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Dragon Quest V
Developer: Armor Project/Chunsoft/Enix
Publisher: Enix (1992, SNES)
As of this writing, there are eight installments in Enix's Dragon Quest series, all of which are notable to some extent. While most longtime Final Fantasy fans can probably agree that FFVI (or FFVII, depending on who you talk to) was the standout of the series, the line grows much blurrier with the Dragon Quest games.
This may seem a bit strange to those outside the DQ fan circle. The series has prided itself on its consistency in every aspect from its game world to its character designs to its soundtrack to its battle system, yet each of them remains distinctive to those that know and love them.
Dragon Quest III is heralded by Japanese gamers as one of the best titles on the Famicom for its then-epic plot and customizable characters, while others prefer Dragon Quest IV for its chapter-based storytelling and memorable cast of characters.
Most English fans may more fondly remember 2005's Dragon Quest VIII, which finally gave into modern influence by featuring luscious cel-shaded graphics, a cinematic battle system, and, for the American release, splendidly charming voice acting.
Yet amongst the entire series, one of the most significant is the Japan-only Dragon Quest V. Coming of age is a common theme in JRPGs, yet never has it been executed so magnificently as Dragon Quest V. Your hero starts as a young child, barely unable to fight a pack of slimes on his own without his father's help, and goes on crazy adventures before even learning to read.
By the end of the game, he's lived through a slave labor camp, explored the world, fallen in love, raised a family, and entered into another evil dimension, for the sake of not only saving the world, but growing up. Effectively, it's the RPG equivalent of an epic, detailing the story the story of three generations of heroes. Sega's Phantasy Star III for the Genesis tried something similar around the same time, but Dragon Quest V is a much more personal story, and also happens to be a far stronger game overall.
Although the game ditches the class system introduced in DQIII (later reused for both DQVI and DQVII), it allows you to build a party consisting of defeated monsters. Although it's a bit haphazard trying to draft foes on to your team, it's a lot more customizable than most RPGs when you have dozens of playable party members at your disposal.
It's essentially the same mechanic used in the Megami Tensei series, although it doesn't require that you memorize huge charts of enemy abilities to succeed.
Far too many games (including Dragon Quest's own spinoff, the Monsters line, as well as Nintendo's Pokémon series) focus on the monster collection as the primary game mechanic. On the other hand, all subsequent Dragon Quest games have utilized some similar method of drafting enemy monsters, but they're largely afterthoughts to other character customization systems.
In Dragon Quest V, it's so seamlessly integrated into the main system, without becoming overwhelming, that it's a textbook example of how to do the monster collection thing right.