Friday, September 9, 2011

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

I'd like to point out that technically Summer doesn't end until September 23rd.  Yeah, everybody says its Labor Day, but I'm going to follow the specific cycle of Equinoxes so that I can sneak in another installment of the Dragon Quest Summer!  (Which already is the Dragon Quest Half-Year, and may indeed wind up becoming the Dragon Quest Year).  Just know this, I'm not a complete failure, despite how long my "Bleach" recaps seem to take to come out these days.  I can work at a schedule, but only when I'm doing something I truly love.

"Dragon Quest V" is wildly considered the very best Dragon Quest game ever made.  Whenever people begin listing the finest games of the franchise, "Dragon Quest V" is usually the first or second to be brought up.  Even nineteen years after the game's first release, "Dragon Quest V" remains one of the very best JRPGs ever made.  And having played this game myself, I have to say, everybody who said this game is great were absolutely correct.  Anybody who claims to love RPGs need to play this game immediately.  The Super Nintendo, which was already home to incredible games like "Chrono Trigger" and "Final Fantasy VI", now clearly had a third role-playing masterpiece, and that was "Dragon Quest V".

This was the first Dragon Quest game on the Super Nintendo.  And upon moving to a stronger system, Enix and Yuji Horii definitely took their franchise to the next level.  Rather than a typical adventure, this game tells the story of your Hero's whole life, from birth to childhood, to adulthood when he finally defeats the final boss and lives happily ever after.  You get married, you have children, all in an incredible saga* that spans three generations.  But not content to simply amp up the scale of their story, the creators also invented an entirely new way to play RPGs:  recruiting monsters.  Yeah, "Dragon Quest V" is the granddaddy of Pokemon.  But not only is this a milestone in RPG history, its also a great game, even so many years later.  Of course, I'm playing the DS remake, which makes the transition so much smoother.  I'd say you need to buy this game now.

The main plot of "Dragon Quest V" is divided up into three generations.  In the first third of the game, you're a little kid traveling along with your father and occasionally traversing minor dungeons with your little friends.  Then something awful happens, and ten years pass.  Now you're a teenager, traveling the world looking for your long lost mother, and somehow or another getting married.  Yeah, in Dragon Quest you can get married at fifteen.  One thing leads to another, a few too many long nights at Inns occur, and soon enough you're a father of twins.  Boom, another awful thing, time skip, and now you're traveling with your children, fighting evil.  Eventually you'll end up with a whole four-person family of badasses, ready to stop the newest version of Satan - Dragon Quest always has an expy of Satan as the main villain for some reason - from escaping Hell.

So let's do the character break down!  This is always fun:
  • The Hero:  You're actually not the Hero of Legend this time.  Just about every other RPG ever made has the main hero being the exact person required to complete some kind of ancient legend and defeat evil.  Its not you, sorry.  The Hero of "Dragon Quest V" rocks a stylish purple hood and robe, and for some reason walks around with a Moses staff.  He heals, he attacks, he buffs, he's the whole package. Good thing he's always around, because he's you.
  • Pankraz:  Is your Dad.  Because he's the Party Leader in the first generation, whenever you're traveling with him, he leads.  Luckily you get to wander away long enough to play in haunted houses and with fairies.  Pankraz mentions at one point that he has only three days to go until retirement, so, guess what happens?  Its a memorable scene, to say the least.  Dragon Quest might be cartoony, but it can do drama extremely well when it needs to.
  • Bianca:  Is Wife Candidate #1.  In all the the official artworks, she is the wife that the Hero chooses.  So the kids that result from that match are blond-haired (let's ignore the genetics for now).  Bianca is your childhood friend, she's supportive, she's nice, she's BORING.  I didn't choose her for that exact reason, too dull.  She's basically a mage, but I didn't use her that long.
  • Nera:  Is Wife Candidate #2.  She's an all around saint with blue hair and the daughter of the wealthiest people on Earth.  So, nothing at all to not like, right?  Wrong.  If I thought Bianca was boring, than Nera is a completely different league of dullness.  Imagine is Kasume Tendo from "Ranma 1/2" somehow managed to wander into an RPG, its that bad.  I never played with her at all, so I don't know how useful she actually is.
  • Debora:  Is Wife Candidate #3, and the one I chose.  She's Nera's big sister, but is considered unmarriable by their father is somewhat hated by everybody.  By far the hottest, Debora is an all-around bitch, specifically designed to be a woman that "nobody in their right mind would marry".  Obviously the Japanese do not understand humanity on any level, because there was no doubt in my mind at any point.  Debora might be arrogant, haughty, selfish, loud, and testy, she's also the only one of the wife lineup to actually be hurt when you pick somebody else.  That matters to me, Bianca and Nera are too pure and good to actually love anybody.  Plus, picking Debora means you'll have the funniest game of all, because her reactions to everything are always priceless.  To Debora, marriage isn't exactly a partnership as much as slavery, and you belong to her.  And if there isn't room in the bed at night, you're sleeping on the floor.  She's probably my favorite character of the entire series.  Debora is far more of a physical attacker than the other two wives, which is good because offensive magic is never all that useful in Dragon Quest.
  • Your Son:  You get to name this character along with your Hero, because he's your kid.  I named him "Gold" and named his sister "Silver" out of the same Pokemon-based theme naming I've been using for years.  Your Son is the actual Legendary Hero, which means he can equip the incredible Zenithian Equippment.  Ironically, he's the one that plays the most like a Dragon Quest protagonist, learning both offensive and healing spells while being a great fighter.  But despite being a powerhouse of death, he still proudly tells you that he didn't wet the bed the night before.  Even if your kids are relatively bland characters, I couldn't help but love them and use them constantly.  How many games feature your children as major characters?  This concept is one of the most engaging and effective ways to make you care about characters I've ever seen.
  • Your Daughter:  The Hero's twin sister, who unfortunately could not be the Chosen One due to cosmic sexism.  She has ribbons in her hair, she likes kittens, and she needs her hand held while going through scary dungeons.  Your Daughter is a straight mage, meaning she's relatively weak character.  Still, I used her anyway, because it just feels unfair to use her brother but not her.  You can't give favorable treatment to one child, it causes all kinds of problems.  Nobody needs to be fighting in the back of the Caravan.
  • Sancho:  Is a bizarre character.  He speaks in a Speedy Gonzalez-esque Mexican accent, yet he cooks Spanish food.  He might actually be Sancho Panza from "Don Quixote".  As a party member, he has massively high HP, and that's really it.
Now, the thing with "Dragon Quest V" is that you can either use all of these human party members, or you can use none of them.  Because during the game, you recruit monsters all across the world.  This is a stroke of brilliance on Enix's part, since they noticed that every game in Dragon Quest has the same monsters repeated constantly, so they went ahead and based on a game mechanic on them.  Monsters are caught based entirely on random chance, some monsters will join easier, that's really it.  I spent an hour trying to get a King Slime, and it didn't work.  Naturally once I'm done with the game, I'll have to go back and Catch 'Em All to complete my Pokedex.  The monsters learn their own abilities and spells but equip the same weapons and armor that human characters do.  They can level up like other characters, but many have a level cap.  The reason you level them up is not only to make them stronger, but also to make them follow your orders.  At first they'll spitefully ignore you seemingly every other turn, but later they will serve you as any other party member.  Sadly, they don't evolve, because that concept wouldn't be invented as a game mechanic until 1996.

