I’ll be honest. I’m a little biased towards the Dragon Quest games after my experiences with Dragon Quest VIII, a game which I would highly recommend playing to anyone with a forlorn looking PS2 and 60 hours of spare time. Dragon Quest VIII had charm, a captivating story and a fantastic, albeit it traditional, battle system. Dragon Quest IX seems to have taken these qualities and to myself, and several of my colleagues, become the best RPG on the DS console.
It’s difficult to say why. The game itself seems to have very little in terms of game play mechanics that differentiate it from the other Japanese RPGs the DS offers. The reason for this, I would suggest, is because it does everything that a traditional JRPG would do, very well.
The graphics are outstanding for a DS game; in cut scenes the characters’ faces can be seen clearly and do not appear too pixilated. When in battle there is a huge amount of detail visible, both on the monsters and on the equipment worn by your party. The only time I noticed that the graphics on the game were disappointing was whilst playing on a DSI XL console, when the pixels on the characters were blown up to make the appearance of everyone and anything appears very ‘blocky’. Having said that, I do not own a DSI XL myself, and this has been the only game I have tried it on, so I cannot definitively say whether this is due to hardware or software (hardware unfortunately – Dave).
The battle system is very simple and easy to navigate. The player will choose from several options, allowing either a basic attack, or the chance to cast a spell, to use a special ability (which are not over-powered and are situation- specific) or to use an item. You can also build up a character’s ‘tension’ over time to finally unleash a super charged move that can deal massive damage. This feature is useless in standard battles but is often a successful tactic in boss battles, allowing a bit of variation in the play.
You start the game with a default class or ‘vocation’ as they are known in Dragon Quest IX. As a minstrel you are rather akin to a Jack of All Trades which allows you complete freedom in choosing your fellow comrades later in the game. There are a number of character classes in Dragon Quest IX, beginning the game with the options of the Warrior, Mage, Priest, Thief, Martial Artist and Minstrel, but later able to unlock several additional classes. You are able to change your original character’s role about 10 hours in to the game but the level of your character is dependent on the vocation, meaning that each time you change any of the parties roles, they will start at level 1 again (unless you have previously levelled that vocation). This adds an additional level of strategy into the game as you have to think carefully about whether you have members of the party of a high enough level to support your level 1 ranger until they have gained much more experience.
At the beginning of the game you are able to design your character, choosing features such as your height, hairstyle and colour, eye shape and colour, and name. Later on you are able to choose an extra 3 companions, who you can either design yourself or accept predesigned characters created by the game. Every time you equip a new sword or a new robe or piece of armor the appearance of your character will change to reflect this. For me this resulted in hours of playing around with outfit combinations to get my characters looking as well dressed as should befit the hero of the mortal realms.
After you have created a hero you are thrown head first into the story, and learn that you are from a race of guardians, tasked with protecting the mortal world. You acquire a lovely set of wings and a halo but sadly and inevitably as in all JRPGs things start to go wrong, and the hero is cast down to the world below, loses their guardian status, and is gifted with a quest to build benevolence and thanks in order to get back home.
As with most RPGs there are a huge number of side quests that upon completion allow you access to rare equipment, weapons, items, or unlock additional job classes for your characters. This adds a great deal of play time to the game, as you set off to all four corners of the earth in a hunt for 3 rabbit tails, with the knowledge that upon completion you will receive that new shiny helm. Added to this is an achievement system that awards you new titles every time you hit a significant point. For example achieving rank 1 in sword skill, or taking part in 500 battles. For many players of JRPGS this adds to their already burning desire to have every piece of equipment or learnt every skill available.
The story is traditional, but this is in no way a bad thing, and the wit and speed with which the story transgresses means that you become captivated with the game’s plot. However due to the multiplayer ability built into the game, your own party results in 4 created characters with no personality whatsoever. There is no dialogue between your own character and your party members, and even your own character seems to have no personality. It is therefore very difficult to feel any sort of emotional attachment to any of the created characters. This is a shame because when it comes to the NPCs in the game, you often feel emotions when some evil befalls them. I do not wish to ruin the game for anyone but one sub storyline made me genuinely sad (One word, Coffingwell).
The multiplayer option in the game is excellently integrated. One player acts as a host and up to 3 friends can join in on their game. However they are not limited to simply following the host around, but instead can explore much as they can on their own game. There has even been the inclusion of blue chests that can be opened by the non-hosting players, as well as by the host when they return to single player. If the host requires assistance, other players can jump to their aid after a summons, which pulls them straight into the host’s current battle seamlessly.
I would highly recommend this game to any fan of the JRPG or even to anyone who is looking for a good game to get their teeth into this summer. Although some might consider the battle system slow moving, or the game play too similar to other games available, the game has bucket loads of charm which will captivate anyone willing it to give it a chance. Now, I need to go and hunt down some slimes to complete my set of slime armor…
Mary Antieul, Contributor