Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Nintendo DS version
A nice DS adventure
After my major disappointment over Final Fantasy XII, I had to move to something else... I knew I should expect a lot from Square Enix anymore, but I loved Dragon Quest VIII and heard a lot of good about Dragon Quest IX so I gave it a try. Although it turned out not as good as VIII, it was still a good experience overall.
Well the first good thing in this game is that it's a Dragon Quest game. If you ever played any Dragon Quest game, you will feel at home here, the overall style of the series haven't moved one bit.
You can design yourself the look of the main protagonist, so if you don't like him blame yourself. This is a nice feature, although it removes all kind of personality from him. The game features a job system similar to Dragon Quest III, where each party member has a job, and learn skills when levelling it up, and you can change job but you return to level 1 (personally I just picked up good jobs and stuck with them which turned out to be a good strategy). It also features the weapon levelling system from Dragon Quest VIII, where you gain skill points at level up and can assign to the weapon you like (there is also shield and the job category as an alternative to weapons). When your weapon gain enough points, you gain abilities with it. Of course it's smart to stick to the same weapon type per character during playthrough so you just attribute all points to it and don't ask questions. The combination of both of those systems works really well, and makes an overall less bland battle system than all previous Dragon Quest which had extremely basic systems.
Another new thing is that random battles are replaced by a new system where monsters just run around and rush on you when they "see" you. Technically it's possible to avoid battles but most of the time it's really easier not to avoid them. Random battle haters will be on heavens here, but personally I think that while this system is ok, it's not much changes over a random battle system : You can't avoid battles too much (even if you could you would end up underleveled and it'd be more trouble to the player).
The music of Dragon Quest IX is very good. Too bad it's not fully orchestrated like DQ8 (probably that couldn't fit a DS cartridge), but anyways it's good. You got multiple dungeon and town themes, so they don't get too annoying (like they do on some older DQs....) and the world map theme is really great. As usual battle theme are not as striking, but they do the work of keeping you entertained during battles.
The graphics are obviously inferior to those of DQ8, the NDS being technically way inferior than the PS2. However that was to be expected when they announced the release exclusive on the DS, the first Dragon Quest which was directly made handheld (I played Dragon Warrior III GBC before so it wasn't a shock or anything to me to play a handheld Dragon Quest... on the other side I find this suits the series pretty well). The day/night is still implemented but nowhere as impressive as in DQ8 where you could actually see the sun move, and hear different animals and wind effects depending on the daytime, which was really amazing.
Despite that I could say that the graphics of this game are slightly above the average of the DS. Characters looks quite polygonal and all graphics have that "flat" look that most DS games using 3D graphics have. Worse than that, most NPCs are 2D sprites which doesn't look very good when pasted on a 3D background. They should have it done the other way around, 3D characters on a 2D playground, if this worked wonderfully during the PS1 area why wouldn't it work on the DS? The backgrounds are 3D rendered, but you can just rotate the camera a few degrees before it stops. If they were 2D you couldn't rotate at all but they could make it look better. Anyways you get used to that after a few hours of playing.
About the new non-random way to start battles, there is one thing which I find a bit retarded : How you enter in contact with the enemy has no importance on who has the initiative in battle. A monster could rush on you on the world map, and on battle screen you see "but the enemy didn't notice the party!", or you could catch an enemy by surprise, but when you enter in battle, you see "but the enemy attacks before the party gets ready!".
If at least the way you enter in battle would affect this, I could say this system changed the gameplay significantly... but it didn't. The only significant difference is that when you open the menu, do some stuff and close it back, there is a 99% probability that a battle with start right away as an enemy rushed on you while you were in the menu. This can be frustrating if you just used the menu to heal the wounds from the last battle from the same enemy.... not a major improvement over the "frustration" of a random battle if you ask me. Not that this new system is terrible or anything, it's just not as good as some people said, and definitely not a major improvement.
Last thing of the "bad" list, the story. Dragon Quest games have never been known for their stories, but this one surpasses all other by far for it's mediocrity. The game is extremely linear. You basically go to town 1, which has a major problem which is solved by beating by boss 1 which is in dungeon 1, solving the problem allows you to access to town 2, which has a major problem which is solved by beating boss 2... you get the idea. It's like that from the start to the very end of the game. OK I might be a little bashing here, the scenario is still interesting, it's just very basic and predictable.
The story itself feels very childish. With fairies, magical trains, etc... it feels more occidental and lack the Manga/Anime feels of older Dragon Quest games. I can't say this is good or bad but this isn't for my taste.
To make things worse the game is extremely easy, especially compared to older Dragon Quest games. You basically just attack and heal, and that's it. Even bosses are a total joke if you did a reasonable of pseudo-random battle before challenging them.
The most frustrating part was the last boss and ending. I won't spoil anything but it was the easier last boss I can remember and the shortest and less ending I've had in an RPG.
The Bottom Line
I might have said a lot in "the bad", but the game isn't really all that bad - nothing about it is horrible. It's just not the best of the series, and it's true no Dragon Quest games have ever been known for its awesome scenario. Well this 9th instalment has a better battle system, but the overall feeling of the game is a bit bland. If I had played this game right after ending Dragon Quest VIII on PS2, I would probably have been disappointed, but after a few years of rest, I can say I'm happy to play a new Dragon Quest game on the DS even if it's not the best of the series.
So I recommend to buy it if you're a lot into Dragon Quest games, or if you're one of those guys who really can't stand random battles, or if you really like the idea of making your own hero, but otherwise you'd want to get a better DS RPG or a better Dragon Quest game.
by Bregalad (937) on February 3rd, 2011