Compare & Contrast: Dragon Quest V

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Pokémon isn't the only monster-training game
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  • Wednesday, June 8, 2011

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This column has been written by System Error. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.
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Welcome to the second edition of Compare & Contrast!

DS version Box Art

Today, we'll be looking at probably the only series of RPGs that can dare to contend with Pokémon in Japan. If you somehow missed the title of the entry and don't know from that sentence alone that I'm talking about the Dragon Quest series (also known as Dragon Warrior), then I have no idea what to make of you. But yeah, Dragon Quest. It's huge in Japan, so much so that there's allegedly a law that disallows the games from being released on anything but a Sunday.

The Dragon Quest series has been called the grand-daddy of all modern console RPGs (and it itself was inspired by Wizardry and Ultima, so are they the great grand-daddies?), spanning nine games in the main series, and a tenth scheduled for the Wii. I'd like to reiterate that in Japan, this series is like religion. Many of them are pathetically dated to the point of unplayability by today's - and even mid-NES/early SNES era standards. To wit, to walk into a door in say, Final Fantasy I, you just walk into the door. Simple, right? To walk into it in Dragon Quest, you first walk up to the door, open the menu, select the "door" option, then you can walk through the opening. This enigma of game design continued up to the seventh in the series, I believe, and fans still ate it up! That is the power of Dragon Quest. Mercifully, they eliminated those problems in remakes of the games.

You know how Final Fantasy VII affected all gamers? Yeah. Dragon Quest VII affected an entire country's economy. Before it even hit western shores, Dragon Quest IX set a world record for most people communicating anonymously at once - 100 million, and Japan's population at the time was around 127.5 million. Square was so afraid of Dragon Quest, they pushed back the release of Final Fantasy IX so they wouldn't have to compete with it. Game Informer on Dragon Quest VII: "four million Japanese can be wrong". It's like a Vin Diesel/Chuck Norris/Mr. T facts list, only it's reality. Don't screw with the DQ.

The fifth game in the series, and to a much lesser extent, the sixth, is what we'll be looking at today. They both had a monster-training concept tied into them. And yeah, I do know that there are, in fact, more pressing Dragon Quest related matters to take into account. But you gotta start somewhere, and the fact that said matters are a whole different entity altogether means we'll be looking at them in their own article. Besides, then we get the fun of comparing the various different monster-training games not just to Pokémon, but also to each other. Like, do they all do something that Pokémon does not? Does one game - even in the same series - do something that Pokémon does, but nothing else does? Is Pokémon unique in some aspects? Let's find out.

The Game

Dragon Quest V was released in Japan on September 27, 1992, and is most notable for being the one where you go through three different generations. It wasn't released anywhere else, until the DS remake, which came out in Japan on July 17, 2008, and in North America on February 17, 2009. It got a PS2 remake, too. Dragon Quest VI was released on December 9, 1995, and is most notable for some kid threatening to kill another because he disagreed that it was the best game in the series. I'm not even joking. It also got a DS remake. The DS remake is most notable for removing the monster-training ability. Due to this, and how it wasn't a huge feature in VI anyway, I'll mainly be covering V here.


Dragon Quest V has a similar art style to the originals on the NES. It looks like something you'd see in an old DOS game. Only this time, it's in glorious 16-bit, which...doesn't help much. The simple, limited coloration of the NES was replaced with bright, neon coloration which is pretty much the result of coloring in the graphics and adding some black lines. And the fans still ate it up. Compare: The Final Fantasy Legend to its WSC remake, and Dragon Quest IV to Dragon Quest V. Two different approaches in reimagining things in 16-bit. When Dragon Quest VI hit, they finally decided to take a step into the next generation, and did it pretty well - it's about on the level of Final Fantasy VI. Yup, fans ate still that up too. The DS remakes have a similar graphical style to Dragon Quest VII.

