Review by Psalm51
"Hard-core fans only need apply..."
Answer this question for me as I start this review... What do you think of a game that rewards you for negotiating a confusing level with a mini-boss that brutally wipes your party out in six turns? Bear in mind that it takes you over an hour to get to this mini-boss in the first place and there is no pre-boss battle save. Additionally, my party was over-levelled for all previous encounters and bosses AND I had been playing the game for over sixty hours! For the record, the level I refer to is Gittingham Palace and no, I don't think this kind of treatment of the the player is acceptable without the game review suffering a big hit. Now, I am no dimwit and I guess the encounter was simply making me aware that I had to do more grinding before I could continue, but I had already spent sixty hours playing and this wasn't the final boss battle or level. Note to game developers (and you should be aware of this already,) always provide pre-boss battle saves. If not, we won't like and/or praise your games...
Introduction - Right, now that I've got that out of the system, I should be able to get on with the review more happily! Dragon Quest IX is a Morrowind style game. You are given a world and a main quest to follow, but what happens next is up to you. Sure, the story unravels as time goes on and you are treated to nicely rendered cut-scenes to advance the main quest, but the rest of it is based upon your adventuring and what quests you choose to take on and complete. You can even complete the main quest "out of sequence" so even that can be completed flexibly. All this is good but the downside is that you can truly lose track of what you should be doing next and the story can become just a hazy memory of cut-scenes from hours ago. You do have an in-your-head-fairy (more on her later) to help guide you but she doesn't seem that concerned about the main quest either!
Gameplay - 7 out of 10. The core gameplay in Dragon Quest IX centers on random and boss battles. Exploring, buying and selling items and equipment features highly too. You can also make/forge your own items and equipment. This requires endless patience as you locate the right ingredients. Also, recipes are often provided for equipment that is useless to you at that stage in your journey and thus you may end up giving up on this aspect of the game. Random encounters are handled very well as enemy groups move around a map, just like you do. Some random encounters can't be missed but most can, by moving your party away from enemy groups that roam the map you are moving across. To save your game progress you have to visit churches, which is generally no hassle as every town has one. If it wasn't for the problem identified in the first paragraph here, I'd be awarding Gameplay an 8 or 9 rating. The score gets dragged down through misguided game-breaking decisions but Dragon Quest IX isn't the first game to feature this kind of foolishness and certainly won't be the last.
Story - 5 out of 10. Oh dear, oh dear... The story flits between being occasionally epic but mostly totally absent. You can play the game for over ten hours at a time and have nothing to do with the story whatsoever. In fact, it is easy to forget what is actually happening with the main quest! If it wasn't for the in-your-head-fairy, I'd rate this aspect of the game as 4/10. The fairy is very welcome and wholly necessary to attach you to the main quest, sub-quests and even to your party. Her sense of humour is spot on and can often lighten the game when it gets a little dour. On the subject of humour... There is a strong sense of humour on display at all times (eg. town and area names) and this is appreciated. Don't play Dragon Quest IX for the story but the town names (Coffinwell) and in-your-head-fairy will make you laugh!
Graphics/Sound - 8 out of 10. For graphics.... Think best 3D graphics you can get on the DS and you won't be far wrong. If you have played Golden Sun: Dark Dawn before, you will have a good idea what you will experience here. I don't think that these two games share graphics engines but they seem to use a very similar graphic style. For sound, things are not so good. The usual problem of repeating sound/music clips occurs and it is easier just to play the game with the sound off. Early on, the sound comes over as well done but it repeated (far) too often. Turn it off, especially if you are levelling your party up as the battle music never changes, except for boss battles.
Play Time/Replayability - 6 out of 10. As stated above, I invested sixty hours of my time with this game and I hadn't even got to the final boss battle! To continue, I had to level my party up and how long would that take? There are no "easy" level-up places in the game so, as they say in the States, do the Math. Nope, this game is way too long and that impacts on how inclined you will be to replay it. Replaying it is also an interesting but complicated concept as you can re-train your party to different vocations even on one playthrough of the game. On a positive note, just like with Morrowind (the game I mentioned above,) there are many side-quests in the game, so you might want to experiment with different ones on a second playthrough... yawn!
Final Recommendation - 6 out of 10. I really wanted Dragon Quest IX to win me over and give me an adventure to remember! For most of the journey, it did try and for that I give it respect! The sub-porn story didn't help and the monotonous music grated, but the gameplay was mostly solid. The graphics were awesome for the DS but it all fell to pieces as it came to the end. This also happened with Golden Sun: Dark Dawn but that game was rescued by a better worked save system and a level-up location placed close to the final level and boss battle. Note to developers... If you kick us between the legs as a game ends, don't expect us to like your game. So, what score would you give a game with a poor story, grating music and gameplay flaws that only become apparent as the game game ends? Yes, you guessed it, this game is one for hard-core fans only. Enjoy!
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/09/12
Game Release: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (EU, 07/23/10)
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