What I like to do with my monsters is theme name them.  I named them all after major American military engagements.  So I got a Slime Knight named "Midway", a Yeti named "Bulge", and a Great Dragon named "Yorktown".

The other major choice you have in "Dragon Quest V" is, as I previously indicated, a choice in wives.  Its right there in the title, because Dragon Quest titles are always so wonderfully descriptive and clear.  90% of JRPGs have absolutely no storyline choice on any level.  When it comes to a love story, you're going to have Tidus with Yuna every time, even if you hate Tidus and can't imagine how any male or female could stand his presence for more than thirty seconds.  But not this game.  The creators knew that simply forcing a girl on you to love would ultimately always feel artificial and forced, so they gave you three choices, all with three different hair colors.  The kids that result from this union are always the same characters, but their hair color changes as well.  The game is a different experience depending on which girl you like the best.  I really don't know why Final Fantasy has never tried this, "Final Fantasy V" would have been perfect for it.  If anything, the games have been getting less interactive over time.

Oddly enough, "Dragon Quest V" actually is a sequel to "Dragon Quest IV".  I assumed the games would all be completely different stories, with the only thing connecting them being the Slimes.  But no, this game repeats locations, shares a few characters, and even has a Bonus Dungeon that features Estark, the Satan of the last game as a boss.  One can only wonder how "Dragon Quest VI" will continue to draw together the Zenithian Trilogy.

Then there's the TnT Board.  Yuji Horii loves random chance, as you can see in the numerous casinos filled with complete luck-based minigames.  This even shows up a lot in the battles, when your entire party can be steamrolled in a single turn with a single Whack spell.  I can't name the number of times I was ruined entirely because I couldn't heal fast enough before the enemy attacked.  Suddenly out of nowhere the monsters became turbo-charged, freaks of speed who just flat-out murder poor Silver.  Nothing represents the love of total random chance better than the TnT Board, a minigame based on actual board games.  Your Hero has a set number of dice rolls to complete the board, where every space can be just another way for the game to screw with you.  Some squares knock you back to the start, some squares end the game entirely, some squares act as shops, and others have treasure.  Even when the universe drops down a cruel miscarriage of justice and ruins your quest to the ending, you can only chuckle and try again.  It hurts like Hell, but its still fun.  This is what those monopoly boards from "Birth by Sleep" should have been.

"Dragon Quest V" has it all:  fairies, flying castles, time travel, evil Bishops running Death Cults, and giant Swedish bull monsters.  What more could you ask for?  I don't want to believe this is the best Dragon Quest game ever just yet.  I only just started climbing this mountain, I really don't want to have reached the summit yet.  "Dragon Quest VI" and "Dragon Quest VII" both could be amazing games in their own right, perhaps even more incredible and epic than this one.  Either way, I have nothing but excitement for the games I'm going to play.  "Dragon Quest X" might be as attractive to me as a horse-faced girl with leprosy, but there is still plenty of magic to find in the Dragon Quest series.

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* You see, Stephanie Meyer, I can use that word correctly.  Can you?

5 comments:

  1. Is it sad to say that I've brought this game a month ago and it's still sitting on my dresser unplayed? Damn you Cathrine! Damn you and your extremely hard Puzzles! I don't let Mario games take advantage of me like this and neither will you!

    -Uzuki

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  2. I haven't played a DQ game because my brother is a hater, and from what you said, I now intend to to play, thanks.

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  3. Have you played VIII yet?

    I always believed Final Fantasy V was a Dragon Quest game in disguise. Turns out I was correct.

    The SNES has other RPG pearls too, like Taito's Lufia 2, an RPG with Zeldaesque exploration and puzzles. The puzzles in Lufia aren't easy though.

    ReplyDelete
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  5. Always good to see another person see sense Deborah is really the only choice she's more attractive by far is worst off if not picked the only one who is hurt if not xchosen is the only one who actually asks and is the best fighter to boot as well

    ReplyDelete