Review by kiriyama2
"The newest Dragon Quest is also the best of the series."
I was immensely excited for this game, I loved the hell out of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. It is quite possibly the best game I've played. It's certainly the only one that I couldn't think of any real complaints with. Everything about it just felt so perfect, I even loved the combat. So needless to say that I was quite excited for DQ IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. I will say this, it did not disappoint.
DQIX has an interesting story. You start out as a Celestrian, one of the guardians of the world of mortals. It starts off with you and your mentor Aquila patrolling the area around the town of Angel Falls. Aquila tells you how you are becoming the guardian of the town, as such it's now your duty to protect the people from monsters and make sure life is swell for them. Then as if to introduce you to the games' combat system you see a young woman and her grandfather on the path to the town, when their about to be attacked by a small cadre of monsters. So you and Aquila fight the monsters, and the girl Erinn thanks you (you specifically) for saving her and her grandfather and letting them complete their journey in peace. From the girl's prayers comes "benevolessence." A jewel thing that the Celestrians gather to give to Yggdrasil, the world tree.
The Celestrians have a legend that when Yggdrasil bears fruit the door to the kingdom of the almighty will open, and the Celestrians will ascend to this holy place. Benevolessence is the key, for when the tree gets enough the fyggs will grow. So, after defeating the monsters you and Aquila return to the Observatory, the home of the Celestrians. After some exploration and offering the benevolessence to Yggdrasil you return to Angel Falls to do some more of your guardian duties. There you help some people with minor tasks, like picking up horse manure (which can be used for alchemy), and helping the ghost of a dead townsperson to go to the great hereafter.
After maybe half an hour of this you go back to the Observatory and give the benevolessence to Yggdrasil, and it bears fruit. All the other Celestrians are properly excited about this, and their vessel that will take them to the realm of the almighty. Naturally something goes wrong. A great earthquake occurs and the Starflight Express gets destroyed. And your character falls to earth, his wings burn off and crashes in the waterfall at Angel Falls. Then the game proper begins.
Something that I like about this game is how the enemies are randomly placed on the map. It elimantes the random encounters, mind that plenty other games have done this before, but I just like how this does it. You'll be bopping about the world and you'll see, say, a Cruelcumber (a man sized cucumber with arms and equipped with a spear). You can choose to avoid this peril and just continue on your way, you often won't because you'll need the exp later. I just like this system, it works wonderfully with this game. Let's say for example you want to do some level grinding, and having played previous Dragon Quests know that Metal Slimes are worth a ton of experience. They're a rare monster, and more often than not will bolt when it's their turn, but still, you can easily get most of the exp for the next level. So you go to the place where you know they hang out (the Quarantomb near Coffinwell, (Metal Slime Stacks hang out in The Bad Cave near Bloomingdale)), and just start running a circuit around the place. In addition to Metal Slimes there's the Mummy Boys, Mean Spirits, and Earthen Warriors. They're mainly a roadblock to whittle away at your HP and MP while you hunt Metal Slimes. But that's the ingenious thing, you don't have to fight them, you can bypass them completely, they won't hunt you down (the Spirits chase you, but they often run into walls, same with the Earthen Warriors too). But you'll wind up fighting them anyway, after all the Metal Slimes could be hiding among the mummies or Mean Spirits.
Grinding is something that somewhat mystifies me about the Dragon Quest series. Except for maybe the first two I genuinely don't mind the whole "pace a dungeon and beat up fifteen billion monsters ad nauseum." I really don't, yes it might get somewhat boring, but I never really got annoyed and wondered why I was doing this task over, and over, and over, and over, and over. Killing the same Armoured Knights repeatedly getting that slight exp trickle. With the newer games I enjoyed grinding. I can't really explain why, but I enjoy the task.
A few hours into the game you find the location Alltrades Abbey. This is where you get the ability to switch your Vocation. I just love it when a game includes a job system. I loved it in Final Fantasy III & V and I really quite love it here. I love the option to switch up the roles of my party. At the start my team (you get to make a party when you help set up the inn in Stornwell, which is maybe like an hour in) consisted of my hero as a minstrel, and the rest filling out as a warrior, mage, and thief. Which in itself isn't that bad of a lineup, it's a pretty general lineup, but it works.
