Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Dragon Quest is together with Final Fantasy about the most well-known and succesful RPG series in Japan and since Dragon Quest VIII on the PS3 also gamers in our region have warmed up for the classic gameplay, the intimate stories and the original monsters of these games. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies arrives on the DS instead of the bigger consoles and that’s not the only innovation of Square Enix that makes this classic role-playing game an absolute must.
You take on the role of a Celestrian, some kind of divine human with wings who lives in the clouds, high above the normal world where mortals can enjoy your protection. They can also see the effects of your activity, but not you yourself. Soon something terrible happens, you lose your powers and have to go on an adventure to make yourself divine again. Also the hope of all Celestrians is in your hands to restore the destroyed empire between the stars in its former glory.
The main story may sound a bit standard but where DQIX shines is the creation of believable characters with their own lives and problems. Each village you encounter has memorable missions which aren’t truly epic but immersive thanks to the intimate and sensitive atmosphere. Daughters left alone, mysterious diseases, lone souls that can’t pass to the other side until they’ve comforted their husband… it may look kiddy but the many storylines have enough depth and subtle humour on different levels to appeal to both adults and kids.
Dozens of hours to spend on that alone already, but there’s more. There are many side missions with specific ones that can be done to enhance your character or collect objects and those that want to specialize in one class – let alone multiple – will be playing for weeks and months. And then we haven’t even talked about the alchemy possibilities. Put all kinds of ingredients in a pot and get unique weapons, potions and armour. Of course you’ll first have to discover recipes, collect the necessary ingredients and test it all. And beware, we’re not limiting ourselves here to a sword and three types of shields. Sexy underpants, fluffy shoes with a bunny on top, boxer shorts, jeans and even pumps in all kinds of colors. No lack of originality! Do I still need to say you get value for money here?
All this makes that you have incredible depth in working out your character which is fun to individualize yourself for the multiplayer options in look as well as skills. And you can do the same with your three companions which you can build up and even change class after about a third of the story.
Be careful though. No matter how fun and casual this seems, you’ll get slashed if you don’t put strategy and tactics into you you build and balance your party. The different classes (thief, magician, priest, …) all have their own specific qualities next to general skills which can all be improved through skill points which offer special powers and abilities as you get better.
The combat itself is still turn-based. Downpoint is that it’s sometimes difficult to work out tactics perfectly but in exchange you do get streamlined fights in which magic, close combat and ranged attacks follow each other quickly. There’s also tons of different weapons and magic spells which make that you won’t get bored quickly. Also handy is that opponents can be seen on the world op so that you can avoid them and after a while weaker adversaries will just run away from you in the map so that you don’t waste time with them.
What makes this all the more pleasing is the large variety of enemies and incredible level of creativity and craftmanship to make them. Both creatively as technically every one of them is great, foreseen with the necessary humour (their names, attacks, reactions remain surprising and sometimes make you smile) so that things never get too serious. The bosses are equally fantastic but can take up to fifteen minutes to defeat! No easy prey and that’s why you need to grind. Luckily there’s plenty of spells and objects that can teleport you in times of need out of dungeons and they’re also handy to quickly get you from one location to another so that you never get too frustrated. If someone of your crew dies you can have him/her resurrected for a price and if everyone gets killed you’ll be punished heavily in your wallet. Painful but a good way to make sure your progress doesn’t come to a halt.
We also absolutely have to say something about the multiplayer. You can play locally with four (or less) and don’t constantly have to stay in one group. Someone can do his thing alone and only come to aid when necessary without any problem. Both in single and multiplayer you play the same character which gives a nice feeling of persistence.
A well worked out combat system, leveling that clearly affects your efficiency, monsters and dungeons that make you happy, a beautiful and intimate storyline, good graphics and animations, immersive music, tons of personality in the design and an original multiplayer… but not everything is perfect. The menus – especially for buying and selling – are a bit clumsy and you can for instance not see what all the effects of buying and equipping new gear are so that you’re never completely sure that you’re making a good choice. Also the seperate inventories for your characters and additional seperate food bag seem a bit unnecessary.
Dragon Quest IX is a beautiful RPG that combines old and new game elements with each other to form a unique handheld adventure that’s a must for everyone with a DS. Even if you’re usually not into role-playing, then I still guarantee hours and hours of fun. Try it!