Review | Dragon Quest IX
Format: DS | Genre: RPG | Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Square Enix | Release date: 23/07/10 | Price: £34.99
Jennifer Allen goes on an epic quest with DRAGON QUEST IX
I WAS worried about Dragon Quest IX at first. All the previews I’d read suggested a heavy focus on local multiplayer play. As someone who bizarrely has no DS owning and RPG loving friends living nearby, I was worried that this would be to the detriment of the single player side of things. That and I’m an increasingly grumpy RPG fan who likes the choice of playing anti socially. Call me the multiplayer Grinch, I don’t mind. So I was rather pleased to see that my initial concerns for Dragon Quest IX were quickly quashed. While its multiplayer functionality is a fine addition, it’s not essential to your enjoyment, if – like me – you’re grumpy. And the rest of the game? While it might not supersede Dragon Quest VIII it’s clearly one of the best RPGs on the DS.
In many ways Dragon Quest IX is still a very typical game for the franchise. There are still many slimes and drackies to kill. The turn based combat system still feels very simplistic compared to more convoluted methods that the Final Fantasy series has explored. When one of your characters dies, you still see a coffin follow your main character around until you get to a church to resurrect them – and of course the theological connotations are still there. However there are a few twists to make it all feel fresh yet familiar. While there’s plenty of experience and gold grinding to be had if you want to succeed, it’s all mostly optional. Rather than battles being random, you can choose to dodge your foes if you’re in a rush and want to avoid combat. Obviously this isn’t a good idea to do continuously, but once in a while, it’s handy. It feels less frustrating when you have the choice of combat or not. Slightly peculiarly, lower level characters earn the least amount of experience but – more often than not – this works out ensuring nothing feels unbalanced. Dragon Quest IX even eases you in gently making the first few levels extremely quick to traverse, as if willing you into feeling more comfortable about the game. Small features like these are clearly there to encourage newcomers not to be scared by the ‘big, bad’ JRPG but it’s also useful for those who know what they’re doing and just want to get on with it.
The party system is the real change to be seen in Dragon Quest IX. Unlike the usual JRPG method, there’s only one main character: the one you create at the start of the game. Other party members are rather faceless as they’re created a few hours into the game via an option within inns. This is a double edged sword. It enables players to have a wide range of customisation options to make their party just how they want. Besides choosing each character’s vocation/job, you can change pretty much anything to do with their appearance and looks. The vocations available at the start are typical RPG classes – minstrel, warrior, mage, thief, monk and priest – with more available further on into the game, as well as the ability to change vocation. The down side to these created party members is that they offer no personality. The storyline pays no attention to them and you can only really feel attached to the main character as the party members are really just useful tools rather than people in their own right. Clearly this has been constructed in such a way as to encourage co-operative play but it does detract a little from the single player experience.
This resonates within the story itself as it does feel a much more lightweight affair than the previous Dragon Quest. You play a guardian angel that has lost their wings and must perform various good deeds to get them back. A fairy called Stella helps throughout by advising the next course of action. It’s not the most in-depth of storylines but it is distinctly sweet and good natured. It also offers various chances for some nice, emotive storytelling which is refreshing to see. It might not challenge Lost Odyssey as ‘most emotional RPG’ but it does a decent enough job. The localisation process has also been very successful with some charming British colloquialisms to be seen and some fantastically vivid Scottish accents demonstrated via text.
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