Genre: Role Playing Developer: Level-5 Inc. Publisher: Nintendo Classification: PG Release Date: 12th Jul 2010 Platforms:DS
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Disclaimer: We've reviewed an import copy of Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of The Starry Skies in an effort to deliver you as timely a review of the epic RPG as possible. There may be some very, very small changes between this version and the Australian localisation, though to the best of our knowledge there is not.
Dragon Quest VII on the PSX and while I enjoyed it, every other Dragon Quest game I tried to play after that felt exactly the same. They had the same monsters, the same battle system and even the same basic story. I never made it too far into them before giving up and
playing something else - a mistake if DQIX is anything to go by.
For the first couple of hours playing DQIX I was disappointed too - the graphics are certainly excellent, but the art style (by Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball Z, Chrono Trigger and every other Dragon Quest game fame) did not give me hope for anything different. I definitely appreciated the lack of random encounters once I started fighting, but being the Namco Tales fan I am, I was disappointed I couldnít kite enemies and attack them all at once. I wasnít even looking for some sort of bonus for fighting multiple enemies, the monsters in the starting area are just so pathetically weak I just wanted some sort of challenge.
I changed my tune once I left the starting area however. I was already interested in the story - your main character is a Celestrian, essentially a race of winged guardian angels tasked with watching unseen over the humans of the world. Helping out humans gains benevolessence, which the Celestrians use to give power to the world tree Yggdrasil - when Yggdrasil has enough benevolessence it will bear fruit which will allow the Celestrians to move on to heaven, where everything will be great.
Naturally things take a turn for the worse and after an attack from a powerful force your character wakes up in the town he or she looks after - without wings and visible to the human populace. You then set about helping humans to gain benevolessence in an attempt to get
back to the Observatory, home of the Celestrians.
Wandering around doing good deeds seems like standard JRPG story and in a way it is. The delivery is different to most JRPGs however and itís primarily because of your character and party set up.
Unlike most JRPGs these days, you arenít playing an already defined character with hopes and desires. You donít generally party up with people you meet through the story either - you create your party members from scratch, choosing their appearance and class and building them up from level one. Because your characters are not predefined members of the story and your motivation is simply helping people out to gain benevolessence, you are more an observer than an active participant in most of the stories - except the overarching story.
While this has been done before to differing levels of success, DQIX excels at it, with each new quest feeling like a new short story, some sweet, some exciting and some tragic. The stories are better still after around about the halfway mark - although telling you why would be ruining it.
Gameplay-wise there is a hell of a lot to do, with the focus primarily being on the endgame - you can still continue playing after beating the final boss and a lot of side quests even require it. I spent a lot of my time with the alchemy system, building weapons and armour and various other items out of other items you pick up off monsters and along the way. Grinding is less of a chore when you have more than one reason to do it - and you do a tonne of grinding in this game.
If you arenít familiar with the Dragon Quest series, there is an awfully large amount of grinding involved - so if you donít like fighting the same monsters repeatedly this isnít a game youíll enjoy, but then this is probably the wrong genre for you anyway. Grinding might not seem necessary when you are fighting regular monsters, but once you reach your second boss it should become obvious.
If you donít mind grinding and have friends who donít mind it either, Dragon Quest IX is the game for you. The game features 4 player co-op multiplayer and while Iíve only played with one other person, it works brilliantly and is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the co-op is only local - probably not a problem in Japan, but I consider myself pretty fortunate living in Australia to have a friend who owns a DS and likes JRPGs.
The same goes for the canvassing mode. When your DS is canvassing you can leave it closed in your bag and if it picks up another DS with DQIX canvassing it will trade information, giving you a gift or a treasure map. Itís a cool concept and probably works well in Japan or even the US, but with GenConOz not happening and Supanova over for the year, I am going to consider myself very fortunate if I get anything out of it.
Fortunately, while Iíll be very happy if I get a treasure map out of canvassing mode, Nintendo has given the game excellent support with new treasure maps available for download on a weekly basis. Even without the weekly maps the game is so huge and fun to play it will keep any JRPG fan occupied for a very long time.