As I said at the end of the last post, this is the best game I've played so far in this blog. In a way I'm a little disappointed that in the first 11 games, the best one (with no question at all) is a well-known game that I would have expected to be good.
Story/Characters: The main character is the usual silent protagonist, but this really works well at certain points of the story where you can project your own reactions to the events onto the character. The other characters on the whole are not all that detailed.
The story is better than the characters, I think. It goes basically through three phases -- starting with your character as an 8 year old child and going all the way up to his own children. Although ultimately the story is your standard "beat the evil demon" plot that Dragon Quest usually has, there are a lot of surprises throughout the story and some pretty dark stuff.
This is supposedly the second game in the "Heavenly castle" trilogy of DQ4-6 but unlike DQ1-3, there are no actual plot connections, just similar elements.
World: This category is always tough to write; maybe I need to redesign the review part. DQV is similar to previous DQs in that the world is basically a generic fantasy world. There's really no attempt to build up a consistent, memorable world -- which is fine, I guess.
Game Flow: The variety in the dungeons is what really keeps this game going. As is often true in DQ games, the encounter rate is a bit high, but fortunately most battles go quickly. The only sticking point I found was the end of the game, where the final boss is a pretty large leap in difficulty and requires some grinding.
The fact that you can die and keep your progress (but lose half your gold) also makes the game a lot smoother because you don't have to worry that venturing into a dungeon and failing will wipe away an hour or two of progress. It's too bad more games didn't do this. Money is useful right up to the end of the game (I never had enough to buy the best stuff for everyone), so losing half your money is a significant penalty. You can store it in a bank, though, before you go.
I only had to consult a walkthrough a few times.
System: If you've played any other Dragon Quests you'll be at home here. It's the same basic turn-based "attack, magic, defend, item" system as usual.
Most of the good spellcasters can also attack fairly effectively too, and there are a lot of items that can use spells for free. It's also not as important as in some other games to hoard MP for a boss fight.
Monster recruiting is the big new system here, but it's a little rough. The biggest problem I had is that there's no way (absent a walkthrough) to determine which monsters you can recruit. Since you have to be stronger than them to recruit them, this means if you're not grinding a lot as you play, to get additional monsters you would have to revisit old dungeons on the chance that a monster there might be recruitable. Fortunately, the monsters can level up and use equipment, so even monsters you get very early in the game (e.g. Slime Knight) can be useful right up to the end.
I do wish they had allowed 4 characters in the fight, though. Having only 3 makes it hard to use the monsters to their full effect, especially in the last third of the game when you have three good human characters.
There is an inventory limit but it's quite reasonable, and I never felt pinched for space.
Side Quests/Optional Content: There's a bonus dungeon! I believe this to be the first console RPG that does this, but I'm not sure. It unlocks on beating the game. It's small and doesn't really offer that much, but it's nice to see this RPG staple finally making its presence known.
Interface:A lot more polished than other games from this period. You have the one-button interface to do common stuff. You can see power of weapons and armor before you buy it, and it shows you a list of all the characters and what effect the item will have on their stats. You also get to see when you trade an item what change it will make to the character's stats.
Graphics/Sound: If you've played other DQ games you know what to expect. Toriyama's monster design and Yujii Hori's music are the same quality as usual, so if you like them you'll like this. The monsters are a lot more memorable and less generic than Villgust, Light Fantasy, or even Heracles III. The monster still don't have animation (we have to wait until VI for that). The SFX are the same classic ones they've been using since DQ1.