Yuji Horii, creator of Dragon Quest, has called V his favorite game of the series. Of course, he also wrote the story and designed the game. And the story for every other game in the series for that matter. So he thinks this is his best work. Famitsu readers circa 2006 said it was Dragon Quest III (#3 game ever according to them; then again, this is the same readerbase that said the original Final Fantasy III was better than Ocarina of Time). I say, they should've gotten into a DeLorean, hit 88MPH, and picked up Dragon Quest IX. V checked in at #11, its PS2 remake at #40, and VI was at #34 (lowest main DQ series game on the list). Our previous C&C, The Final Fantasy Legend/SaGa, didn't make the list, though its sequel, SaGa 2, did, at #94.

The Plot

The plot in DQ5 is your typical RPG style story: you need to save the world from this evil force. The way it's presented is the selling point, however. You begin the game as a mere illiterate child, traveling with your dad, while sometimes going on adventures in haunted castles and magical lands of fairies. Your father is looking for the Legendary Hero during this time. During this time period, you recruit your first monster - a Great Sabrecub, beasts that apparently come straight from Hell. Then a plot twist happens, and you end up in slavery - somehow having learned to read in the meantime. After a timeskip and escaping is when the monster recruiting really opens up.

Uh, then the game overstates the importance of marriage, and you have to choose a bride. There's the (alleged) best friend Bianca (not to be confused with B&W's though they look and act much the same), a somewhat ditzy blonde girl in orange you spend all of 20 minutes with and never really confesses any feelings until after the fact. There's Nera, the kind, somewhat shy blue-haired girl with a rich and gentle upbringing, occasionally kind of flirty (and according to one line of the script, very dirty in the sack). The DS version also adds in Nera's sister, Deborah - a spoiled materialistic girl who treats you as a slave, though develops somewhat later on. Check out Additional Info in my profile for more on these eligible bachelorettes.

So you go through that, then you return to your homeland of Gotha where you soon get crowned King, have a couple kids in the shortest pregnancy term ever, then get turned to stone for like eight years. You eventually get saved by your kids, and then you have to go on a quest to find your mother and your wife, and help your son (said legendary hero) to defeat the evil Grandmaster Nimzo.

Anyway, the reason why you can recruit the monsters is because of your background. You learn your mother is from Lofty Peak at one point, a place with a people who are good at communicating with the underworld (where monsters come from), and you having half her genes allows you to do the same. As her old Slime eventually tells you, she essentially can suppress the evil in monsters' hearts and make them good. Your daughter inherits this ability as well - on that note, she says that most monsters are good, not evil (instead of them being evil and you making them good). That's about all that needs to be said.

The Battles

First off, let's talk about the character limit. In Dragon Quest V (and VI), you travel with a wagon (a stable of many DQ games), which can hold up to eight members of your party. However, in battle, there is a limit to how many can be fighting at once. In the SNES version, you can use 1-3 party members, but the maxima was upped to four in the DS remake. Everyone but the main character can have auto-battle tactics set, though manual control is the default (I go into slightly more detail in Additional Info).

A battle in the DS version

In-battle, you can switch party members in and out at will with no delay, so long as the wagon is with you. Occasionally, you'll go into a dungeon where the wagon can't fit into, so you're stuck with whoever you take. However, you are still able to rearrange the order of your party members. The order is important, as like in The Final Fantasy Legend, determines who gets hit the most.

If you win the battle, you get gold, everyone present earns EXP, including those in the wagon (if it's with you). This is unshared EXP, so killing off or taking less party members won't help to get one member to higher levels. If you don't win? Not a game over, but a return to the last church visited with half your gold (similar to Pokémon). Note that if the wagon is present and all active party members die, whoever's alive in it (up to the first four) will leap out to continue to battle in the deceased members' stead.

Besides being DEAD, there exist other status ailments that may befall your party. Some are familiar enough despite their differences, such as SLEEP and CONFUSION. There are others not familiar to players of Pokémon only, such as DAZZLE, FIZZLE, and CURSE. For a more complete explanation, see the Additional Info section in my profile.

