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Dragon Quest IX
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a turn-based RPG with a classic feel to it, which should be pretty familiar to you if you grew up during the '90s. Being the die-hard DQ fan that I am, I purchased it a week after it came out. I decided to wait until I had nearly beaten the game to write this article since then I could have a better idea of what to talk about. I'll be touching upon the gameplay and the storyline in this hub.
So, without further ado, please read on!
This is, without a doubt, what makes Dragon Quest IX so addictive. The storyline is pretty standard fare, with the shining exception of several plot twists you may or may not see coming. Essentially, your main character is a member of a race of winged beings (angels basically) called the Celestrians. After an attack on your home, you lose your halo and wings, fall to the world below and start searching for a way to get back to your home. Along the way, you'll realize that getting back is the least of your problems...
As I mentioned in the introduction, this is a turn-based RPG game. You can have a party of up to 4 characters. Unlike most other DQ games, you can actually create your 3 allies at an inn near the beginning of the game, so your party setup can be based on how you prefer to battle. At the start of the game you have access to 6 classes (called Vocations), and eventually unlock 6 more, as well as the ability to change the class of any of your characters (yes, including the Hero, which for fans of Dragon Quest III might be a shock, as back in the day the Hero was considered a class of his/her own).
Every class has five skill trees that can be trained via skill points you get on certain character level-ups. Since every class has one unique skill tree that no other class can learn, it's to your best benefit to train all vocations if possible. Skills you learn via skill trees carry over when you switch vocations, but any spells learned do not. It's a very time-consuming thing, but it allows a level of customization that's been all but lost in most other RPGs nowadays. Also, as you'll quickly realize, it's very much needed.
You see, the difficulty of this game is extremely high. Square Enix bragged that it's the hardest DQ game of all time. Having played it nearly to completion, I can vouch for this. That's not even including the post-game content, which involves a lot of extra dungeons with super hard bosses at the final floor of them. However, as difficult as the game can be, it's incredibly rewarding to finally beat that boss that's been giving you a hard time for the past few days.
Combat's a great deal more strategic in DQ IX than what it was in the earlier games. DQ VIII was essentially using and abusing Psyche Up with your damage dealers to vanquish your foes. In this game the goal to victory, besides having clearly defined character roles (such as one being a healer, another a damage dealer) is making sure you know WHEN to use your spells and skills. Using that shiny 400 damage spell isn't going to do you much good if the enemy can finish you off by glaring at you. This game requires more caution than what you may be used to, but I'm sure you'll find out the hard way if you play it.
Also, a little hint for DQ VIII fans that don't see an option to Psyche Up anymore: Check out the Martial Artist's unique skill tree.
I have to give props for this game's graphics. After seeing Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker and how bad the 3D looked in that game, I was actually scared that DQ IX would be the same. However, I'm happy and relieved to say that this isn't the case. Rather than go full 3D, the game is 2.5D, so, while you can move the camera up to a certain point, it's rarely necessary. The way the characters and monsters look is superior to the way they looked in the aforementioned game as well.
(With that said, if you're a fan of the monster-collecting subgenre of RPGs, I recommend you get DQM:J as well.)
The game has lots of neat little touches that have been absent in earlier iterations of the franchise. Your character's appearance is visibly modified by any items you equip (this only happened with certain items in earlier DQ games). This is true to the point that, at times to get the best stats out of your items, you might have to forsake fashion sense, making weird setups such as green pants with red armor, for example.
Most weapon and spell effects have simple graphical effects associated with them, but they're quite pleasant to look at. Also, landing a critical hit (with a weapon or a spell) causes it to connect in slow motion, which is something you don't expect the first time you see it, and is quite satisfying as well, in a "I really smacked it that time" kind of way.
Sound & Music
There's not much to say on this subject. This is a Dragon Quest game, and these games are well known for their nice soundtracks. While the regular boss music can get repetitive (it IS played for all bosses prior to the final one, which is something that didn't happen in DQ VIII, to that game's credit), I still found it quite enjoyable. The normal combat music, on the other hand is quite forgettable.
The game gets bonus credit for little details like the critical hit sound and the classic tune that's played when you get a key item (important item).
In conclusion, Dragon Quest IX offers an RPG experience that's sadly lacking in most other games of the genre nowadays. So, if you have a Nintendo DS, I recommend picking it up. If you don't have a Nintendo DS, then I recommend getting one for this game...it's THAT good! :)
Until the next time, have fun and take care! ;)