|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|
Though the gameplay approach is basically the same for each small leg of the adventure, the individual story components are complex and moving. You can almost think of DQIX as a collection of short vignettes, each with its own juicy plot that plays into an overarching storyline.
After the first few hours of gameplay, youll come to a point where you can recruit new party members. Players can opt to either let the game randomly select the appearances and names of their new characters or create characters from scratch. There are initially six vocations to choose from, all of which are typical fare for the series.
The battle system for DQIX is, in most respects, traditional, though small tweaks help streamline the process, making it easier for players to level grind. Battles are completely turn-based, and theres an option to set tactics for everyone but your main character. I was impressed by how well the A.I. performed. Though I always chose to take full control of my party during boss battles, I generally kept my other party members set to specific tactics while making my way around the world. With my priest set to Focus on Healing, he would only heal when needed, rather than waste mana on party members who only had minor scrapes; my mage was frugal with his spells, casting only when the threat was great.
Its really all the little things, though, that tie this game together so well. I played DQIX primarily solo, but there is an option to invite up to three other players into your world. Unfortunately, the multiplayer is local only, but if you can find friends with a copy of the game, theres some good fun to be had here.
The online elements, however, are meaningful and promise to add crazy amounts of replay value to the package. Nintendo will be offering weekly quests for up to a year after the games release, and tag mode lets players nab new, randomly generated maps they can explore for special loot.
Theres also a deep and deeply rewarding alchemy system in DQIX, complete with recipes that can be found hidden in nooks and crannies throughout the world. I lost track of how many hours I invested in simply sitting in front of the Krak Pot creating new morsels of goodness.
Lastly, there are the quests. On your journey to collect the divine fyggs, youll encounter many a denizen (including an animal or two) in need of your aid. Quests range from gathering ingredients for needy strangers, to proving your mettle on the battlefield in order to join the ranks of an exclusive club. Certain vocations can only be accessed through side quests, and the equipment and items youll earn are ample reason to run through each and every one. Granted, some quests are a bit tedious to complete, and others are downright obtuse in what they require of you. Still, the payoff makes it all worth it, and theres content o plenty for diehard fans who simply cannot get their fill of Dragon Quest.
In terms of production, theres nothing that trumps DQIX on DS. Ive seen my fair share of pretty games on the system Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass come immediately to mind but Level 5 raises the bar several notches with this latest installment into the venerated franchise. Up close, the character models are beautiful and detailed, and when exploring fields and towns, the game looks more like a watercolor painting than polygons and pixels. Cinematic camera pans and pristine pacing make DQIX a paragon of beauty on the now aging hardware.
The music and sound effects are equally wonderful, though some folks may take issue with hearing mostly the same themes from past games in the series. Its difficult to argue with an approach that caters to fans, though, and the new arrangements and timed placement of certain music helps DQIX stand apart from the crowd. The sound effects are all about fan service, and if youve never played a Dragon Quest game before, youre in for a real treat.
Since it was first announced back in 2006, Dragon Quest IX has been one of my most-anticipated games for Nintendo DS. Square Enix and Level 5 did not disappoint. I was surprised by just how challenging the game was in light of the publishers known desire to popularize the franchise here in the States. In spite of the many wonderful elements added to the formula, Dragon Quest IX feels very much like the best of classic JRPGs; its well-balanced, looks great, and theres tons to do. Best of all, long-time fans will still find everything they love about the series right here on DS.
CCC Freelance Writer