Joypads: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies review
Does the anticipated next game in the Dragon Quest franchise live up to the hype?
The Dragon Quest series is one of those franchises that’s hugely popular over in Japan, but not as much outside of Japan. I mean, Japan gets merchandising ranging from plush toys and towels to speakers, DS holders and even alcoholic beverages! The most I’ve seen here is a hat with a slime on. Dragon Quest games in Japan sell loads, with the bigger games selling millions on release day and the game being sold on certain dates so that people don’t truant from work/school to buy the games. Meanwhile, the games are lucky to sell a tenth of what they sell on release date here in Europe. Nintendo have noticed this and have decided to publish the newest game, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies themselves and market the hell out of it to try and get it to sell well. So, should you get this game? Let’s see what it offers…
Dragon Quest games (or, at least the main games) are simple turn-based RPG’s which don’t have the major epic universe-busting plots or the major enigmatic twists or even the overly complicated mechanics that other RPG’s offer. They usually don’t have mind-blowing graphics or major unique features which make them different from other games. So why is this one of Japan’s best-selling franchises, and most importantly, why has it inspired a ballet? Well, I’ve just explained it to you. It doesn’t make things complicated and add in all these things which make everything confusing. It lets players move around at their own pace and get engrossed in the story without being confused. Other features, such as the controls, are simple to understand. The game can be controlled either with the stylus (although there’s certain things you can’t seem to do such as party tricks) or with the buttons. I personally prefer the buttons, as it makes movement easier and choosing things on the menu quicker. The stylus is not necessary as far as I’m aware, which is a good thing.
Now, what does Sentinels of the Starry Skies add in? The main new feature is customisation, which lets you create your character and party from scratch. You can decide how you look in ways such as skin colour and hair at the start of the game for you and at a certain point in the game for your party, then in-game you can decide what your character wears, either for fashion or to increase your party’s stats (at one point in the game, my male mage was wearing the best armor he could, which included an open-chested orange jacket, black Y-fronts, and was equipped with a whip. He looked very…suggestive). It’s not overly detailed (e.g. scar on left side of face under cheek, handlebar mustache that extends far out of face), but it’s good enough for you to make decent units.
Another big feature of this game is the multiplayer and Wi-Fi features. With wireless multiplayer, you can connect with other people for a variety of features. You can join your friend in the game or invite friends over to help you in the game, a feature which is very helpful at times, such as if you’re struggling with a boss and you need a strong friend to help you out. It’s also incredibly fun too, as there’s loads of different things you can do, such as exploring dungeons together and taking items from their worlds you may not have found in your world. It’s a big feature that’s been advertised, and it’s paid off quite well. Another feature via wireless multiplayer is Tag Mode, where you can swap items and treasure maps with people, even if your DS is in sleep mode. This feature’s proved popular in Japan where it’s become Japan’s biggest wireless gaming feature ever, and Nintendo are advertising it in America by doing tours where people can download new treasure maps. It’s an interesting feature, especially since it’s difficult to get exact treasure maps in-game and people can send you maps with certain things such as dungeons with a certain type of enemy. This feature would have seen much more use if it were Wi-Fi too, but at least we have this feature in the game. Speaking of Wi-Fi, the game’s online features are quite good too. The DQVC (named after DQ, short for Dragon Quest, and the QVC shopping channel) lets you purchase items in the online store. The store is personal for everyone, so the items change for each person every day. It’s useful for alchemy stuff and things for quests, but there could be better uses for it. You can also download other things, such as quests which net you rare items, new recipes, and even new storylines and some big surprises. You can get special guests too, who give you special items, which is something to look out for. The game contains loads of other features too, such as quests (which are basically sidequests), alchemy (mixing items to create new items) and grottos (optional dungeons with unique enemies and bosses).
As said previously, the story isn’t a massive epic story with massive twists and turns. It’s pretty simple, which is good as it means you don’t get confused with everything that happens. You play as a Celestrian, an angel-like guardian from a place called the Observatory, who looks over the town of Angel Falls. You perform good deeds to receive thanks from mortals (non-Celestrians, basically humans) in the form of Benevolessence, which you present to the Yggdrasil, a mythical tree, until it eventually blooms, allowing all Celestrians into the Realm of the Almighty where The Almighty One lives. The Benevolessence you receive makes the tree bloom and summons a train to pick up all Celestrians, but suddenly the Observatory is attacked by large beams, which destroy parts of the Observatory and cause you to fall down to Angel Falls (get the pun now?). This triggers a number of different in-game events which progress the story, changing your objective throughout the game. The story seems simple enough, but it’s serious, funny, and emotional. The game is literally littered with puns which will make you smile, such as Ivor Littlun (I’ve a…yeah, you might guess what it’s referring to), Swinedimples Academy, a reference to Hogwarts from Harry Potter (hog = swine, warts and dimples both appear on your face), and Patty and Sellma (puns that tell you their jobs, with Patty sorting your party and Sellma selling you stuff, but also a reference to Patty and Selma from The Simpsons). The story’s also extremely sad at times – personally, I was close to tears at least twice, but don’t tell anybody that.
The graphics are a step up from Dragon Quest IV and V, the previous two main Dragon Quest games on the DS (they’re remakes, if you’re wondering about the numbering). The main characters are in 3D, as well as battles, with a 3D overworld and some hand-drawn cutscenes. It looks quite nice and at times beautiful. However, there’s very few hand-drawn cutscenes, which just seems like an excuse to add in drawings where they couldn’t use game models. I was hoping for more cutscenes like that, especially since there’s a few moments in the game where it really would have benefitted. The other graphics problem is the fact that minor characters use 2D sprites. This wouldn’t be much of a problem to me if they were consistent. Some characters change their sprites from 2D to 3D, especially during cutscenes, which makes things look a bit tacky at times. The music isn’t over the top like other games, which feel the need to use orchestra music for every little thing. However, a lot of time has been spent on the music, and not only does it show the varying emotions of the game, but it also uses music from past games to give a nostalgic feel. The only thing I can say about the music is that it gets repetitive at times. For instance, the same music always plays in the overworld, and while that gives a sense of freedom (you can explore anywhere on the map easily at certain points in the game), it gets annoying.
Overall, Dragon Quest IX is one of the best RPG’s on the DS. It gives you a feeling of freedom and a lack of restraint which makes it feel more like an RPG than a game which leads you along a path, telling you what to do. A few minor problems appear here and there, but it doesn’t detract from the overall experience of the game, which gives you loads to do and gives you the opportunity to share your joy with friends. The things you can do in Dragon Quest IX is endless, but the fun always remains, and best of all, it lives up to the Dragon Quest name, being a great entry in the franchise.
Story: 8/10 – The story isn’t an epic tale or anything, but it’s got enough emotion in it to get you interested, as well as a few enigmas and twists added here and there.
Gameplay: 9/10 – Yes, it’s a turn-based RPG. No, that doesn’t make it bad. It suits being turn-based, and there’s enough to do here to last you ages.
Graphics: 8/10 – The graphics are quite nice, with a mix of 2D and 3D giving a new yet retro feel. The problems are only minor.
Sound: 7/10 – The usual Dragon Quest tunes are here, which make it familiar to fans. It’s not songs that’ll stick in your head, but it’s good songs.
Multiplayer: 9/10 – It’s fun to play this game with others, and with the downloadable stuff added in, it keeps the game fresh.
Value for Money: 10/10 – Well worth the £30 retail price. There’s loads to do and the game will last you quite a while.
Overall (not an average): 9/10