Originally released in 1992 for the Super Famicom in Japan, and again as a Japan-only PlayStation 2 remake in 2004, this will mark the first time that Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is seen in North America. Feeling and looking very much like last year's remake of Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen, Hand of the Heavenly Bride follows the story of an adventurous young boy tagging along with his father as he grows into a brave hero with the ability to befriend monsters in the field. The entire journey will span the course of three generations, and at some point, you will be faced with a life-altering decision that will affect the outcome of the story. We didn't quite get that far yet, but from what we've seen, it looks like our little hero will become a strapping young man soon enough and take destiny into his own hands.
After a curious flashback about a king and his newborn son (that's you), you begin the game as an adorable and innocent boy who isn't old enough to read, traveling with his father Pankraz, a seasoned warrior. In-between him dragging you from one place to another, you'll have the opportunity to go on a few adventures on your own, accompanied by your chipper friend Bianca. We can't go too deep into the story without giving away spoilers, but we've enjoyed what we've played so far and are curious to see how the story unfolds.
Between random turn-based battles, you'll travel around the world, taking in strays with your undeniable charm and devilish good looks. There's just something about you that connects with monsters--not a bad skill to have. Later in the game, once you've acquired a wagon, you'll be able to have up to eight companions in tow (human and nonhuman alike), and you can create a party with up to four members. This will let you swap and customize your own group, and there's always a backup in case the battle goes sour. Like in the previous game, you can either set tactics for your party members so that they prioritize based on your decisions or have them take your orders directly. Nevertheless, there are some who will act on their own accord, so you'll just have to hope for the best. The game generally isn't very hard because it consists of straightforward turn-based battles, so you should have fun and play around with the setup.
There are some features worth mentioning even though we didn't get a chance to fully explore them yet, such as minigames to take your mind off of adventuring. They include Bruise the Ooze, T 'n' T, the Slurpodrome, and the Tombola. There are also knickknacks to collect and customize so you can have your own personalized Knick-knackatory (we didn't make that one up). Through the Nintendo DS's wireless, you can exchange with friends to expand your collection of knickknacks.
If you're already played Dragon Quest IV, the visuals are very similar. The areas that you'll visit span both screens, and everything has a vibrant, painterly feel. It's easy to forget, but the L and R buttons can be used to rotate the camera, which is essential if you want to locate doors or other entrances that can't be seen in the standard view. As soon as you pop in the game, you'll be greeted by the rousing opening theme, a new composition by Koichi Sugiyama and performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. The rest of Sugiyama's score is delightful and catchy, making your frequent random encounters and endless exploration more enjoyable.
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride will let North American fans play for the first time yet another classic role-playing game from this endearing and well-respected franchise. Given that the story isn't linked to the previous game, it won't matter if this is your first entry into the series. Those who have been following the remakes will be pleased to know that Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie has also been announced, but we're still waiting on a release date. In the meantime, check out Hand of the Heavenly Bride when it ships on February 17, 2009.