Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride - hands-on

Here's a fact about the games media: we're a jealous and resentful lot. We hate to see someone else play a game before us, which is why we got jobs that allow us to play them early. And games that make us particularly sick with an envious shade of green are Japanese titles that will seemingly never get a domestic release. That’s how it’s been with Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, but we just got our hands on the upcoming DS version, finally fulfilling a need we’ve had for nearly 17 years.

We love Dragon Quest games, but you couldn’t really call their stories deep or layered. But from V’s simple beginning, with the birth of the hero and his ensuing childhood adventures in a haunted mansion, the game takes a lot of unexpected turns. While the story isn’t directionless, we’re often left with the peculiar feeling of not knowing what will happen next, which is unusual for the intensely traditional series.

Speaking of welcome changes, V switches up its party system in interesting “new” ways. Thanks to its twisty story, your cast of heroes isn’t set in stone. The hero has a strong affinity with monsters, which comes into play when, occasionally, and at random, a defeated monster will join your party. They equip items, they level up - all the normal stuff - and you can change the lineup at any time. It adds a whole new layer of depth to the series’ tried and true combat.

On top of what appears to be an epic story, there are some really fun distractions. There’s the Whac-A-Mole-inspired Bruise the Ooze, where you bash slimes with the stylus (the only use of the stylus we’ve seen so far), plus a whole casino’s worth of poker, slots and monster fights to bet on. But our favorite is T ‘n’ T, a random-encounter filled board game with an awesome treasure for those who reach its end. We’d almost want a T ‘n’ T-only game, but then we remember Mario Party DS and come to our senses.

With all the extras that have been stuffed into it, Dragon Quest V looks to keep the series’ legacy of insanely huge adventures alive. And in spite of still needing to finish all the games we bought last year, we wouldn’t have it any other way. If it can stick with the steady pace, interesting plot points and the unusually deep combat and party systems that we’ve seen so far, then we can’t wait for Dragon Quest V’s mid-February release.

Jan 23, 2009

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.