Upon completing the quest to rescue the abbot of Alltrades you unlock the ability to switch. Each vocation has its limitations, every one limits what sorts of weapons you can equip. Priests, for instance, can only equip wands (really staffs), staffs, and spears. Martial Artists only get to equip knives, swords and claws. Warriors get the general array of weapons, except they can't equip axes and hammers, and so on. I like the limitation that the game puts on you, it makes it so your priest or mage aren't running around swinging battle axes like a madman or anything. Unless you put enough points in your axe skill so you can equip it regardless of vocation.
Which leads rather nicely into my next point: skill points. After you hit level five you start unlocking skill points. You then sink these points into various skills to become more proficient at them. With weapon skills it almost always raises your attack with the weapon, so you become great at beating things to death with a staff for instance. Though there other skills, like mages and Armamentalists get the slots to learn better spells, get better MP, get more HP and the like. I like this system, I believe Dragon Quest VIII was the first DQ game to have this system in it. I like it because it makes you think about what you need to sink your points into versus what you want. If your thief keeps dying maybe you should put more points into his HP rather than his ability to steal items from the enemy.
Something that perplexes me is that most times the skills you learned don't carry over to the other vocations. I get that a priest wouldn't be able to cast high-level fire magic, or that a gladiator wouldn't be able to cast ressurection spells. But you'd think that the amount of MP you acquired as a mage would carry over to the priest or sage vocations. Or that your HP would stay at the same place regardless of class change, but it doesn't. Some of the skills do crossover though. Any weapon abilities you've learned will stick with you, I'm not sure but I think the damage rate stays consistent as well, but odds are if you switch vocations it probably won't use the same weapons set as the previous one. Unless of course you put enough points in the weapon so you can use it regardless of vocation.
The weird thing about the vocation system is that it's not a dedicated thing in itself, you don't grind for Job Points, you just get normal exp. As switching to a new vocation resets your level to one. On one hand I can kind of dig it, give the player a feeling of accomplishment. But on the other hand, you shouldn't have the HP fall to pathetic levels. But doing this makes it easy to grind for SP though. Just switch out your people to new vocations and go to an area with tough enemies who just dole out the exp, and just get multiple level ups and squirrel away the SP you acquire for when you switch to a vocation you really want to do (as SP can be saved to be spent later).
There's also the alchemy system. Which is a pretty nifty system. You acquire various little junk which can sometimes be combined to make very useful items. For instance using a medicinal herb and some other item you create greater medicine. You also get components that can upgrade your weapons and armor. It's a handy sytem to craft better armor, but sadly you can only use it in Stornway (second town in the game). So you'll often find yourself running around with a whole bunch of useless items, and a ton of weapons (because you can use them to upgrade other items). Still the alchemy system works and is a nice addition.
DQ IX also features a fun little treasure hunting mode. At one point in the game you come across a treasure map. The map features just a small portion of the area it's in and so you have to hunt for it. Then when you find where the treasure is located you then entere a randomly designed dungeon. They are typically five or six levels deep, but they are randomized every time you go into one. Which I like, it keeps it fresh and entertaining. The only part I don't care for is the fact that the treasure dungeons often recycle the same bosses. It doesn't really bother me that much, it's just the fact that whenever you go to fight them they always go through their pre-fight monologue. It never changes, and it gets a little tiresome listening to the same speech repeated ad nauseum.
The game also features a local multiplayer mode. Which sounds neat in theory, the idea of running around with some friends in a Dragon Quest is awesome in my eyes. Sadly I never got to actually try this, there's also the WiFi store that you can access in Stornway. It's a neat idea, but I personally never used it much, as it only offered stuff for alchemy and weaker weapons than what I currently had equipped.
The main game will take you about maybe forty hours to complete (at least it took me around 48, as I kept running around spelunking and grinding my Vocations). Which is a pretty good length for a game like this. That's not taking into account the fact that Square-Enix is apparently planning on releasing some downloadable quests sometime in the near future.
So yeah, I really love this game. If you have a DS you really owe it to yourself to buy this. Especially if you like RPGs. If you don't like any of Dragon Quest games, I don't think this one will change your opinion, although it is really really good. It certainly stands out as the best DS game of the year. If not best game of the year period.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 08/25/10
Game Release: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (US, 07/11/10)
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