Stats are more traditional RPG fare compared to Pokémon or The Final Fantasy Legend. Instead of set uses for abilities, you have MP and costs for using the abilities instead. Strength, Agility, Resilience are all fairly familiar, and as you would expect. They're the counterparts for Attack, Speed, and Defense. Luck might be an unfamiliar one to those who haven't seen any other RPG besides Pokémon - it determines a variety of things, particularly the odds of a critical hit. Wisdom can increase your resistance to adverse effects. Attack and Defence are just the combination of weapon power and Strength, and armour resistance and Resilience, respectively.

Note that every character in the game not only has a level cap, but also a stat cap. The latter is important - once the cap on a stat is reached, it cannot naturally go higher (gains are semi-random after a level-up). Stat-raising seeds can push a character's stats above the limit, but they're rare and hard to come by. The level cap is less important, and has no corelation to the stat cap, but still should be made a note of all the same.

Now for something weird about these early Dragon Quest games - there is no such thing as a weakness, only a resistance. That's right, either a spell is fully effective, or it's not. Plain and simple. In turn, there is also no such thing as a magical defense stat, and, in fact, no such thing as a magical offense stat either (Wisdom may increase the potency of a Heal spell, though). Later games would change this oddity, but it's here in V. Of course, this does mean the plant guy you've been building up since you got it won't be deadweight once you step into a volcano, so it's not all that bad. Also note the eight "elements": Flame, Blizzard, Frizz, Sizz, Bang, Woosh, Crack, and Zap. Many of these are similar in nature (namely, Frizz/Sizz/Flame, and Blizzard/Crack), but it is entirely possible to have a resistance to one, and not the other.

And the battles themselves? It's pretty similar to The Final Fantasy Legend. You can encounter several enemies at once, and possibly groups of the same enemy (note that just because there are mulitple of the same enemy, it doesn't mean they all will be grouped together). When attacking a group, only one of the enemies will be targeted. It's usually the one with the lowest HP (like in FFL), but if a party member retargets after the enemy it was going to hit died, another one may be attacked. The whip-type weapons, as well as a selection of abilities, can attack all the enemies in a group at once. All enemies in all groups can be hit with certain abilities (such as the Bang series of spells), and boomerang weapons. The amount of enemies you can encounter is only limited by what will fit on the screen.

The Monsters

So here we are again. In the original version on the SNES, only a total of 41 different monsters could be used. This went up to 71 in the DS remake.

Now, one thing that has to be made clear here before we begin. The creator of Dragon Quest is a notorious gambler. So he loves putting elements of luck in the games. Metal Slimes/Metalys are a good example - they give a lot of experience, but they run at the drop of a hat. Why is this important? Well, it has to do with how you recruit the monsters, see.

In order to goad a monster into joining your party, there are three requirements. First, the main character needs to be at a high enough level. Only his level matters, not of your other monsters, not of his friends, not of his Daughter, and not the rest of his stats/status - he can be out of the active party, or even dead. In DQ6, you need a Beastmaster, and the level of him/her matters. Second, you need to kill the monster you want to recruit last in the fight. Only the final recruitable monster killed has a chance at joining you (meaning unrecruitable monsters won't factor in). And need to be lucky. Really, really lucky.

See, every monster has odds on successfully recruiting it. It's vaguely comparable to a Catch Rate in Pokémon. Some of them are low enough so that you can get them within a few battles. Others have ridiculously high odds that will scare off even the most saintly patient. There is no way to increase your chance of getting a monster. But there is a way to decrease it - successfully recruiting a monster will make it harder to recruit more of its species (though a select few increase slightly for the third). You can recruit up to three of a species of monster, after which it will be considered unrecruitable. In order to recruit another, you must release one of the ones you have. If the check succeeds, the monster will get up after the battle, and you'll be asked if you want to accept it into your party. Say yes and it joins, say no and it "sidles away looking rather hurt." You get a few freebies here and there, as well.

Conceptual art of the Great Sabrecub

So once you have the monster, you can use it like any other party member. You can only have up to 8 members in your party at once though, and thus, additional monsters are kept with Monty the Monster Monitor (humans go with Patty the Party Planner). Any monsters with Monty do not gain EXP after battle. In battle, your monsters are not guaranteed to listen to your commands until their Wisdom stat hits at least 20.

