For those who are unaware, Dragon Quest is big business in its native Japan. Since the series began back in 1986, new releases in the series are met with rabid fanboy frenzy.
The eighth in the series was the first released here in Europe (on the PS2 only) and was a labour of love; a well written effort, thoughtfully put together with an insane level of localisation showed that Square Enix was committed to giving players an incredible RPG.
However, that was way back in 2006. Would the fact that so much time has been spent of the latest iteration of the series shine through? Or has a switch to a new hardware format ( Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
is a Nintendo DS exclusive) hurt the franchise?
Dragon Quest IX
is, at first glance, a standard looking JRPG. When you start a game, you build your standard anime-looking avatar and are treated to an extended introduction, telling you all about the Celestrians (of which you are one). You?re charged with guarding a small village, looking after the people who live there - they can?t see you, but they?ll pray to you, leaving behind a mystical substance called 'Benevolessence', which you give to a magic tree. One day the tree bears fruit, but then everything goes wrong...
Yes, as I said, it?s a standard JRPG that, as usual, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. However, stick with me. I promise it?ll get better. Honest.
The plot gets increasingly odd (the main focus is on your character hunting down magically possessed fruit!), but despite the weirdness DQIX
is one of the most charming and entertaining games I have ever played.
Despite being the first time a Dragon Quest
game has come out initially on a handheld, Square Enix has crammed in an incredible amount of gameplay into the teeny DS cart. My current save is at 45 hours, and I have only just completed the main game - there?s a wealth of side quests to tackle, though you don?t need to finish them. I defy you to not get involved in them though - there?s a Pokémon-esque element to completing them all.
Travelling through the land, you?ll see the amount of care that the developers have put into the game. There?s a reason that there?s a huge gap between Dragon Quest
releases - so much time is spent on making sure the games not only play beautifully, but look and sound good too. Graphically, DQIX
is solid enough (come on, it?s on DS, you can?t expect it to look like the PS2 version) but the music... the music is incredible. There are pieces in this game that wouldn?t be out of place being played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Another big draw is the high level of customisation available, not only for your character, but for everyone in your party. As you venture further on into your quest you?ll meet people who may join you, each with different skills and abilities. You start off as basically a blank slate, but you?re soon given the opportunity to mould your avatar in the way that you see fit.
There?s also the alchemy aspect, where you combine items you find in the game world to create better gear. Seriously, you can spend hours experimenting on this kind of thing. Levelling up isn?t the huge pain in the backside that it can so often be in RPGs. You wander round the map, choose to battle what you like (no random encounters, is a complete positive!) using a menu based system. It?s the usual attack / magic / use item affair, but battles can be dealt with in next to no time. Within a few hours of play you?ll have a powerhouse - then it?s time to start working on your team...