Nukezilla Review: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DS)
Dragon Quest is nothing short of an institution.
Like a modern wax museum or the latest Disneyland animatronic spectacle, each Dragon Quest title attempts to recreate the magic of the very first game in the series using the latest technology to lavish effect on the exterior layers, leaving the steel skeleton underneath untouched. Understandably, Square Enix turned millions of heads when they announced the official sequel would premier on the technologically underpowered DS portable. Somehow though, they’ve been able to transcend the graphical limitations of the little handheld that could and produced a faithful and progressive successor to the beloved DQ dynasty.
As the name implies in Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky, you play an angel responsible to protect and enrich the lives of the mortals below. As you journey down to your patron village you discover an ever increasing need throughout the land for angelic intervention.
Just like in Dragon Quest VIII (forgive me, I’ve only played through the PS2′s masterpiece; you can blame my American childhood and western gaming proclivities) each quest line provides a twisting and charming short story. As you travel from village to village, you encounter surprisingly well written characters with regional accents (from the British isles) all of whom have endearing personalities and sometimes touching life stories. One of the early quests shocked me with a genuinely sympathetic tragedy, one where the player is unable to affect the outcome.
Similar to the quality found in the game’s writing, the rest of the core production elements are expertly crafted; from music, sound character and world artwork, DQ IX is a beautiful game. The core mechanics of turn-based combat and world exploration haven’t changed in the 24 years since the original Dragon Quest, but are solid and refined. The game rarely requires extreme power leveling found in other RPGs, but at about the six hour mark you’ll get access to the ability to recruit new party members and later the ability to change your profession.
All of this flexibility comes at a major cost: none of your party members are fleshed out characters, but rather just hired thugs helping you level through the game and allowing you to add or remove them from the party as you see fit. Leveling your character along with each interchangeable mercenary in your party can seem overwhelming to someone who’s looking to get through this game in under 50+ hours. I miss the banter and character development that was such an integral part of my enjoyment of DQ VIII, but the combination of portability and co-operative dungeon crawling make for a stellar package of classic role playing loot.
This review is Day 15 of the December Review Nukestravaganza.