Review by DrunkenMasta36
"The Quest for a great RPG"
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Over in the U.S., when you think of J-RPG's, the first thing that comes to mind is probably going to be Final Fantasy. And why not? It has gotten huge in the U.S., with much acclaim and fanfare. Dragon Quest is like that in Japan, only bigger. Whenever a new Dragon Quest game comes out, it's pretty much an event over there. At one point, the West was not even going to see Dragon Quest IX without importing it. But Square-Enix decided to let the West get a piece of the pie that is DQIX. And damn, does it taste good.
With already 4 Dragon Quest games previously released on the DS in the U.S., this is the first entry in the series that is not a remake or a spin-off project on the handheld. It is also probably the biggest DQ game to date, in terms of content. The game itself is massive, and will probably have your DS seeing the red blinking light more than any other DS game to date. This game could easily see the average player pumping in over 100 hours, when you couple the huge main game, with the massive post game and all of its content.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies starts off with you creating your hero, of which you can choose a male or female, customizing the hero in appearance. You are than shown to be a celestrian, which pretty much is this game world's version of an angel. Your mission is to guard a small village and gain benevolessence. You will find this game a huge play on words throughout, including a ton of puns, so pay close attention to everything you read! Anyway, without spoiling to much of the story, your hero is basically stripped of his or her powers as a celestrian when the hero falls to earth in an earth shattering event, and he or she must make her way back home with the help of new friends and strangers along the way. And this folks, is what I like to call the tip of a massive iceberg. Each town or area you encounter has its own little story, which is mostly set up to be pretty grim, and its up to you to make things right. I like to think of these stories as bite sized chapters in a massive game. You'll be doing everything from searching for a princess to uncovering sinister plots and more al in the course of these vignettes. I have to admit at first the flow of these stories was a little irritating considering the main plot was always left on the back burner, but they eventually grew on me, and became enjoyable. Most of the enjoyment from these stories comes from the townspeople themselves, and not the hero and his or her party however, as your party pretty much adds nothing to the story, with the exception of the hero.
DQIX plays like most DQ games of past, in terms of battle system. The old adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, works here. The battle system is still traditional old school. You have a party, you select commands, they party follows them through. You can choose to attack, heal, buff, defend, and more. You sometimes get the upper hand with crits, and these power ups called Coup De Graces, which have different effects depending on your class. A paladin's coup de grace will make them invincible, while a gladiator's will make him or her more powerful for the next round, and so on and so forth. Speaking of classes, you have 12 classes to choose from, starting with 6, and unlocking 6 more later in the game. You have your standard damage dealers like warrior and gladiators, your quick hitters like martial artists, your healers such as priests, casters like mages, and some classes that borrow multiple attributes, such as the paladin, who can be a healer, as well as a tank. You can carry over skills from one class to the other, so it makes switching classes very inviting. You could make a Sage, who is already adept in magic damage and heals, and make the sage an even more formidable foe by adding resilience and melee damage from other classes. With 12 classes to mix and match stats with, the possibilities are huge for making that seemingly perfect team. This in a sense has a con I found early on. It can make the main game a tad bit too easy when you have an overpowered party. And it Is easy to do this, when grinding is easy. It's easier to grind in DQIX as opposed to other DQ games, when this time enemy encounters are not random anymore. You can see your enemies on the game field before you choose to fight them. So you can pick and choose, based on experience, enemies that will give more experience points. And like in other DQ games, that would be the metal slime family. Well, the game does not force you to do this, but be as it may, it is tempting to scout these little silver baddies, and get that quick boost of leveling done. But play it however you want, that's the beauty of DQIX.
Aside from the battle system, you move about like you do in other DQ games, traversing towns, villages, castles, and dungeons alike, across a huge world. There is still the world map, and it is made easier to travel later in the game with new modes of transportation. With each new vehicle, you'll find new places to explore, introducing new objectives and items to loot, and even stronger enemies.
To keep things interesting outside of the main objectives, DQIX also has a questing system, which has over 100 different quests, which play out like typical quests. That meaning you have fetch quests, kill X amount of monsters type quests, and more. The nice thing is that quite a few of the quests actually offer a good deal of challenge. Some of the quests will require you to kill enemies in a certain fashion based around a specific move. Some of these also involve bosses, making it real hard. You can have up to 10 active quests at a time, and if you ever choose to abandon one, you can always go back and get it later to try again. Some of the quests are also repeatable.
