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SummaryHow remakes should be done
The GoodAfter the release of Dragon Quest IV, the series continued to evolve in the right direction - which means putting originality and innovation in front of blind adherence to traditions. It was hard to top the previous game in quality, but the original Dragon Quest V came very close.
Instead of describing just a brief episode in the life of the hero, the game basically tells his entire life story. Unlike Phantasy Star III, where the player simply "jumped" to the next generation, Dragon Quest V is divided into three parts: childhood, adulthood, and finally parenthood. This concept gave the game unique charm. Playing as a child, you really feel like a child. When you reach the second part, you do feel like a young man. The game makes fitting comments according to your age. As a child, you can't read, so if you look at the many signs in the game, it will tell you you are unable to read them. As a young man, you start noticing girls, and finally can choose a wife. That's right, there are two spouse candidates in the game, and you'll have different children depending on your choice. How cool is that? And in the end, your party basically contains your family: yourself, your wife, your son, and your daughter.
The story itself is not that interesting, but as always in Dragon Quest games, the point of interest is not exactly the main storyline, but gradual revealing of it through conversations and exploration of the game world. So the story won't shock you with complex relationships and sudden twists (although there is something of this kind in the game... maybe one time), but instead will charm you with its simplicity and heartiness, if you are willing to accept its obvious lack of drama.
Gameplay-wise, the game put the excellent monster-summoning system on top of traditional Dragon Quest gameplay. Dragon Quest V offers you the possibility to recruit randomly encountered monsters in order to summon them in battles. There is much fun to be had from finding out what kind of abilities those monsters have and from leveling them up. Imagine having one of those traditional blue slimes in your party! They start out so weak, but gain levels quickly, and learn healing and support magic...
In short, Dragon Quest V was a very interesting game already when it was released in its original form on the Super Famicom (SNES) console. However, graphically and musically, the game was merely adequate. Classical music just doesn't sound well on synthesizer. So while Nobuo Uematsu's melodies sounded beautifully in any arrangement, Koichi Sugiyama's work suffered greatly when reproduced through generic, emotion-less synthesized tunes. Dragon Quest games were also never cutting-edge in graphical aspect. There was indeed a good reason for a remake.
I can't even begin to describe how beautifully the music sounds in this version. We do have a real orchestra here, and Sugiyama's talent could finally reveal itself. The world map music is absolutely outstanding. I spend so much time just standing on the map, listening to the gradually evolving, melancholic, beautiful piece. Battle music, dungeon music, town music, castle music - everything is immaculately composed and orchestrated, stylistically fitting, and enriches the atmosphere in a way I didn't even think was possible. And the ship music? Okay, it reminds the music from Hitchcock's Spellbound, but it doesn't become any less beautiful because of that.
In the remake, the graphics ooze charm and atmosphere. At first glance they are nothing special. But then you notice how skillfully the graphic designers created a nostalgic, 2D-like world with nothing but 3D. Battle backgrounds are lovely, castles shine in their medieval glory, and the world map looks like a great place to visit. Monster design is excellent, and the animations really bring battles to life. There is also 180 degree camera rotation.
The gameplay is basically the same, but there is one excellent improvement: you can have four active party members instead of the original three! Another gameplay update I liked very much is the physical interaction. In the original, if you checked a barrel, a drawer, a flower pot, or anything of the kind, there was no visible action, just a text message saying you found something or didn't find anything. In the remake, you can see how the hero approaches a barrel, takes it, carries it around (if you want), and then breaks it. What can be more fun than stealing all the flower pots in front of the church and then smashing them under the priest's nose?!..
The BadWell, it is a Dragon Quest game. So expect utmost simplicity, a bit of corny atmosphere, more gameplay than cutscenes, and a storyline that won't win a Nobel prize for literature. If you are a fan of the series, you've already played this one (otherwise, what kind of a fan are you if you skip one of the series' best offerings?!), so you don't need my advice; but for modern players who want ultimate drama, psychological problems, schizophrenia, and spells that do 324695 points of damage, it will probably seem very old-fashioned. And it is, indeed, though whether it is a good or a bad thing is open for debate.
For the remake itself, I have next to no complaints. The only thing that comes to mind is the silly menu at the top left corner of the screen. I know they wanted to follow the tradition, but let's face it: the menu is not only plain and boring, but also uncomfortable to use. I wanted to see a menu with character portraits and nice extras, but all we get is the same bunch of white kana signs. If at least they used Chinese characters...