Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky (DS)

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Dragon Quest, the brain-meltingly popular RPG series from Japan, where it’s so popular, Square-Enix are forced to release games on Saturdays as workers will otherwise pull a sickie to get the day off to play it. Although the Dragon Quest series isn’t quite so popular over here in the Western World, it does hold its own fairly well against the other RPG giants, with its quirky sense of humour and tradition.

Dragon Quest IX is the first Dragon Quest game which was developed solely for a handheld, and was made with the Nintendo DS’s Wi-Fi and local multiplayer in mind.

Story

6/10

For a series which usually does well on the plot front… ARGH THIS GAME .You start off as an angel serving ‘God’ by carrying out good deeds, but uhh, stuff happens and you get chucked out of heaven. This game then becomes one continuous fetch quest. There are a couple of twists which I didn’t see coming in the plot, but on the whole, it’s fairly tedious.

Sound

6/10

Although a lot of the music will be familiar to veterans of the Dragon Quest series, newer players may find that the music in this game isn’t that catchy, and won’t stay with them for long after playing the game. Sound effects in this game are fairly uninspiring on the whole, but you will smile the first time you hear a monster trying to entice your party into dancing.

Graphics

10/10

The graphics in this game, the 3d models in particular, are pretty impressive for a DS game. The level of detail in the backgrounds and in dungeons is amazing. The graphics themselves use the quirky cartoon style which is common to the Dragon Quest series, and many of the game’s designs will be familiar to fans of the series, or anyone who watches Dragon Ball Z. one thing which makes the graphics stand out in this game is how you can customise each individual player character, and they will all look unique depending on the equipment you give them.

Cut scenes in this game also look damn good, I just wish there were more of them.

Multiplayer Options

10/10

This was a game built for multiplayer, and it does it well. Any handheld RPG which looks to include multiplayer should look to this game for its inspiration. Multiplayer in this game just works so well and seamlessly, with players dropping in and out of game worlds, whether it’s over Wi-Fi or the local Co-Operative gameplay, to taking on quests which you have yet to unlock in your game, to tagging with another player to gain new items and level up your party with some help from a stronger team. Multiplayer in this game is virtually a whole separate game in its own right.

Challenge

10/10

The main game will not challenge you. Which is a shame, but also quite typical for the Dragon Quest series. Oh no. The challenge this game has comes from the grottoes, dungeons which are unlock once you’ve beaten the main game and get progressively harder, which bosses from previous Dragon Quest games revisited. And they are brutal.

Gameplay

10/10

If you’ve ever played a Dragon Quest game, you pretty much know what to expect, game play wise, as the series has several time honoured roots and traditions. You’ll start off by creating a custom hero, using several pre-designed options. The game itself uses a job system much like Dragon Quest III, and combines that with the skill point system from Dragon Quest VIII. Once you get into the game a bit, you’ll come to a town where you can recruit several generic human adventurers into your party, and you’ll get to pick their job as well as customize their look too. You’ll than begin the process of traveling to different towns, solving their personal problems, and looking for a way to ascend back into the heavens.

When you level up, you’ll always gain different stats, which will change depending on what job you are at the time. Of course “warrior” is going to get more strength than a “priest”! But every so often upon levelling up you’ll also gain skill points, which you can use to upgrade one of your job’s five skills, and at certain skill levels you’ll gain new abilities. Further into the game, you will be able to change jobs, meaning you can gain skills and stat increases from several different jobs, leading to a certain amount of customization. Oh, and you will start each job at level one, as they combine your level and what job you are together. Game play is pretty standard RPG fare, the only thing you can do besides the basics is that sometimes you’ll get the option to do a “coup-de’grace” attack, which is a special attack based on what job you are. They are kind-of like random limit breaks.

Each job has limitations on what they can equip, so you’ll have to keep that in mind when you change jobs and pick which weapons you want your characters to become proficient with. In total, there’re six different jobs you can start as, and an additional six that you need to complete quests to access. I will say, though, that one of the “advanced” jobs you can only get in a dungeon right before you complete the game, while another is only available after you beat the game, so let’s just say that you’ll get to customize through ten different jobs. Oh, and also there are no random battles in Dragon Quest IX. Instead, you’ll see the enemies drop out of the sky as you walk around, and can basically choose if you want to fight them or not. And that does include metal slimes! Of course, sometimes you’re forced to fight, since an enemy might see you and catch you (if they are faster than you), or you might need to get through some narrow corridor that some random fat enemy is blocking. One notable exception is that when you’re travelling in the ship, you will get into random encounters.

Overall, the game keeps many outdated but time honoured traditions, although you can tell the developers tried to make these things easier to swallow for new comers. You can only save in a church (although they do have a more modernized “quick save” feature). You can’t tell how much more experience you need to level up (although your priest can do it with a little training). And of course, sound effects and certain tunes will always be present in the series. The amount of customization in the game, especially with equipment, is staggering. Every piece of equipment you can equip is on your character with the exception of accessories, which is impressive. Levelling skills is pretty slow, since you don’t get skill points every level. I beat the game with one skill maxed on each character and one skill about half-way on each character, along with several skills that only had a handful of skill points in them. And I did skill grind on some metal slimes for more than a few hours. The alchemy pot also makes a return from Dragon Quest VIII, and you’ll need to use old equipment and items found on the world map to make new items. There are also dozens and dozens of quests to find and complete throughout the world, which is also impressive and adds a lot to the game’s playability. The game isn’t about instant gratification, and definitely rewards the patient gamer.

ReplayValue

4/10

Why would you replay this game after you’ve plonked several hundred hours into completely everything?

Overall

Story: 6

Sound: 6

Graphics: 10

Multiplayer: 10

Challenge: 10

Gameplay: 10

Replay Value: 4

 

Overall: 8/10

A must have for any fan of RPGs on the handheld or anyone who wants to lose several hundred hours of their life.

 

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