Huge. Epic. Mythic. Words often used to describe the stories, scope and magnitude of many RPGs. Over time, a handful of titles fitting those descriptors have raised expectations for the genre, making the games that followed the better for it. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride must've been a bar-raiser of that caliber upon its Japanese release, and it feels remarkably new even in its English-language premiere 17 years later on the DS.
The most obvious advancement, even from the start, is the story and how it's told. Here is the plot of every previous DQ title: a chosen hero must defeat a world-destroying fiend, and on the way gather a party of other do-gooders through brief, cliched encounters. And while DQIV toyed with those conventions, V throws them out the window. For example, it's made clear early on that the main character isn’t the fated hero the world's waiting for, meaning no familiar paths and a lot more surprises and interesting situations as a result.
The path your hero takes is a long one indeed, and not only because of the 40-plus hours it demands. Beginning at birth, you travel with the hero over decades of his life and the winding path fate places him on. We won't reveal any major plot points, but we were honestly shocked at some of the turns the tale takes, especially after the way the ultra-traditional DQ series has lowered our expectations over the years.
Though a few moments felt creaky - this is basically a SNES game - many things in it felt current even today. First, the game takes a few specific moments to present the player with game-changing choices. One very spoiler-y choice has a huge impact on the remainder of your game, while others are more like cute asides. The results of a choice aren't always immediate, sometimes playing out in subtler ways.