20-Feb-2009 The grand dame of RPGs takes another stroll up the aisle
That this is a remake of a 17-year-old game makes it even more remarkable. Very rarely does Heavenly Bride show its age - the gorgeous, sprightly visual style seen in DQIV returns here and its breezy colourfulness betrays the depth and magnitude of the game it brings to life. More to the point, this is the standout game in the long-running series because it does away with many of the conventions Dragon Quest games hold dear.
If recent Dragon Quest games have been steadfastly traditional, it's because of the evolutionary design choices made here. The span of the story is huge. A lifetime, in fact, as it begins with the birth of the hero and follows him though most of his entire life - and yes, you even get married. The plot twists deserve to remain under wraps, because they really are quite clever. Calling the protagonist here the hero isn't quite right. Yes, he's the main character in the story, but, flying in the face of its stablemates (and most other RPGs too), he's not the chap fated to save the world...
Monster Squad The way you make up your battle party is slightly different here too. Rather than being gradually introduced to your party in the early stages of the adventure, you have a couple of core characters and then passing acquaintances who'll trek with you for varying periods.
You'll still level them up and equip them and so on, but their presence is closely interwoven with major plot events. The downside of this is you will become attached to certain characters and want to use them the whole way through. Seeing them snatched away from you having spent bags of gold and time on them is a wrench. Monsters therefore play a larger part of your group, and these too can be improved just like human comrades.
This is perhaps the best new feature here. As well as your battle party being beefed up to include four members instead of the original's three, recruiting almost any kind of monster to your party completely sidesteps the slightly restrictive party dynamic of DQIV. All of your human characters have their pluses and negatives, and the huge array of beasts you can call upon neatly round these out. It all ties into the story, with each monster and human you work with having some kind of impact upon your hero, however subtle. It emphasises again how central this intimate story of one person's life is to the game. Nothing here is a throwaway element.
There are so many extras packed in here compared with the original that it's almost pointless to compare the two, but here are some examples of the new things packed in here. There's Exotica Net, which lets your DS exchange items with other DSes equipped with game, even in standby. The number of mini-games explodes here, even compared with DQIV. It's more on the level of the distractions found in the PS2's DQVIII, and that means you can add around 15 to 20 hours to the 40 hours or so it'll take you to finish the main story. See? Epic.
But perhaps the most epically epic thing about Heavenly Bride is the sense of fulfilment and gratification it gives you at nearly every turn. Yes, you do have to put the hours in, and yes some of it is grinding out experience points from repeated battles, but I'm damned if it doesn't pay you handsomely for it. Not only is there the never ending thrill of hearing the fanfare that greets your upping a level (second only to Zelda's ba-ba-ba-baah chest opening), but there's the joy of finding a double hard hammer in the next town, or a board game to while away some time. The sense of excitement at something brilliant being around the next corner makes this almost impossible to put down for weeks. Magnificent. 'Epic' is a word mostly tagged to the fore of 'fail' in internet videos of players making comedy errors in games, or skateboarding, or drinking games. It's also used to describe stuff these days - games, films, goalless footy matches - that's just really long as opposed to genuinely ambitious in scale and sweep. Dragon Quest: The Hand Of The Heavenly Bride screamed 'epic' when it was first released as a SNES game, and it's screaming it again now, only this time it's making an even louder statement. 'Epic' isn't really that fashionable these days.