripping and absorbing plots I have played. From being set as a lonely six year old with his father on a search for the legendary hero, it moves to you undergoing numerous tragedies and then beginning your adult life and attempting to lick your own wounds due to your shattered past and reconcile this with the more global threats. It seems far more personal than many JRPG's do and seems to manage to move beyond the clichés into something that seems much fuller than the stereotypical renditions of the genre. It's also quite interesting that the main character never talks, in most RPG's you will spend a long time in dialogue but here it is only other people who map out your characters personality. And even more importantly it chucks the really big clichés and the conventions out the window as it is made very clear early on that the main character you are playing is not the legendary hero, meaning there are far more twists and turns. You know that this is not going to be what you are expecting.
Plus as an added bonus it includes time travel as you move between the different characters and the different generations, and that has always got to be cool! Previous generations meet and save the generations before, and it all gets rather intriguing! It's rare for a game to span 20 years of one characters life, and I think that is what makes this special as it is nothing out of the ordinary in most of the other aspects of the game. This is the story of one man's life, and the life of his children over the generations, and yes they defeat evil, fight tons of rather cute monsters and eventually save the world as is typical in a JRPG, however it's done in such a way that it feels fresh and original.
The gameplay is more or less exactly what you expect from a JRPG, or any RPG for that matter. The characters are moved through the D-pad which is helpful for those of you who like me are touchscreen-ophobes. The gameplay is what I'd probably call old style RPG, or typical RPG, it focuses a lot on battling, hefty amounts of random encounters and a lot of levelling up. This will by its very nature irritate some people, my brother for example refuses to play games which are random encounter and turn based because the concept irritates him. On the other hand I refuse to play real time games most of the time because I like the thinking time that fighting in turn based battles gives me. I like the fact that it has refused to make the changes which Final Fantasy have made, largely because I have found the latest FF unplayable. But I guess if you find this kind of battle a complete waste of time then it will quickly become a chore. But overall it is what you would expect from an RPG; you are exploring the world and the cities, talking to people both in your party and outside characters, levelling up as you explore, buying and equipping weapons and defeating bosses as you come to them.
But probably the most interesting part of the gameplay is the ability to tame and recruit monsters from the world in which you are travelling. As you fight each monster there is a chance that at the end of the fight the monster will be impressed with you and want to join you, thereby giving you more fighters with different skills and abilities. In addition to this there is no shortage of monsters to be recruited, as there are well over 50 different species of monster that you can recruit and many others that you can't. This also means that the battles are rarely boring as there is such a wealth of monsters to fight and they change depending on time and place. It also means that because monsters only rarely want to join your party, the monsters you have seem unique and very personalised to you. You may at any one point have four members in your fighting party and another four in your caravan which trails behind you, and once you have monsters or for that matter other humans in your party you can chose whether you want to control them manually or give them a set directive and let them figure it out on their own. This works quite well, and is again very easy to get the hang of.
It's not difficult to get the hang of, and providing you don't mind turn based random encounters you should be absolutely fine with every aspect of the game play as it's all very manageable. It's menu-based and fairly old school so nothing should be particularly challenging.
There isn't anyone here who would be able to say that the graphics aren't pretty. The monsters are cute, the backgrounds are vivid and colourful and the game quite happily leaps off the screen at you. It's not stunning in the way some games are, but firstly it's a DS game and graphics have never been its strongest point and secondly, they have again gone for the slightly more old school look than a lot of games take these days. I would imagine that is because this is a remake of a much older game and they don't want to lose the character of the original. For someone who has been playing these sorts of games for a long time (original NES) this is quite a refreshing change.
I am not joking when I say that the plot line on this game is huge which is why I struggled to put into words without giving spoilers earlier. This is not a game you are going to be able to run through in 20 hours or so. The game websites say that there is between 40 and 50 odd hours of plot related gaming, and therefore if you are like me you can make that a lot longer as I am a slow methodical games. If you then go for the whole collecting everything, taming all possible monsters, completing all side quests you can probably double that. No doubt about it, the game is huge and also has a replay value as different actions you take mean that different things happen in the game.
To put it very briefly, I loved this game. I have never seen such a well made, epic game on the DS that is so interesting and lasts so long. If you really hate turn based battles then this is not for you, but other than that whether you are a previous fan of the Dragon Quest world and franchise or not, this is a game well worth forking out for. Unfortunately, because it is such a fantastic game it is still not cheap over 2 years after it was released, but even with that in mind I can't help but recommend this thoroughly.
Title: Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date: 20 Feb 2009
Price: On Amazon £32.99 second hand or £34.99 new at time of writing
Average rating: Across a wide variety of sites it's average is approximately 9/10 or 10/10 depending how nice you're feeling.