Classic RPG gameplay meets some of the best storytelling you’ll ever experience in a videogame.
Ever wonder why videogames and movies don’t usually coincide well together? When translating from movie to videogame, not many could give you a good answer for the general lack of quality that results. However, one of the main reasons why videogames don’t thrive on the big screen is because many videogames lack the full storytelling potential necessary to create a great movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are countless videogames that have incredible, enthralling stories but there generally seems to be something missing in terms of the storytelling process. Dragon Quest V, however, will change your entire opinion about how videogames can paint the picture of a lifetime.
To be quite honest, I’m not much of a movie person. However, the movies that I generally cherish are the timeless classics that embody incredible storytelling. Dragon Quest V not only succeeds in portraying many of the aspects of this storytelling, but it also endearingly shadows the life of a man from birth to manhood, highlighting the magical moments in his life that define his character and resolve as he develops into a true hero. What results is a masterpiece that parallels some of the great stories seen in the box office. In a sense, Dragon Quest V is the Forest Gump or Benjamin Button of videogames as it thrives from its unparalleled storytelling.
The game begins with the birth of the hero, and quickly moves into the first major portion of the game: childhood. Players begin their quest at the side of their father, Pankraz, as he embarks on a mysterious quest unbeknownst even to his own son. This unique portion of the game allows you to experience the joys and adventures of childhood as your sense of mischief and curiosity leads you to develop your own sense of perception of the world around you.
Gameplay is fairly on rails when you’re with your dad but the true joys of childhood are experienced when you’re given your own freedom to play. When he’s off on a brief errand or busy talking business, you’ll be off exploring the nearby caves with a befriended sabercat or visiting a haunted castle with the local tavern owner’s daughter. From childhood, your motives are based purely upon mischief but the acts you accomplish help you to grow into the hero figure that your father has modeled for you.
These moments of heroism coupled with the start of relationships with those around you are defining points in your life and the game does a great job of giving you lasting images that will tie into later portions of the game. You’ll play through portions later in the game and actually be able to look back and reflect on the events with some sense of nostalgia. And the best part is that the expeditions from your childhood start out highly adventurous from the get go and only improve as you mature.
Making a Masterpiece
After several plot progressions and twists and some of the more depressing, emotional moments in an RPG, 10 years will pass rather quickly and you’ll find yourself playing as the Hero ten years later in his life. This is the next defining portion of your lifetime as you set out to figure out the extent of your father’s expedition. You soon are thrown into the major portion of your journey, which coincides with that of many of the Dragon Quest games; however, this time around, you’re in search of legendary equipment that isn’t fit for your own use (you’ll be looking for the legendary hero).
Adolescence is a very important part of your life as you first get to travel through the towns and areas you’d visited as a child at your own leisure. Throughout your travels, you’ll run into old friends and see the effects of 10 years on the world. I found it quite nostalgic travelling to places I’d been before, many of times with more areas to explore and secrets to uncover. Ultimately, you’ll also begin exploring more of the map to further your quest towards finding the legendary hero and to help you along the way.
I have to admit, though, there was not a more engaging portion of the game than when the act of marriage was placed before my feet. Literally given the choice between three brides, I actually felt the emotions of sympathy and a little bit of regret when being forced to make my choice. Would I choose the childhood companion/tomboy that I’ve known my whole life or the precious woman (also known since childhood) that would most certainly be appreciative and supportive for the rest of my life… Either way, you can only choose one bride and the other will most certainly be a little disappointed. Invoking these emotions and actually giving you the choice of fully impacting the rest of your life (each girl has different stats/characteristics as well as spells) makes Dragon Quest V’s story that much more enthralling.
And as you play through the game, you’ll only find that the story continues to get better as you follow the footsteps of your father and do your part in saving the world from the looming threat of the underworld. It’s this story that will continue to push you towards finishing the game. Level grinding becomes only subsidiary as you’re sucked into the game’s story as well as its many other offerings.
In case you were wondering why I didn’t mention the third girl in my choices for marriage, this would be a good time to mention all of the underlying humor throughout the game. The localization is great with plenty of satirical dialogue throughout your adventure (“Do you take this bride in sickness and in health, for as long as you shall be resurrected from death in church?”). For instance, Deborah, the third choice and polar opposite of Nera (and also an exclusive choice in the DS version of the game), is a domineering, self centered, hateful woman who only wants to use you as her slave. As you play through the game, the party chat feature (which allows you to get detailed dialogue from your party members in every area, or in response to any NPC in the game) gives you some pretty hilarious dialogue if you choose Deborah as your spouse. Thus Deborah adds to the replay value of the game because her hilarious opinions/dialogue throughout the adventure are a priceless addition to the game’s humorous nature. I kept a save file right before I got married so I could see some of the changes and I was very impressed at the amount of detail added for each character’s party chat.
