Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Old Hubpages article: Dragon Quest IX review (originally published on 05/25/13).

Ya know, as much as I love Japanese RPGs, I could never really get into the Dragon Quest (sometimes called "Dragon Warrior" in North America and elsewhere) series. Oh, I don't hate it, but me and it have a rocky relationship. I played the original game on the NES when I was a kid and found it lacking. I was still very young and it was incomprehensible to my slightly sheltered mind that video games could actually be about something more than rushing in with guns blazing. That and, unless you had a walkthrough (and remember this was before the internet), then you had no clue what the heck you were doing.
I wasn't as patient as I am today so that alone turned me off. So I missed the three original sequels, heck I didn't even know that they existed until I got the Internet. I didn't pick up another Dragon Quest game until 2001 when the seventh game came out in North America on the original Sony Playstation. I don't remember why I decided to pick it up, but I did....and I was really underwhelmed by it. I mean, I thought it was good, but that underwhelming feeling became the norm for me on this series. I picked up both the Game Boy Color remakes of the first two NES games and Dragon Quest VIII on the PS2 and got the same result. I originally wasn't even going to bother with Dragon Quest IX, but then a few weeks ago, I saw it at Gamestop for about $12. So I figured what the heck. And while I can't say that its 'wowed' me, I will say that not only is it the best Dragon Quest game that I've played, but it's also one of the best Nintendo DS games period. And coming from me, that's saying a lot.

Story: 4.5 out of 10.

The Celestrains' observatory.Dragon Quest IX takes place in a nameless fantasy world. You play as a Celestrain, a race of angelic-like beings charged by the almighty with guarding the inhabitants of the human world below your floating observatory. This observatory is also home to Yggdrasil, the world tree, which the Celestrain's have been nurturing by taking the gratitude of the humans and giving it to the tree. They believe that if they do this long enough, Yggrasil will bear fruit and then they will be  permitted to return to the side of the almighty. Well, the game begins when this happens...and something goes horribly wrong. The observatory is nearly destroyed by an unknown force, and you and the fruit are thrown down to the human world below. Now it's up to you find out what went wrong, recollect the fruit and save the world.
player character holding one of the fruits of Yggdrisil.Let's face it, the Dragon Quest games have never been strong with their narratives, and that's still true here. The story feels unfocused and underdeveloped. With no character development and very little drama to speak of and the world as a whole is as generic as fantasy worlds get. Literally, all you're doing is skipping merrily along on the adventure's path. This is a common complaint among critics, but this is one instance where I think they're right. The story just isn't working for us. But with that said, the game has this quaint charm to it. I don't know what it is, but I can't help but be drawn into the world. This makes sense in a way because the protagonist is a blank slate for the player to mold. But I dunno, I think that its charm has more to do with Manga artist Akira Toriyama's (Creator of Dragon Ball Z) art style being front and center. He's worked on all of the Dragon Quest games since its creation as the monster and character designer, and his style has become the face of the series. The other factor, I think, is series composer Koichi Sugiyama's musical score. I have very conflicted opinions about this. I like the music, don't get me wrong, but I always felt like the music for this series was too happy and whimsical for a world-saving, swords and sorcery adventure. It feels like it belongs in a Mario game. Which is odd because I know for a fact that Sugiyama's music is capable of stirring up a wider range of emotions. I mean, this is the same man that did the music for Space Runaway Ideon. 
But one place this game doesn't skimp out on is gameplay.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10.

Character creation.Dragon Quest IX's core gameplay hasn't changed all that much since Dragon Quest IV on the NES. With turn-based battles, experience points, towns to explore, side quests to conquer, a world map to traverse, monsters to slay,  the same old stuff. It embodies the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And thankfully they didn't. The job system from previous games makes a return. If you're familiar with games like Final Fantasy V or Final Fantasy Tactics, then you know how this works. You can select a specific job (like a Warrior, Priest, Mage and so on) for each character and use their abilities in battle. But here it works a little differently. Unlike Final Fantasy V and Tactics, you have to go a special place, the "Alltrades Abby"  in order to change your job and each job has its own set of experience points. So instead of the player party members becoming stronger with each level up, your job does. There really isn't much to say on this end. It's a JRPG through and through, and there's nothing really wrong with that.
Entering the multiplayer mode.

However, there is ONE major addition to Dragon Quest IX's gameplay here. Multi-player. Yes, multi-player. And I don't mean that thinly veiled horde mode from Mass Effect 3. No, this is true, Secret of Mana style co-op where you and up to four friends can play through the story mode together. Now it makes sense as to why the player character is customizable. You activate the Multiplayer by talking to a certain person in a tavern in the second town you visit. If you talk to the winged woman, she can set you all up. Incidentally, this Tavern is also where you can recruit party members for the single player game. But anyway, the Multi-player mode is a neat feature, and In my opinion, is the probably the best way to do multiplayer in a single player RPG....But there's just one catch. Dragon Quest IX's multiplayer mode is offline only. And anyone you want to play with has to have their own copy of the game. I can understand everyone needing a copy of the game, but it makes no sense to me why an online mode is absent. The Nintendo DS was fully capable of online interaction, even more so after the DSi upgrade was released, but sadly very few developers actually took advantage of this feature.

equipment management.
Anyway, the other thing that makes this game so awesome is the side quests. There's tons and tons of them that you can tackle both during and after the story, many of which are open ended. And the game has a cool feature where treasure maps are generated infinitely, so the player can constantly find loot and fight new monsters that aren't in the main game. In many ways, the game is like a pseudo MMO in this regard. There is also a crafting system that lets you use alchemy to make new equipment, provided that you have the materials and the recipe. So Dragon Quest IX doesn't lack for things to do, even after the story is finished. It's just too bad that's there is only one save slot. So if you want to start a new game, you gotta delete your old one. What the heck?

The last thing to mention is the length. The main story will probably take you on average up to 40-50+ hours to get to the end. But the amount of extra content can keep you busy for over 100+ hours. Heck, I know someone who has played this game for over 800 hours. So needless to say, it's a massive game and you'll get your money's worth.


What Dragon Quest IX lacks in plot and characters it more than makes up for with gameplay. And that's the best way to sum it all up. It's a fun to play, the music is pretty good, the art style is charming, the multi-player is intuitive, and there is so much stuff crammed in it that you'll never get bored playing it. With that said, this game is not for everyone. it's pretty much the textbook example of what some people down right about JRPG's.  But then again I've read and seen reviews from critics who hate JRPGs give praise out the out the wazoo for the Dragon Quest games, so go figure.

But on the whole, yeah, DQ9 was worth my $12 and more. If you find a copy, get it. You'll thank me later.

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