Review by Sir Garland
"A good waste of time... but still a waste of time."
Gameplay - 4/10
The gameplay itself is easy to explain and to understand. You are in control of a group of four warriors (you create them yourself and they cannot speak, so they have no personalities), and you go around fighting monsters. You can buy equipment and healing items in town, and by killing monsters you gain money (with which to buy said items) and experience points, which causes your characters to level up and grow stronger. When leveling up, you get a bonus to all of your statistics depending on your character's class, and you also gain skill points. Skill points are useful for specializing a character - you can put a bunch of skill points in the shield skill to make your character tougher, or specialize in boomerangs if you want to be able to damage a large number of enemies at a time. You can also change classes, and you level up each class separately. This means that it is possible to get quite a few skill points, which lets you customize your characters quite a lot. This is easily the high point of the game - there are many skill trees to pick from. Unfortunately, there is no real reason to utilize this feature until the post-game content because the enemies you'll face are so weak that you can defeat them without switching out of your original classes.
The experience system is rather odd, too. Theoretically enemies give experience in proportion to their difficulty, but there are various types of metal slime monsters in the game that give a really ridiculous amount of experience when killed. This is usually over ten times as much experience as you'd get by defeating an entire enemy group of the same level. In practice this means that fighting most monsters is a waste of time, as the experience they give you is insignificant compared to the metal slimes, and the money they drop and thus the equipment you can buy is not nearly as good as gaining another level by fighting metal slimes.
Dragon Quest IX seems to be designed from the ground up to take a tremendous amount of time. The main quest is quite easy and quick to complete. However, there are over a hundred quests available. None of them involve any sort of minigame or fighting a special opponent or getting to visit a new area or use a new power, unfortunately. They mostly require you to defeat a certain number of a certain type of monster, often using a specific (usually weak) kind of attack. Some involve collecting items, some involve stealing form a certain enemy... but the one thing that most of them have in common is that they are not hard but take a lot of time. Dragon Quest IX is sort of like an MMORPG in that regard - it contains a large amount of quests that are essentially time-wasters, rather than anything that adds a new and interesting feature or situation to the game.
There are twelve classes available, and as is often the case with games only a very few of them are actually useful. Magic is underpowered compared to physical attacks and so all of the magical attackers are useless from the start, and one physical class happens to have good durability and tremendous strength, and so makes the other physical attackers pale in comparison. There is a dedicated healer that is available from the start and a healer/offensive magic hybrid class that can be unlocked near the very end of the game. The best party for any situation is usually three of those really good physical attackers and one of the two healers.
Overall I found the gameplay of Dragon Quest IX to be a great disappointment. The skill point customization is the only thing that stands out above the otherwise bog-standard mechanics of the game. The game is full of repetitive quests to complete and huge lists to fill in, and a mind-bogglingly large number of often very difficult accolades (similar to Xbox achievements or PS3 trophies), and I estimate that it would take over a thousand hours to fully complete. One of the accolades is to spend about six weeks in wifi multiplayer, for example, another is to complete a thousand grottoes, which take about 15 minutes apiece. All of these obviously exist to extend gameplay, but do nothing to enhance it and really only serve to frustrate completionists.
Graphics - 8/10
The graphics in this game are pretty good. The environments are unfortunately usually dull, but there is a huge variety of equipment available and most of them have their own unique look when equipped to a character. The animation effects are just about what you'd expect from a big-budget title on a small-screen system. The opening movie is quite good, as is another movie that plays a little over halfway through the game. The graphics score could have earned a 10/10 if only there were more of those movies in the game, or environments that looked goof on their own. It would also help if the characters didn't look like they were straight out of Dragonball Z, as well.
Lackluster. There are two good tracks in the game the small village music (and its nighttime variant) and the music that plays when you face certain post-game bosses. Other than that, the music doesn't really impress me at all. The tunes are generic and forgettable for the most part, but two soundtracks are very memorable, for the wrong reasons. To avoid spoilers I won't give much detail about the locations, but suffice it to say that one area, the Oubliette would do well with a creepy, ominous soundtrack and another really needs something a bit majestic and dark but instead of music that is well-tailored to the area, both have music that is inexplicably full of strange horn toots and unidentifiable goofy sounding bloops. It really wrecks the atmosphere of both areas.
This is easily the weakest aspect of the game. Dragon Quest IX's story is just a hair better than the go beat the Dragonlord plot of the original Dragon Warrior. Once the introductory section is over, you spend the majority of the main quest going to unrelated towns to solve their unrelated problems. There's very little that ties any of these towns to the main story, and nothing at all that ties them to each other in a narrative sense. The only possibly poignant scene was done before and done much better in Dragon Quest V giving any details would spoil it but if you've played both games it will be obvious what I'm talking about.
Once the main game has been completed, you do a quick quest and then are told to go beat up some bad guys who are hanging out underground. Why? Well, because they're there. And they're bad. They're not actually doing anything, but they're still bad guys so your job as a hero is to beat them to death. That doesn't seem to inconvenience them at all, though, as you can kill them as many times as you want, and they'll still show up in other grottoes.
This game might be worth your time and money if you don't have much money to buy games but a whole lot of time in which to play them. It doesn't manage to keep things fresh for the thousands of hours it will take to completely finish this game (or even the thirty it takes to finish the main quest), but if you need to waste a huge amount of time and don't like solitaire this game might be for you. Otherwise, you should steer clear - nothing in this game is new or exciting.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 11/02/10
Game Release: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (US, 07/11/10)
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