Developer: Level-5, Square Enix / Publisher: Nintendo / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes) / Played on: DS / Price: $34.99
Glorious kingdoms, a battle for the heavens, and a handful of cuddly monsters await all who venture into the world of Dragon Quest IX, the brand-new roleplaying game in the long-running, record-selling series. Releasing nearly three years after the last main game in the series, the fan base behind Dragon Quest IX has high expectations for the new portable entry and its willingness to tread new ground. With a focus on multiplayer gameplay alongside the same tried-and-true standard for combat and exploration, Dragon Quest IX hopes to be the definitive roleplaying experience on the Nintendo DS.
At the beginning of the game you select your character’s gender and physical appearance. As a member of the Angelic race called the Celestrians you are tasked with protecting the people living on the land below you. Events inevitably go wrong during a divine ceremony that causes you to fall from the heavens to the land you were guarding not too long ago. Having been stripped of your powers Metroid-style you must discover the reasons behind the recent resurgence of monsters around the land, and find a way to take your rightful place amongst the clouds. The story is engaging and well-paced. Your motivations for the actions you take in defending the world are believable and the characters you interact with help to create a land that is actually worth fighting for. Falling from the Heavens and not being able to protect your people results in a land in turmoil. One small kingdom is afflicted by a disease, but after you put the contagion in its place the city is bright and lively. As you progress forward the story gets even more complicated with additional plots and twists that add to the memorable story.
The core of Dragon Quest IX is its combat, and after creating your main hero and up to three party members your entourage of warriors, priests, thieves, and the like, the game really starts to pick up. Enemies appear on the world map and coming into contact with one will engage the battle. Having no random encounters means you can walk past enemies you don’t want to fight, making it much easier to get where you need to be without having to engage in low level battles unless you so wish. With the exception of boss battles, of which there are quite a few, enemy encounters tend to be on the easier side, especially if you’ve spent a decent amount of time in a given area since your party will be at a higher level than most enemies. After battles you’re rewarded with gold and experience points and eventual level ups that increase your base stats and abilities. Each of the classes has specific traits assigned to it, and after leveling up a class you’re given skills points to put into armor enhancements, weapon proficiencies, and magical abilities. Anyone who has played an MMO like World of Warcraft will feel a hint of familiarity in this tier system of class progression. Priests, for example, can learn powerful healing spells that raise fallen party members, while warriors can become more proficient in swords to deal greater damage. Battles will feel very familiar to anyone who has played a previous Dragon Quest IX game but also come off as one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.
There are plenty of things to do outside of battle. A very intricate alchemy system has you turning seemingly useless items like old daggers and insect wings into valuable new weapons and equipment. Certain characters you come across offer side quests, resulting in extra items and gold. Leveling up each class grants new titles attributed to your character as well as carrying over some shared abilities across each of the classes. All of this added to the main story make for a near 45-hour gameplay experience that any RPG fan will love.
The biggest addition to Dragon Quest IX is the ability to link up your DS with up to three friends and play together. You can only bring your main character over to your friend’s game to aid them in battle, exploration, or questing, and the game does a good job of scaling enemies and experience gained so you can’t overpower your friends early in the game[JF1] . Any quests and unique treasure chests that the host player hasn’t completed or found yet will be inaccessible to guests, but things like experience, gold, and items found on the field will carry over to your own game. Connecting or hosting a multiplayer session is as easy as going to a certain Inn and talking to the Celestrian there to create the host lobby. So long as all participants stay within a reasonable distance (twenty or so feet) from one another the connection remains near flawless with very little slowdown or issues. Playing together with a group of buddies is one of the most fun parts of Dragon Quest IX and is easily the best use of multiplayer in any handheld RPG I’ve played.
Featuring the artistic style of veteran designer Akira Toriyama of Dragonball Z fame, Dragon Quest IX looks and feels like older entries in the series. Lush colors and environments accompany each new location making the game as fun to look at as it is to play. Perhaps the coolest feature is seeing each item you equip displayed on your character in-game. If the head piece you are wearing is a metal pot, sure enough your character will be running around sporting a metal pot. It almost becomes a fashion show when determining which items to equip and which to leave behind. For a DS game Dragon Quest IX features crisp graphics and presentation, easily one of the better looking games on the handheld.
Dragon Quest IX is one of the best RPG experiences you can have on a handheld device. The perfect game length, strong multiplayer capabilities, and fun, quirky characters and enemies all make for a fantastic gaming experience that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the series or genre. Grab your sword, don your armor, and get ready to slay slime after adorable slime in one of the best DS games of the summer.