|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Level-5||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 11, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Line Up Just Right
by Tony Capri
September 9, 2009 - If you're a hardcore RPG fan, you probably know the name Dragon Quest quite well. You also likely know that, though the series merely scratches out a living in Western territories, it's a titan of a franchise in Japan. The long awaited and slightly delayed Dragon Quest IX for Nintendo DS released overseas this past July and reportedly sold a mind-blowing 2.3 million copies within its first two days out in the wild. We now take a look at what's got Japanese gamers in such a frenzy.
If you peer into the past of role-playing games, you'll find its origins lie with Dungeons & Dragons, a game played with graph paper and various polyhedral dice. But when it comes to digital RPGs, complete with adventure-filled prose, Dragon Quest (DQ) is greatly regarded as the granddaddy of them all. It's also always made its home on consoles, so coming to DS was a major shift for the series.
To accommodate a new co-op, multiplayer focus, DQIX has seen a few changes in its construction when compared to past games in the series. For instance, rather than roaming empty fields, engaging in random battles when traveling world maps, the fields are now populated with monster indicators. Players can team up locally to play through portions of the story, affording quite a bit of freedom to each individual within the game world. The story seems to be structured around a quest system, which also falls in line with the game's emphasis on multiplayer.
Battles still feel very much like DQ battles always have, though the presentation has been updated. Upon first entering a battle or when it's your turn to attack, you'll still view monsters from a first-person perspective. Attacks, however, are shown from a third-person view, and your party members are spread out more realistically, á la Chrono Trigger. When battling in multiplayer, each player takes turns inputting their commands, and players will have to work together in order to maximize their effectiveness as a team.
As per usual, slimes are among the very first monsters you'll encounter in the game, though long-time fans will notice a few new additions right off the bat. The balancing seems to be pretty tight so far, but if past games are any indication of what to expect, there's likely to be a fair bit of grinding in store for players as they tread deeper into the game.
You can use either the face buttons or stylus for pretty much all commands within the game, and a blue directional arrow appears onscreen when moving your character about via the touch screen. However, most folks will likely find themselves to be more at home using the traditional controls, keeping the stylus nearby to move equipment around when gearing up characters. The menu options are a lot more fleshed out in this particular Dragon Quest, and adding new equipment to your characters is reflected visually in-game.
In terms of story, Dragon Quest games have actually been kind of daring. In the past, you were able to marry, have children, and tragedy was a common theme throughout the series, in spite of an ever-present charm. From what we could glean thus far, your character in DQIX is an angel who loses their wings and ends up earthbound for most of the game.
At the outset, you'll choose a gender for your character, and in an almost Sims-like fashion, you'll do a bit of customization, choosing their height, hairstyle, eye shape, etc. This actually feels like a more meaningful feature than what's offered in some other games, since it essentially allows the player to tinker with many of the wonderful Akira Toriyama (the series' long-time illustrator) character designs.
Fans of Dragon Ball and Blue Dragon will immediately appreciate the very stylized character models in DQIX. The large eyes, sharply cut noses, and big heads - they're all here and absolutely gorgeous on DS. Level-5 (Professor Layton) seems to have lovingly crafted a visual masterpiece on the restricted hardware, and subtle, visual nuances help shape this adventure into a bona fide Dragon Quest experience.
Battles in DQIX show off a visual depth unseen before on the system. Hills and trees off in the distance are clear and well defined, and you get a real sense of the surroundings your characters are placed in. The game still has day and night cycles, though the change seems to be a bit more gradual this time around.
It's impossible to downplay just how good a job Level-5 has done in terms of DQIX's presentation, and Western fans are in for a real treat when the game releases early next year. The color palette and number of polygons in use is almost pixel perfect, and only when the camera comes in close can you discern some of the individual textures. The entire game has a wonderfully soft quality visually, and the cel-shading is really attractive as well.
The developers have implemented an interesting style for the character models, with key characters being rendered fully in 3D, whilst most other, non-playable characters are hand-drawn, 2D sprites reminiscent of the DS remakes of DQIV and V. It's kind of an oddity, but you immediately get the sense this was done to offer subtle cues to the player, hinting at which characters play a pivotal role within the story at any given moment throughout the game.
As for the audio presentation, from what we've heard thus far, the game includes all the Dragon Quest goodness fans have grown to adore. Though there are quite a few new melodies injected into the game, themes and sound effects remain incredibly familiar.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies seems to have come together amazingly well and should do a great job satiating fans of this revered franchise. It's been a long wait, but it should make the experience all the more enjoyable. Folks can savor the adventure when the game releases Stateside in the early part of next year.
CCC Freelance Writer