Saturday, February 25, 2012

Discussion: Dragon Quest IX - Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Dragon Quest IX – Sentinels of the Starry Skies was released in Japan in July 2009 and in North America a year later. Released to strikingly high praise, the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu gave it a 40/40 and Nintendo pushed its marketing campaign to the roof. I just recently beat this title last weekend, all while starting it back in August of 2011. Yes, it took me five months to get through Dragon Quest IX so I cannot review the game with a fair accuracy. Instead I will be looking back at my experience with the RPG and select to be what I believe is the game’s mix of high and low points.

First I must point out my thoughts on the story. I only thought it was okay. I thought it was boring and too simple throughout the majority of the game. But that’s what gets me. The story is mostly based on the fact that your character needs to collect seven pieces of a mystical fruit that have been scattered around the game’s world. For an RPG on the DS, Dragon Quest IX’s world is admittedly large, but that doesn’t make up for the repetitiveness of the story. Go to a town, learn about something bad that’s happened there, learn it’s because of the fruit, and then go fight whatever consumed the fruit. You save the day and everything’s okay. This happens for over two-thirds of the story until you’re so late in the game that if you’re still playing, then you’re committed to the end. This is where part of my own faults shine through, as I would take long breaks from playing DQIX after retrieving a piece of fruit. Or I was too tired during a school semester, and sometimes it was because I got bored. Thankfully some element of an overall story shines through in the end and really hits home with why you just spent 40 hours collecting pieces of fruit… repetitively.

The gameplay fulfills the Japanese RPG standard for what is expected in a turn-based game. You run into an enemy, a battle screen is initiated, and you take turns fighting the enemy. Dragon Quest IX doesn’t really differ from other RPG’s in its combat, but it does animate the battles in a way that’s fairly entertaining. Some boss battles are challenging, especially near the end, so this is when I found myself grinding through levels the most. Other than battles there really is only one other thing to do, and that’s running around getting to your next destination. I will mention here that yes you can do quests, but no they aren’t very worth it. Why should I go and put time into a quest when the item I receive isn’t necessarily useful? As long as you have money, which is actually hard to collect later in the game, you will be able to purchase equipment that suffices more than enough.

One of the reasons why I am criticizing Dragon Quest IX so much is because it’s clear it was built as a game to be shared with other people. It’s actually a lot more fun that way. I was only able to play DQIX with a friend in multiplayer mode for a short 40 minutes or so, but it was completely worth both it and the hassle it is to get your DS’ to communicate. Dragon Quest IX differs from other games in the series in that your supporting characters are entirely created by you. Their character class, hair, eyes, etc. are all your creation, and thus they are sort of meaningless to the plot of the game. You take them into battle and everything, but they don’t have a single line of dialogue. In multiplayer mode you can either traverse someone else’s world or they can be invited to yours. Then you can play through the story together and fight every enemy with a friend. This just makes the game more enjoyable and I wish I could have played more of it this way. But in the end it takes away from the single player experience in that the game feels somewhat lifeless on your own.

Everything I just touched upon seems to be more negative than positive, but Dragon Quest IX isn’t necessarily a bad game. It just lacks what I find to be of key importance in a JRPG: story. I need something that keeps me entertained and on the toes of my feet. DQIX tends to feel like a shopping list of “here’s what to do next.” As I mentioned it took me months to play through the game for various reasons, but in the last few weeks is when I pushed forward to the end of it. That last quarter of the game is where any hint of real story come to life, and thus my most recent impression isn’t wholly negative. If I played DQIX all the way through right when it came out, or rather, when I started playing the game, I think I would have possibly found the game more enjoyable overall because of its improved ending. But I may have also found it to be an extreme chore to keep collecting fruits. Damn that “fygg” tree for spreading fruit around the world. I can’t help but mention that Inuyasha did the same thing with those damn crystal shards, and for some reason I sat through every episode of that series. Same concept, same persistence on my end to make sure every fruit/shard was collected at last. That’s how I roll.

After beating Dragon Quest IX I learned that there’s actually a ton more stuff to do, but I don’t think I could put myself through more because it features what I didn’t really care for in the game to begin with. Level grinding, gathering items, quests, etc. Sometimes those elements are fun, but not so much unless there’s a great story to go with it! I know in Final Fantasy XII I went a bit overboard with collecting almost everything in the game, and let’s admit it, the story wasn’t exactly the greatest either. So maybe something just didn’t click with me in DQIX.

In the meantime I have purchased Dragon Quest IV and Dragon Quest V on the DS, and Dragon Quest VIII for the PS2. I hear these titles are better than DQIX and they feature actual characters and a more solid story. I will let you know what I think whenever I get to them. Until then, everyone can look forward, or not, to Dragon Quest X Online. We’ll see how that one goes.

Title: Dragon Quest IX – Sentinels of the Starry Skies
Developer: Square-Enix
Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
Year: 2009 (Japan), 2010 (North America)
Platform: Nintendo DS (Played on Nintendo 3DS)
Completion: Beat the game in 52 hours on the dot. Earned 23 accolades and completed 5 quests (not many). Spent a little over 40 minutes in multiplayer. Party level was 45/46 at end of game.

-Jared Cyhowski

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