Dragon Quest is one of the most well known Japanese RPG’s in gaming. It has been around for a very long time, and every iteration seems to become more and more of an addiction, not just to the Japanese population but also the United States. It was odd when Square Enix decided to release the brand new iteration: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies exclusively for the Nintendo DS. They have ported some of the old games in the series on this platform before, but have not released one that was made from the ground up. Well, it has finally been released, and this traditional JRPG does not disappoint.
The story starts off with you being a Celestial angel, doing work for the immortal God in order to make life peaceful for the small town of Angel Falls. You are under the apprenticeship of a higher up angel in the order, and it is almost time for you to finally go out on your own without being under his constant supervision. It is an important time for the angels as the Immortal tree, Yggdrasil, is finally ready to bear fruit, which will signify the rein of angels will be over and everyone will ascend to heaven. When he finally bears this fruit, something catastrophic happens, and you are sent down to Angel Falls without a halo or wings. You have been turned human. Eventually, you are caught up in a convoluted yet very interesting plot going across all continents to find out what happened and why you have been sent to the human world.
The story is a very well told tale, always pushing you forward, and keeping you interested and engaged, eager to find out what happens next. The story is mostly told through dialogue, with a few actual cutscenes thrown in there at pivotal points in the story. The only downside that I have found, which really isn’t that major, is because of the fact that this game is focused on multiplayer (which I will get into shortly) there really isn’t a personality to the characters in your party. None of them ever speak, and they only have their certain role in battle. The other non player characters of the story are interesting and well designed, which helps alleviate some of these concerns, but you are not going to be controlling a character that you will fully connect with on any other level than you can fully customize them down to the hair eyes, name etc. As a whole, the story is top notch though, and really is the meat of this game.
Aside from just the story, the battle system is about as simple as you can get. You only have a few different actions that you can utilize in battle, which are attack, spell, ability and item. Each of these varies depending on the character class that you choose. There are a variety of character classes. The main character is a Minstrel; you have no control over this. However, I chose to have a Mage, Warrior, and a Martial Artist for the other vocations of the members in my party.
There are six vocations in total. I was able to choose the other members of my party from the first town, as you are able to “call up” people to follow you into battle. Again, you can customize all aspects of your party, and they still don’t have any unique personality, just attributes, spell, and ability types. The difficulty of the battle system does ramp up quickly, and you need to grind and be smart about your parties’ equipment and job choices to get through the single player. The battle system is well done, while not getting too boring or overdone.
Other aspects of the gameplay have certainly changed since the last iteration. Instead of the random battle of past games in the series, you are now able to see enemies on the map before you can attack them, giving you a leg up to determine if you want to jump into battle or not. To me, this is a welcome design choice, as I feel that random battles can be very annoying and can artificially lengthen gameplay.
The other huge new element of the gameplay is the addition of multiplayer. As I have stated earlier, this is primarily a multiplayer game. You are constantly being encouraged to go on quests with friends, or go to their world to help them with quests. This is very cool feature; the only downside is that you must be in a very open Wi-Fi spot to pull it off successfully. The game also features a Tag Mode, which allows you to swap data with other players in exchange for new dungeons and areas to explore. On top of that, you can also download new maps from Nintendo every so often through a Wi-Fi connection. The multiplayer features of Dragon Quest IX really take it above and beyond its predecessors, and make it a truly unique experience.
Graphically, I have to say that Dragon Quest IX is easily one of the best looking DS games out there. The game is downright gorgeous, with expansive landscapes and quaint little towns that are hidden from the rest of the world. It really does look like they have taken a last generation PS2 game and downsized it to the DS. The amount of art assets is astounding as well, as with every item that you equip to your character, the look of them changes depending on what you have on them, and this makes the customization aspect of the game come alive even more. The music is also orchestrated very well, and is very catchy, getting stuck in your head, while at the same time never getting old. This game certainly is in the upper echelon in terms of presentation.
Overall, if you own a DS and have ever played or are interested in a JRPG, you need to own this game. This is definitely one of the best role playing games I have played, and it still amazes me that it is on a handheld console. The amount of hours you can spend on this game is incredible, and you will still want to keep playing it well after you finish the main story. Square Enix and Level 5 have outdone themselves, and crafted an amazing RPG that will go down in the history books.