Items of Import: Look Ahead! Dragon Quest V

How is Dragon Quest IV holding up for you, dear readers? Did you run out and buy yourselves a copy, and power through the game? Does the whole feel of the title scream "Classic!" or does it reek of archaic sensibilities? Perhaps you were part of the faithful minority in the great debate of RPG fandom, at the beginning of the week. Personally, as a little kid growing up in the halcyon days of the Famicom (and later, Super Famicom) era, the opening track of the Dragon Quest series is more memorable and more emotionally stirring than the Japanese national anthem.

So... You may be knee deep in Dragon Quest IV goodness right now, and enjoying its tale of many heroes and heroines. Once you come to that inevitable conclusion, what have you got to look ahead to? Why, Dragon Quest V, of course. Today in Items of Import, we'll take the opportunity of the recent release of the fourth in the series in the Western markets to see what's to look forward to in the second entry of the Zenithia trilogy.

Dragon Quest V: Tenkuu no Hanayome (localized subtitle: Hand of the Heavenly Bride) was originally released for the Super Famicom (Japan's SNES) in 1992, marking the first entry of a Dragon Quest on the new platform. In contrast to Dragon Quest IV, which was notable for its use of six different protagonists and interweaving narrative, the fifth Dragon Quest was characterized by telling the tale of three generations of a family, with the "Hero" being the central pivot of the grand story. Essentially, it brought to the series a fresh and profound focus. As the game's chief designer Yuuji Horii famously said, "RPGs are a tale YOU experience first-hand." Differing from that other RPG series, with carefully thought out character names, Dragon Quest has always been (and will probably always be) a story the Nameless Hero (and thus, "you") experiences.

One of the most notable features of Dragon Quest V was the introduction of the "Monster Companion System." Long before "Gotta Catch 'Em All!" became a famous catchphrase, kids all over Japan were addicted to finding every last beast to befriend as a party member. Not only do companion monsters have their own unique skills and spells, players can also customize their equipment, and turn them into formidable allies.

Also making his DS debut is the cute, yet definitely freakin' ugly, cat monster Prisnyan (a combination of "prisoner" and the Japanese version of "meow"), who was last seen in Dragon Quest VIII. He is now befriend-able, and can cast both offensive and defensive spells. No doubt a great companion to have in a tight spot.

An enjoyable aspect of this particular Dragon Quest is seeing your hero grow, from an innocent boy traveling with his father, Papas, to becoming a brave young man adventuring the world. Of course, some things must be shrouded in mystery -- the reason your father takes you on a journey with him is unclear, but perhaps it has something to do with your missing mother?

In any Japanese RPG, a childhood friend of the opposite sex is a must-have character. This game is no exception. Bianca, an almost "older sister" significance to you, often goes traveling together on your journeys. When the hero matures, and finds a beautiful woman in Bianca, she may very well become an inseparable part of his life. Hmm... Hand of the Heavenly Bride... Hmm!

Any self-respecting roleplaying game has got to feature time consuming minigames, and this title has several awaiting players to while away their precious time and procrastinate from the main quest. Apart from the monopoly-like board game and the casino, both now mainstays of the Dragon Quest franchise, the DS version comes with a "Whac-a-Slime" attraction.

A major feature incorporated into the game is the concept of "noted products." Found in many exotic locales within the world, these are rare items that can only be procured or found in specific areas. Sometimes, the player can find them simply as dropped items, but other times one must exchange a noted product for another to a townsperson. Each of these items becomes catalogued in a Museum. (Note to self: I'd better refrain from telling my Animal Crossing maniac wife about this one, lest I want to never see my DS again...)

Following on from the trend started in the DS iteration of Dragon Quest IV, the opening music of the game is a live performance by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. This is exciting stuff as a fan of the soundtrack, as the classical-inspired music of the franchise has always stood the test of time. Equally as exciting is the fact that for this version of the title (which was previously released on the PlayStation 2), composer Koichi Sugiyama has scored a new track.

Dragon Quest V took the series in a new, more singular direction. By telling the story from the perspective of a father and son, it brought about a heightened sense of focus and emotional attachment. And of course, by using the series' constant Nameless Hero, it allowed a sense of old-school immersion. The player was involved in the journey, not someone looking in as a spectator. The game was released in July in Japan. If the time frame of the English localization of the very recent Dragon Quest IV is anything to go by, we're all going to have to learn some patience. If patience is not one of your virtues, however, then Items of Import has a couple of pointers. But seriously, potential importers, good luck!

Items of Import is a fortnightly column dedicated to titles only out in Japan. With in-depth impressions of games long before localization and knowledgeable language how-tos, it attempts to bridge the gap between the import savvy and import fearing. Come on, now! You, too, can make that giant leap! Yokoso!

This article was originally published on Joystiq.