Dragon Quest IX has kept its fans waiting for quite some time. After the success of Dragon Quest VIII on the PS2, fans eagerly awaited news of the series’ next instalment for years. Square Enix had released a bombshell and shocked many diehard fans with news that the game would not be developed for a next generation console as expected, but for Nintendo’s handheld device. Reactions were fairly mixed with some fans crying foul while others had decided to reserve judgement. Dragon Quest IX has finally arrived on North American shores as Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies.
The story begins with your role as an angelic character, known as a Celestrian. You are a new guardian who oversees Angel Falls, a village assigned to you, as you show much promise and potential as a Celestrian. After saving two humans from evil creatures, you receive essence or benevolessence which you present to Yggdrasil, the Godly Tree as part of your duties. As you continually fulfill you duties, you acquire more fygg fruit that grants you access to the Starlight Express. Everything goes awry as the humans, known as the Protectorate are attacked and the impact so deadly that you are knocked unconscious while losing all your Celestrian powers. After you wake, you receive help from Stella, the train driver who agrees to help you if you can prove you were once truly a Celestrian.
At the start of the game, you tailor the lead character to your liking by selecting eyes, hairstyle, costume and giving the hero or heroine a name. Your appearance is always changing depending on the weapons or equipment you own that is easily swapped via a menu screen using the stylus or standard controls. There are 8 categories of equipment with types ranging from swords, staves, and claws to wands, knives, hammers and whips. Though you start the game as a minstrel, more classes will be unlocked and available to your hero or heroine as you progress through the game.
Dragon Quest IX continues the series’ staple of turn-based combat on the battlefield. You can issue commands to each party member or assign individual tactics to have them act on their own. Enemies are visible and can be attacked and surprised upon contact on screen. You can also use combos to build multipliers against powerful enemies by strategically attacking a single enemy. Each situation varies with you having the option to examine your enemies for opponents or to flee if you’re hopelessly overpowered. Much like its predecessor, you receive skill points which can be allotted to separate skill point values that later provide you with bonuses and enhancements. As the game is far from linear, there are tons of side quests that can easily double the hours you spend learning about the world and all of its inhabitants.
The newest feature is the multiplayer mode. This is found by talking to a character named Pavo in the Quester’s Rest that allows three other friends to join your party and game. If you accept an invite from a friend, you enter strictly as a guest. Each party member can go their separate ways; with the host send a message for everyone to regroup, if he or she needs help. The catch is that you can’t pass off equipment or battle spoils to your friends. For the bold and the adventurous, you can connect to DQVC, the online shopping store where you can find bargains for items as well as special quests.
Dragon Quest IX is a simple but fun game to play even after hundreds of battle encounters. Where other RPGs struggle to balance combat frequency and quests, the game keeps you engaged as you’re constantly striving for the next bonus or upgrade. With a variety of equipment at your disposal, you can play the game differently each time and the alchemy pot which allows you to mix items and accessories together is great for creativity and experimentation. Recipes can be found in bookshelves throughout the entire game to help players mix the right items. The biggest disappointment is that there is only one save slot for the game.
Visually, the game sports beautiful environments and character models. Though there are a couple of rough edges, the game is still a well polished game. The soundtrack, composed by Koichi Sugiyama, is reminiscent of past Dragon Quest games and is a fitting compliment to the game.
Dragon Quest IX is a game that exceeded my expectations. Being a huge fan of Dragon Quest VIII, I had doubts whether or not Square Enix could deliver an epic experience for their next Dragon Quest game on the DS. Those fears were put to rest as I found myself immersed in the game’s intuitive gameplay and whimsical charm. If you’re able to put aside any possible reservations, you’ll find that Dragon Quest IX is a great RPG to sink your teeth into this summer.