Dragon Quest IX : Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Posted 2 years ago By kingquagmire - David Collins
For me, Dragon Quest is sort of like Final Fantasy’s tag team partner. Both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest - then known as Dragon Warrior - were the first real RPG franchises to get me hooked on the genre. While both have had a storied past and each have gone their own separate directions, they also both hold a special place in my heart. We are now on Dragon Quest’s ninth entry in the franchise (not counting the many spin-offs), and don’t let the fact that it’s sitting on Nintendo’s handheld fool you, Dragon Quest still has the RPG chops to hang with any of the big boys, including the likes of Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
I dare say this is by far the biggest handheld game I’ve ever played, bare none. For many, the story is just a jumping point. The player starts out as an angel of sorts, a Celestrian who guards over the mortal realms in hops of gaining enough benevolence to eventually be allowed entry into God’s Land. The mortals all have varying degrees of faith and the Celestrians can increase their level of faith by offering different forms of assistance, be it fending off monsters or finding a lost item. Completing these good deeds results in benevolence. The religious focus was initially a little oft putting as it just felt out of place when compared to my stereotyped expectations. I didn’t have to wait long for all that to change though, since a mysterious attack on the Celestrians left them scattered about the mortal realm with none of their ethereal abilities and no idea what happened or how to fix it.
And thus begins your journey as one of these fallen Celestrians in an attempt to make things right. As with any good RPG, things aren’t quite as cut and dry as they may seem. I won’t spoil anything here, but let me just say that there is a lot more to this tale than the ambiguous synopses I just provided. The main story alone will span roughly 50+ hours with tons of quests to ferret out, creatures to battle, and good deeds that need to be done. Don’t plan to fly through it either because as soon as the Prologue ends, the difficulty ramps up quite a bit. Level grinding will be required.
Don’t fret though, there are literally hundreds of side quests to be found that will make the level grind roll very smoothly. This is compounded by the wireless access the game enjoys. From it’s canvassing tag mode (which allows you to pick up items and dungeons just from being physically near other DQ IX players) to the Nintento Wi-Fi connection that has a massive, constantly changing selection of things to add to your game, you’ll never really find yourself scouting open fields, fighting everything you come across just to gain some exp. That’s the beauty of DQ IX. There is always something to do. You’ll always have a goal for your actions and will rarely be found just wandering around for the sake of the level grind. Although, I did have one nagging complaint. Story quests can be multi-threaded and figuring out where to go and what to do isn’t always apparent. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is a bit of a hindrance at times.
The character creation system has been fleshed out a bit more this time around, allowing you to customize your party’s hair style, skin tone, height, and more along with their job or vocation. A total of six vocations are available (Warrior, Mage, Priest, Martial Artist, Thief and Minstrel), but as the game progresses, six additional classes open up along with additional skills and abilities by way of vocational sub-quests.
The writing and dialog is just as solid as it’s always been, even though it still has that melodramatic touch that JRPGs are notorious for. There’s no spoken dialog, but the soundtrack does a find job of setting the mood, predictably shifting as the player enters battle situations and along with tonal changes during dramatic moments. Visually, it’s probably the best looking entry to date. The usage of 3D looks great and fits well, yet classic fans will still see hints of the old school Dragon Warrior/Quest titles here and there. Although this is a new game, the feelings of nostalgia permeated throughout my entire experience, yet I would be hard pressed to be able to cite specific examples as to why. That fact alone said scores about the fine lines that Level 5 and Square Enix have been walking with this game, being able to create a fresh and new experience and still retain the vibe that has made the franchise so popular all these years.
None of this takes into account the new local 4-player co-op, which when combined with the massive amount of sub-quests and the much-welcomed customization options, provides a more Western feel to what has traditionally been a heavily Eastern-minded franchise. Dragon Quest is one of the most popular franchises ever in Japan, yet has not hit anywhere close to the same level here in North America. This iteration could very well change that as it not only makes it more accessible to Western audiences in general, but provides an welcoming experience for new fans while not alienating the long-time fans (such as myself). Whether you are a die-hard RPGer or a casual player, Dragon Quest IX is by far the best the genre has to offer in handheld form and will give it’s console associates a run for their money.
Classic RPG titles have come to be a dime a dozen over the years but one franchise that has never fully permeated western shores and pocketbooks till recently is the Dragon Quest series (formerly Dragon Warrior in the west). DQ has had a recent flood of past remakes on the DS and with the portable’s popularity being quite formidable world wide it makes perfect sense that Square Enix would want this mammoth sequel on one of the most bought systems in any market. But on the DS? How can you fit the sequel to an 100+ hour RPG onto a little tiny DS cartridge?
The best way to answer that question is to look at the game after the main story has been completed. At this point most players will have played a good 50-60 hours, will have dabbled in the very addictive crafting style "alchemy" elements and completed a good handful of side quests and other musings that serve as excellent distractions but are equally as fun.
As far as most other games would progress, once the final boss has been dispatched and the "end game" has been reached or achieved there might be some extra side missions that you can clean up or maybe secrets to find but it usually doesn’t amount to much more than that. Well take a very deep breath, cause you’re going to need it. Dragon Quest IX is truly one of the biggest and in-depth classic RPG’s to be played to date.
It is a true marvel that Square Enix and Level-5 were able to put so much on that little cart and also room for post game content in the form of randomly generated dungeons called "grottos" that can only be obtained, experienced and beaten when playing multiplayer with friends and the regularly updated DQVC which utilizes the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to download an item shop list that changes daily with rare items, new side quests, some of which continue the main plot and special guests from previous DQ games that come to visit the main hotel in the game world, bringing special items along with them.
When playing through the post game content it is highly advised that you have others to play with as multiplayer gives better rewards and players are more powerful when connected in one person’s game world. This can be tough on those who enjoy the solo experience and don’t have others to play with. Once you try the multiplayer though, It’s hard to not want tackle the dungeons so you can get that loot you needed to make that last piece of great looking armor or craft that awesome sword that seemed almost unobtainable. Oh, and by the way the customization borders on incredible. You can change classes any time you wish and outfit your character with a dizzying amount of looks with every piece of Akira Toriyama art showing on your character.
Seriously, the only off putting experience I have had is the need to repeat the same grotto with all your friends up to four times if you all wish to have it listed as completed in everyone’s games (as only the host can show it as completed). And even then, that is a slight love/hate situation as the rewards can be quite nice with subsequent play-throughs. If the Japanese launch from last year is any indication, there is a full year of downloadable content to look forward to and maybe even a few surprises along the way. With all that said, I am quite confident to say that Dragon Quest 9 is most likely my portable game of year. Hell, it might even be my RPG of the year with only BioWare’s Mass Effect 2 giving it a run for it’s money!
+ Much improved customization options over previous entries
+ Most Westernized version of the franchise yet
+ Very accessible
+ Gorgeous visuals
+ Tons of DLC via WiFi or Tag Mode
- Co-op is local only
- Multiple quest threads are not easily followed
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Release Date : 2010/07/11
System : Nintendo DS
Publisher : Square Enix
Developer : Level-5
Category : Role Playing Game
ESRB : E10+
7.0 / 10
8.5 / 10
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8.7 / 10