Review by HailToTheGun

"Dragon Quest IX is the most accessible, and also most restrained installment of the franchise yet."

The Fall From Grace…

The guardians of the Protectorate, the earthly realm upon which all living mortals and creatures dwell, are the divine Celestrian race, an ancient coalition of angels sworn to protect mankind from harm and evil. As the guardian of Angel Falls, your greatest priority is to make sure the citizens of this small village are safe from the worldly troubles around them. But a catastrophic occurrence shakes up the home of the Celestrians, the Observatory, sending order into disarray. In the mayhem, the hero falls down to the earth and awakes several days later to find himself without his wings, halo, and in clear sight of the mortals. The quest that follows will lead you to the cause of the great disaster that shook the Observatory, and the even greater evil behind it.

What the game ultimately amounts to is the search across the world for the Fyggs that fell from the Great World Tree Yggdrasil during the disaster. If you can't already tell by now that this game is bloated with puns ("Angel Falls," "Fyggs," "Protectorate,") then you will be amazed at how much more it throws in your face by the time you finish. The game shifts to a much darker tone following the discovery of all of the Fyggs, but the search alone consumes the majority of time spent with the story and in the end just feels like a giant run-around to waste time before you get to what's really going on. Character development seems rather stilted at best, with the main character the only party member to have any sort of established history and those whom follow him are just ancillary, expendable soldiers.

Enough Vocations To Go Around…

If you've come looking for leaps and bounds of evolution in the JRPG formula, keep on questing. Dragon Quest IX does very little as far as the single-player goes to expand on that very tried system of old. You have your simplistic turn-based combat, a handful of menus to sift through to pick your attack, and a bunch of enemies on screen to select a target. There are no random encounters, however, which is a advancement that is not new, but always welcoming. Job classes provide a decent level of customization, but things become increasingly easier once the player has access to a particular group of Metal Slimes in the game which offer gratuitous amounts of experience points. As classes, or vocations as they're referred to, level up, they earn skill points for certain increments. These skill points are universal and can be used on any class. Should you decide to level several classes, and this would include some serious time spent grinding, you could easily max out any given class in a matter of hours.

Of course, the real fun of the game - and its major claim to fame - is its multiplayer aspects. Up to four people can play together over local Nintendo connectivity and venture off into the world to do whatever their hearts desire. You are not even limited to remain next to the host player. Any one can go anywhere in the world on their own and do whatever he or she pleases while in someone else's game. Should you find yourself in a bind or are in need of assistance, you can quickly summon another player to your side. This is an absolutely brilliant design choice hindered only by the fact that the game doesn't support online wifi. Were you able to play with someone who was not local, the level of enjoyment would have skyrocketed. In addition to actually playing with another person, you can use several wifi features to browse online shops or enter a tag mode, which allows players to suspend their DS into its sleep state with the game running, and should they pass by or near anyone else doing the same, valuable items will often be granted to each player.

The content of these items usually includes treasure maps, which will consume the bulk of your playtime post-game. These treasure maps open the way to many hidden multi-level dungeons and reward some invaluable loot. Back on the single-player, the progression is usual fare. You'll explore the world and encounter many a charismatic characters along your journey, sometimes helping them, and other times putting a stop to their misdeeds. The side quest system in the game is vast, offering several hundred additional activities to do on top of the main quest. The major issue is the method of tracking for these quests. You're only allowed to take on a certain number of quests at a time; should you have a full log of unfinished business and desire to accept another quest, you will be forbidden until you complete or erase at least one. Any erased quest can always be restarted from the initial quest giver, but it's a minor nuisance that could have easily been ignored in favor of an unlimited log.

Alchemy returns in Dragon Quest IX to offer the potential of some of the best loot available through meticulous combination and scavenging. But again an appealing feature is marred by an incomprehensible obstacle. The alchemy pot used for all of your synthesis needs is located in one place, and one place only, making instant alchemy a thing of the past. Dragon Quest VIII was smart enough to grant you a portable alchemy pot to allow forging on the go. Why this was taken out for the most recent installment is a mystery even to the gods. This is somewhat remedied by the main character's ability to use Zoom, a free spell that transports the entire party to any previously-visited village, but this does not excuse the step back. Another time-saving feature is the game's Quick Save option, which suspends the game anywhere under a temporary save file.

The Stars Never Looked So Good…

Dragon Quest IX is a charming looking game with an enjoyable soundtrack. Character animations are good and sprite models actually change depending on the gear you're wearing, but the monster design is even better. Admittedly many sprites are simply reused and palette swapped, but the creative difference in many of the monsters is enough to keep things fresh even through the sludge of grinding. You may find yourself banging a hole into your wall by the end of the game, though, and this is because Dragon Quest IX will almost insult your intelligence with how many puns it uses. It's an annoyance more than an actual complaint, but it's still something that will drive most people up the wall.

And The Verdict Is…

Without shame, Dragon Quest IX is a very traditional game in almost every respect: Its story is quite simple and at times predictable; its combat system is as turn-based as they come; and its charm is ever abundant. What separates this installment in the series from those before it is its focus on multiplayer and its customization. A more consistent story and some refined elements could've made this the best game in the franchise, but as it stands, it's still a remarkably solid and entertaining handheld title.

Pros: Fresh multiplayer elements; the world is considerably large and brimming with life; hundreds of quests and additional content; great diversity between most vocations

Cons: story takes too long to pick up; very traditional, almost too much for its own good; puns, puns everywhere; multiplayer options limited to local wifi

The Final Verdict: 8.5/10
Dragon Quest IX is the most accessible, and also most restrained installment of the franchise yet.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/13/10

Game Release: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (US, 07/11/10)

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