Your monsters also all have names, sort of like Pokémon's nicknames, but mandatory. There is no initial freedom of naming - each species of monster has four different names, used in order. The first you catch is given the first name, the next the second, and so on until it loops back at the fourth (skipping those in use). You can change a monster's name to whatever you like via Monty. Initial names also determine the sex of your monsters. Female names equal a she, and male names make for a he. Do note that in Dragon Quest V, monster gender is a complete non-factor in the grand scheme of things, and that while it does change the pronoun in certain lines (he/she), monsters are always shown as their sex being ??? in the menu.

The Jailcat monster is a good example of this, due to its Party Chat text in a town using the pronoun. Its possible names, in order, are Jayla (female), Philch (male), Purrloin (male - and yes, Purrloin), and Tealeaf (male). The first Jailcat you catch will be named Jayla, and if you use Party Chat in a town while it's in your party, you'll be told "Jayla is washing her face." If you catch another Jailcat (regardless of whether you keep Jayla, rename, or release her), it'll be called Philch. Use Party Chat in a town, and you'll be told "Philch is washing his face."

Party Chat? Certain Dragon Quest games have a neat little feature that lets you talk to your party members, getting their thoughts on various places, plotline events, NPC statements, and so on. It wasn't present in the international release of IV's remake, but made its return in the remake of V. Monsters can be spoken to as well, but they generally only have 1-2 lines: potentially one for towns and other "safe" places, and one for everywhere else. The intelligence of these lines varies - it isn't quite like FFL where most monsters seem capable of talking, but it's not like Pokémon where most monsters seem only capable of saying their own name, either. Most monsters (especially humanoids) can talk in some fashion, however.

The only annoying thing about this is how if you have humans in your wagon, the game will force your monsters out of your active party in favor of the humans whenever you enter a town. This makes taking note of some of their quotes a bit of a pain.

So what about the monsters themselves? Well, you get a variety of old DQ favorites, such as various Slimes, the Dracky, a couple of Rockbomb types, dragons, and so on. You also get some newer monsters, or some obscure throwbacks, like the killer robots, yetis, and even the Great Sabrecat is such a monster (it appeared in Dragon Warrior 2). It seems really random at times, however. Like, there's the ferret monsters who fart, but you can't recruit any of them. However, you can recruit not one, but two types of demonic apple. What specifically should you be looking for? Well, I put that in the Additional Info section in my user profile.

The Rewards

I don't believe there is any reward for catching all the monsters, except the small army that results from having them all. One thing here - different monsters appear across the Generations, but none of the recruitable ones are exclusive to the second generation, so if you don't care about the bestiary (known as the Big Book of Beasts in this), it's nothing to worry about.

And are the monsters worth it? Some are, yes. In fact, they will make up your party for a large majority of the second generation. Getting by without is possible, but only barely. And it's not really a challenge in the vein of say, No Materia in Final Fantasy VII, or monotype in any Pokémon game, as in the third generation, you get a number of humans to fill those spaces - though will still have two empty slots without monsters. Interestingly, they are just as optional as the monsters, so if you like your monsters over some of the humans, send the latter over to Patty.

The Summary

So what have we learned today? What does this game have in common with Pokémon, as well as any other monster-training games we've looked at so far?

  • Dying isn't a game over, but a loss of half your money and a return trip to a safe spot
  • Differing rates of leveling up with some consistency
  • Recruitment rates = Catch rates (kinda)
  • The slots; they're fairly similar in nature (see Additional Info)

And what about with other monster training games?

  • The order of your party members determines who gets attacked, like in FFL
  • Groups of enemies and the weakest is usually targeted, like in FFL

So there you have it.

"System Error" joined the Bulbagarden Forums in October of 2007. He has since come to believe it to be the superioriest message board about Pokémon, because you have the freedom to say tasteful words like ****, ****, and *****p*****, as well as actually link to something (even the site itself) without it being pegged as advertising.

COMING UP NEXT: We've seen meat, and we've seen randomness. Now we'll see meat and randomness!

Compare & Contrast
By System Error
The Final Fantasy LegendDragon Quest VDragon Quest Monsters