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TVG embarks on an epic quest to see if this Dragon Quest remake has stood the test of time...
- Excellent Story
- Monster recruiting
- High level of replayability
- High frequency of random battles
- Characters can leave your party
- Unforgiving retro game mechanics
For many people in Europe, what the early Dragon Quest games were like has always been a mystery. Although the Final Fantasy series - the Square back catalogue of the Square Enix corporation - is being remade and rereleased, it has not been until very recently that the Enix part of the Square Enix back catalogue is getting the same treatment. Inside Japan, Enix's back catalogue - the Dragon Quest series - is phenomenally popular.
This DS game is actually a remake of the 1992 Super Nintendo game "Dragon Quest V". For a 17 year old JRPG, the gameplay follows the conventions of its genre right down to the letter. You play as a hero who must travel around the world, town by town at a time speaking to villagers and extracting information and special items. As you walk around the world map, you will get into random turn based enemy battles. After enough of these random battles you will accumulate enough experience to level up and increase your character's attributes and abilities.
In this sense, 'Heavenly Bride' is a very sound retro JRPG which is a reasonable, if a little antiquated gaming experience. But its where it veers away from the tried and tested formula that makes 'Heavenly Bride' really stand out and take on a character very much of its own.
'Heavenly Bride' boasts a grand and epic story as the central character grows from being an inexperienced youth to ultimately a very formidable opponent. This is a standard convention amongst JRPG's, which is conveyed by the rising experience levels and attributes. With 'Heavenly Bride' the game charts the central character's life by dividing it up into three separate sections: childhood, early adulthood and mid adulthood.
These different sections of the game function as much more than to change the look of the main character. You will find yourself going back to previously familiar places to discover that things can really change a lot over time. You may recognise characters from your past who will bring back a small sense of nostalgia and familarity. Due to key decision points at different stages of the story, you can also discovered different outcomes prompting multiple playthroughs for the committed gamer. These all add to the growing epic tone of the story.
The plot itself is an extremely grand tale spanning the course of two whole decades. It's a tale of tragedy, triumph and self discovery. The central character will make lots of dear friends but he will unfortunately lose some of them along the way. Infact, there's enough plot twists in this game to really make you pay attention to the story and character development. There is no "set" party of allies you stick with all the way through the game. It turns out that monsters who join your party actually end up being more dependable.
Monster recruiting in 'Heavenly Bride' is a very significant feature. There are many different types of monsters you can recruit into your team, and each of them have different attributes and skills that can be developed as you take them under your wing and watch them level up. Its a very rewarding part of the game. There are plenty of parallels to be drawn with Pokemon games, but the 1992 original game this DS remake is based upon, actually predates the Pokemon games by a good 5 years.
Being a remake, the graphics are substantially better than what you would expect from a Super Nintendo game JRPG. There's an interesting fusion of 3D polygon worlds mixed with 2D hand drawn sprites. Its a very striking style that manages to maintain a faithful nostalgic look whilst tastefully updating it. The 3D polygon backgrounds also serve more purpose than making it look pretty - you can rotate the camera, which is occasionally used to see previously obscured doorways and items.
Interestingly enough, the sound in this remake is also inline with with its visuals in the way it rejuvinates the game whilst faithfully preserving its traditional core. Whereas the visuals have a 3D background but maintain 2D sprites, the background music in this game has grand orchestrations whilst maintaining 16 bit crushy sound effects. Its a great reminder that although the presentation is nice, the core of this game is still 17 years old.
The retro nature of this game can't be avoided. The random enemy battles are incredibly frequent, save points are also spaced quite far apart (though it does offer a single 'quick save' slot) and a huge indication, outside of a isolated mini game, is that the touch screen is also completely redundant. You'll also find yourself doing a fair bit of grinding to level up your characters, and most of the dungeons require you to fight your way back out once you've plundered treasure from them.
Although the authenic retro game mechanics may feel a little too antiqueated for some modern gamers, this is a very well crafted example of the JRPG genre. The epic story and monster recruiting generate a huge depth of replayability. 17 years ago this game was genre defining, and although lots of games have surpassed it in terms of narrative and game mechanics, 'Heavenly Bride' still provides a very valid gaming experience.
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