There is a strong chance that any gamer who has played an RPG has played, or at least heard of, Dragon Quest — especially in Japan. The series is likely one of the most canonical JRPGs in the industry;and with longevity spanning nearly fifteen years, only Final Fantasy is more successful. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies just released on Sunday; will it advance the series’s reputation as the grandfather of the RPG genre?
Dragon Quest IX plays like a standard turn-based RPG. By using either the stylus or the d-pad and buttons, you move around and interact with the world around you, and you navigate menus the same way. In previous Dragon Quest games, monsters randomly engaged your party in combat any time you were outside of a town. Now, you are able to see monsters on the map when you’re out and about, so you can potentially avoid battles if you so desire. Once you are in combat mode, you can issue orders to all four of your party members, or choose from one of the five tactical patterns the game’s A.I. can use. The tactical assignments are effective against regular monsters, but when battling bosses things seem to go more smoothly if you are commanding the entire party. Overall, there is nothing to the combat that is outside the typical fare for this genre of game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that RPG veterans will feel right at home and the game will have a shallow learning curve for newcomers.
The level of customization players can implement in Dragon Quest IX is deep and rivals that of some console RPGs. Players get to design the main hero from the game before they even begin playing. You get to use a rudimentary character creation tool to select their gender, body type, face, hair, and clothing of the game’s protagonist. When you equip a piece of armor, clothing, or a weapon, not only do you get the stat boosts from the piece of gear, but the appearance of your character in the game reflects these changes which is something almost never seen in a DS game. Once you reach a certain point in the game, you can make the same decisions for additional characters to add to your party. There is a drawback to creating your own party members: they are flat and lifeless, completely devoid of any personality. There isn’t a back story for anyone but the hero, and this limits the amount of emotional attachment players can form with these additional party members. Character customization also includes modifying each playable character’s job (jobs are like a character’s class), which can be done at any point once a certain amount of the main story has been played through. This change of vocation affects the skills, spells, abilities, and equipment that each character has access to. Mastering each class and finding the best gear for each character is sure to add a ton of replay value.
Along with these customizable aspects of the game, Square Enix has added some social features to Dragon Quest IX. Up to four players can quest together via a local wireless connection. While roaming around in the host player’s world, you can break off from the group and go solo for a while, but a guest player’s efforts will not advance the story in the host’s game. Players can be instantly warped to a battle in-progress by the host and seamlessly join the fray. Unfortunately there is no WiFi multiplayer, but there is the option to download extra quests and visit a special shop online. There is also a new “Tag Mode”, which allows information and special treasure maps to be transmitted to other players when they are within range of each other. These features make it clear that the development team wanted people to get the most bang for their bucks spent on the game.
Musically, Dragon Quest IX is somewhat of a disappointment. The themes heard when roaming around in dungeons, towns, or the overworld are underwhelming and get used over and over again. The battle sound effects are incredibly outdated, and seem like they may have been lifted straight out of a much older entry in the series. Visually, the game is mediocre. Battle scenes look great, the models for all combatants are cute, and the combination of traditional 3D graphics with cell shading is executed well. Unfortunately, backgrounds are pretty bland, and at times there is a noticeable lag in the game’s frame rate when in towns or while in a section of the map with several monsters. It is strange and unexpected to see a flaw of this caliber from Square Enix, but it in no way detracts from the game’s playability.
A gameplay trailer for Dragon Quest IX.
At times, it seems like the developers followed a recipe in a “Standard RPG Cookbook” when they were making Dragon Quest IX. There are a several cups of rock-solid combat, copious amounts of customization, and a few dashes of very fresh, social features. This is all garnished with some bland music and some flavorless graphics, but it is always easy to enjoy a dish and disregard the garnish. Together, these ingredients meld into a tasty game that even the pickiest of players will find palatable and will be able to feast on for a surprising amount of hours.
|Familiar battle system and interface makes the game accessible to most players, loads of side quests and DLC will create endless hours of play, new social features add an interesting new facet to this genre||Game mechanics may seem stale to some, party members are lifeless, boring music and some graphical issues|
|Verdict||Dragon Quest IX would be a great game for any fan of the series or anyone looking to try out a turn-based RPG for the first time.|