"Your hero might be a standard silent protagonist and his supporting cast isn't really given any motivation for their actions other than utter devotion to your quest, but as I played Dragon Quest V, I felt more of a connection to them than I have for many characters in modern games. The concept of having the main character grow up during the course of the game, get married and have kids is a rare one in the world of console RPGs and Enix was able to make all of it feel fresh and memorable."
Throughout time, if there's one thing the Dragon Quest games haven't been known for, it's having much of a plot beyond the standard "save the world from the big demon monster" quest. Even the fairly recent PlayStation 2's Dragon Quest VIII was happy to keep things as simple as possible in this regard, as you had next-to-no character evolution, as well as the same general goal guiding you for the duration of your game. No angst, no self-doubt and no major moments of self-realization (at least not until you do the bonus dungeon that can't be accessed until you've already beaten the game) are present here � you're on an adventure and that's that!
All things considered, only two of the eight games in the series really attempted to go the extra mile in making plot points as important as finally triumphing over the forces of evil. On the PlayStation, the seventh game in the series had a neat theme of you traveling from one island kingdom to another, but got bogged down with way too much chit-chat (really, playing for roughly a full hour before participating in your first battle is just silly). Dragon Quest V for the Super Famicom, on the other hand, spins a simply wonderful tale that is only hindered by the technology of the time.
It starts out almost like a fairy tale. You're born to a heroic dude named Papas and his wife, Martha. After naming your character, you discover that Martha apparently died during childbirth. A few years later, your very young character is accompanying Papas as he's on an errand to meet with the king of a place called Reinhart. However, he gets detained repeatedly on this journey, which allows you to have a couple adventures. First, you and a slightly older girl, Bianca, pay a visit to a haunted castle to put the souls of its occupants to rest. Secondly, you visit the land of faeries to help out their queen. It's all lighthearted and fun � you, the player, are getting your feet wet with this game; while your character is showing his mettle in completing a pair of simple quests.
Finally, you reach Reinhart. While Papas talks with the king, you get the "pleasure" of chilling with his bratty son, Prince Henry, which leads to Henry getting kidnapped by thugs. Papas goes off to rescue him and you follow. This mission ends a bit differently than the first two, though, as after rescuing Henry, in your attempts to escape, you run into the warlock Gema and his two subordinates. Papas arrives to bail you out and commences kicking the crap out of the lackies, but Gema puts a stop to that by threatening to end your life if he doesn't stop pummeling the stooges. You are forced to helplessly watch as the thugs take advantage of the situation and beat Papas down before Gema KILLS HIM with fire. You and Henry are then forced into slavery as the cult Gema and company belong to needs labor to build a gigantic church to their deity � the demon lord Mildrath. Hmmm, you watch your dad die and get forced into slavery ��this fairy tale sure doesn't have an "and they all lived happily ever after" ending, does it?
Well, that remains to be seen. Thanks to a guard grateful you saved his enslaved sister from a beating, you and the deposed prince escape confinement a few years later (you're both teenagers, now). After helping Henry claim the usurped throne at Reinhart, you set off to see the world, make sense of all the traumatic stuff that's happened to you and all that good stuff, which leads you into an epic journey that sees you get married, have kids, get revenge on Gema and save the world from Mildrath and his evil church. Not that the demon lord will make all of this easy to do. As you might expect from a Dragon Quest game, your character and his family are of the bloodline of a legendary warrior destined to put an end to his evil, so you can bet he and his minions are going to be keeping tabs on EVERYTHING you do. And when it's all said and done, you'll have endured trials and tribulations that would even make the biblical Job wince, pat you on the shoulder and consolingly say, "Man, you've had it rough!"
What made this game memorable to me was the care put into its presentation. Enix makes the act of choosing your wife and getting married seem like an important and monumental moment, rather than just a simple plot point. Your hero might be a standard silent protagonist and his supporting cast isn't really given any motivation for their actions other than utter devotion to your quest, but as I played Dragon Quest V, I felt more of a connection to them than I have for many characters in modern games. The concept of having the main character grow up during the course of the game, get married and have kids is a rare one in the world of console RPGs and Enix was able to make all of it feel fresh and memorable.
The gameplay, while not fresh, does take the NES engine and improves on it nicely. This was the first game in the series that allows you to recruit various monsters to supplement the human members of the party. By beating various foes in battle, there's a chance that certain kinds will offer to join you and many of these chaps can be very useful. Annoying little critters like Healers and Curers are great to have in your party due to the number of curative spells they acquire, while bruisers like Golems and Attackbots are devastating melee combatants deserving of being in your line-up even during the game's final confrontations. Unlike the fourth NES game, you also have full control over all party members. Sure, you can set generic tactics for your supporting cast, but battles are turn-based and take so little time in this game I find it hard to comprehend why anyone wouldn't manually control all three of their active fighters. And, in a nice touch, outside of battles, you can go to the status menu and, with one command, order your guys to cast healing spells to automatically regenerate everyone's health � a great time-saving option for after those rough battles when everyone's low on life.
Like I said before, the only thing that really hampers Dragon Quest V was the technology of the time. You could only stuff so much data in a cartridge and this was a particularly ambitious title, so some aspects of the plot might not be presented with the importance you might expect. Take Gema, for example. You only see him twice � when he kills Papas and enslaves you and when you finally confront him late in the game. He's this diabolical villain who you have a blood feud with and actual, legitimate motivation to kill.....but he's such a non-entity in the game, you'd be forgiven for needing a couple moments to remember who he was when you finally run into him. And he's the game's most notable adversary! Demon Lord Mildreth, High Priest Ivol, grotesque beast Buorn......all these guys are little more than big monsters arbitrarily thrust into your path to give you your next big challenge. Oftentimes, it seems like Enix got so wrapped up in creating their tale of your character's journey through life that a number of important or potentially important characters wound up as little more than afterthoughts merely existing to eventually be dispatched.
Still, Dragon Quest V strikes me as one of the best RPGs of its time. I've long been a fan of the Dragon Quest system and this game was able to take that system, improve it a bit and add a plot that offers more than some big world-dominating demon you have to stop. Sure, that fellow is in the game, but getting to him is a lot more interesting and involving than it is in many of the entries in this series.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 10, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
If you enjoyed this Dragon Quest V: Tenkuu no Hanayome review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!