DQIX also has a huge post game, with new quests, and areas, and even some more stuff to add to the main story. You can always keep things going with the treasure map system, and legacy bosses, which offer new dungeons, and bosses that range from easy to insane in terms of difficulty. But the spoils are definitely worth it.
One of the bigger and more addicting things aside from grottos, are of course the items and gear you obtain in this game. This makes the game seem a lot like an MMO, in a sense. You'll be searching every drawer, breaking every barrel, and revisiting every grotto in search of that new piece of gear, or that item to alchemize. Yes, the alchemy is back in this game. You can create new items with found recipes, or try your luck at making that hot new weapon of piece of armor.
The last thing I wanted to bring up on the gameplay bit is the online. And this is both a good and bad thing. I'll start with the bad first. The multiplayer. It's good in the sense that it exists in the game. You can invite people, or jump in others games, and help them in their journey. Visitors get to keep their gained experience, and even loot that they find, so it makes it tempting to find people to play with when they have that uber hard grotto with metal king slimes just to get that precious sought after experience. You can also trade maps in this sense with the tag mode. My problem with the multiplayer is that it is only local. There is no infrastructure mode for co-op. This will make it hard for certain people to find a steady stream of co-op gaming in this. It's not an issue of not having friends, its an issue of having friends that play this game. The other part of the online, is in fact infrastructure and allows you to go online with a wi-fi connection, and connect to get new content, including quests, and new items to purchase. These items rotate all the time, and offer items exclusive to online. New quests, and maps are also being given out periodically, as well as special guests from previous Dragon Quest titles, with which whom you can obtain gear from. Cor blimey!
Graphics & Sound
Dragon Quest IX is easily one of the better looking titles on the DS. It's by no means perfect, but it does indeed look really good. The series characters were created by Akira Toriyama, so its no wonder why they have a look that resembles the characters of Dragon Ball lore. And Dragon Quest IX is no different. You'll see that same spiky haired, big eyed, cute look on most of the characters throughout the game.
Ditching the full 360 rotating views of towns of DQIV and V on the DS, DQIX only lets you rotate the views partially. When on the world map, and dungeons the view is however fixed. It mixes a blend of 2D and 3D, where the world is 3D, but things such as trees, signs, and more are 2D sprite based. I also found it odd, but at the same time making sense that the characters are mixed in the same fashion. Your party is made up of 3D characters, but the NPCs are almost all 2D sprite based. The reason they made the party 3D I would imagine is because of the visual presentation of armor and weapons. Nearly every piece of armor, and every weapon actually changes the appearance of characters. You can go from a decked out armor clad beast of a warrior, wielding some terrifying weaponry, to some much more silly themed outfits like bikinis, slime stacks, and even a French maid outfit. There are over 1,000 pieces of armor and weapons in the game, so it made sense to have the characters in 3D. And with this in place, I have noticed a bit of slowdown, albeit not much, in certain areas. I do believe they capped the game on certain aspects with this in mind. As it is, the game looks just fine.
The game even tosses in a few FMV movies, though they are few and far in between, they do look quite good. And with customizable characters, they did manage to even find a way to sneak the hero into one of the movies with a nice little and very rewarding trick.
The music in DQIX is just what you'd expect from Dragon Quest. Most of the tunes are mainstay themes in the series, with some memorable melodies, and some quite forgettable. If there is anything I wish Dragon Quest would offer more of, it would be some great new music, because a few of the mainstay themes are pretty damn good. But not the rest. Outside of the music, the game is void of most other sound effects. You'll find most of the effects taking place in battle. Outside of the battle, the sound effects range from typical drawers being opened, and barrels being broken. There is no voice work whatsoever. If I had to say anything was about the game, it would be in the audio department. You can even go as far as playing most of the game with the sound turned off, once you feel confident enough to not worry about enemies chiming in with the little bing' sound as they spot you. But with this being the worst thing about the game, it has to be said, the rest of the game is pretty damn amazing.
To sum everything up, Dragon Quest IX will offer something new for everyone, including those who are veterans in the series. This is probably the most ambitious project from the DQ and Level 5 team to date on a handheld, and stands as easily the best handheld RPG to grace us this generation. It could even stand toe to toe with some of the bigger J-RPG's over on the console front. The game offers up so much content you will be playing this well into the time the next Nintendo handheld comes out, and probably after that.
Story - 8.5
Gameplay - 9
Graphics - 9
Sound - 7
Replay value: High
Overall - 9
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 08/11/10
Game Release: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (US, 07/11/10)
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