Monster Hunting Mayhem
Though Dragon Quest V’s story is obviously a major part of the game’s overall success, there are so many more factors that make the game so enthralling. Because of your keen abilities in monster training, adolescence is a key time in which these skills can be used to your advantage. For instance, after claiming the famous wagon that appeared in Dragon Quest IV which allows you to hold a large party of 8 people, you’ll be able to recruit many of the monsters you encounter on your adventure; matching the depth of the Dragon Warrior: Monsters franchise, you’ll be able to recruit 71 different monsters on your adventure to be precise. These monsters will sometimes join your party after a battle but there really is no way to better your chances of them joining. Thus, the common act of level grinding is further rewarded by giving you new additions to your party along the way.
Monsters act just like any of the characters you recruit along the way. They begin on level 1 and can be leveled up to a level max. They can equip certain types of equipment, including shields, armor, helmets, accessories, and weapons. Different monsters have different strengths and weakness that are reflected by their own individual attributes and many monsters learn their own set of spells (many of which you can’t learn with human characters). All in all, Dragon Quest V succeeds in adding a highly deep and addictive monster raising system to the overall formula without overwhelming the player (though you’re able to customize your party to your heart’s content, it is by no means necessary to get wrapped up in this portion of the game).
Another excellent part of DQV’s repertoire of RPG features is its side games and bonus material. In case you’re sick of questing, leveling, or monster hunting and you’re in the mood to stray away from the main adventure, you can relax by playing one of the game’s many mini games. At the casino, there is everything from slots to the famous arena monster betting. Also, there is a slime race where you bet in the same vein as horse racing but there’s an added twist to make the experience even more exciting: you can train your own slimes to join in on the contest and if they win, you’ll earn a big portion of the proceeds. Slimes are raised in the same fashion of leveling up your party, and you can enter them into the races after they’ve reached level 20 and for a small entrance fee.
Another set of deep side games are the T‘n’T gameboards (known as Parchisi in DQIII) which is a life-size board game. In the same fashion of Mario Party, players roll dice to move along a game board. Each square you land on triggers an event, ranging from battles to item acquisition, to stat change. Also, if you reach the end of the game board, you’ll be rewarded with some nice items to help you through your adventure. There are several T’n’T boards throughout the game and you’ll receive numerous tickets throughout your adventure (for admission to play the game).
Other side games include Tombola which is like a miniature lottery game, and Brooze the Ooze, a DS exclusive Whack-a-mole style of game that utilizes the touch screen in letting you whack the slimes. Mini medals have also made a recurrence in this game, allowing you to find these trinkets across the world and spend them on some more knock out equipment. And, along with collecting medals, you can also collect knick knacks along the way to give you more memories of the places you’ve been and the things you’ve accomplished (you can even create your own knick knacks and send them to your friends).
And for the overachieving quester like myself, there is another additional side quest to improve the game’s story after the final outcome/ending. This further extends the gameplay by providing a much more difficult quest with stronger enemies but story altering consequences for your time. Clearly, Dragon Quest V is chock full of side material for players to get sucked into the gameplay. It picks up where DQIII left off by giving you loads of extra material to buffer the already lengthy adventure (I spent over 120 hours on DQIII with its unique leveling system and near endless sidequests).
DQV follows the same graphical rendition of its DS remake predecessor, DQIV, boasting fully 3D environments with full control over the angle of the character (most of the time). Battles again are minimal by not showing both sides of the field (typical of Dragon Quest RPGs) but rather by only showing the enemies. These battles are in 2D and though they’re not as flashy as the overworlds, the speediness is welcomed in light of the massive amount of leveling you’ll be required to do in this hardcore RPG. Menus and item sorting are still the same as they were in DQIV (and really the same since DQIII as well).
Music in the game is epic as usual. If you haven’t heard any Dragon Quest music before, you’re truly missing out as this series has some of the most chilling soundtracks of any videogames to date. If you don’t believe me, try listening to Othersteve’s Music radio and listen to some of the fully orchestrated songs by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. They’re downright beautiful and these alone should make you want to experience any of these games.
Dragon Quest V more than lived up to my high expectations and surpassed some of the perceptions I had about existing RPGs by combining a mix of incredible storytelling, extremely deep party customization (close to Pokémon level), and additional side quests and minigames. DQV has set the bar in my mind for storytelling when it comes to RPGs and I am dying in anticipation for its sequel, the finale of the IV, V, VI saga. Though it’s hard to find an RPG in the series that surpasses DQIII, this game came very close in my mind. It is most certainly one of my favorite recent RPGs and one of the best on the DS. Though it’s been a long wait for this game’s release in the States, it more than made up for lost time in my mind by giving us the definitive version of the game and one of the more enthralling RPGs in existence. Highly Recommended.