Dragon Quest IX was the first Dragon Quest game I had ever completed. It was also my first Nintendo DS role playing game. After spending so much time with the game I couldn’t help, but think that these two were made for each other. I don’t think I would have enjoyed Dragon Quest IX on any other platform. The traditional design was made for small spurts of play that the handheld accommodated so well.
I’ve never played a role playing game where I molded my character and their traveling companions. I was able to customize them to my liking from head to toe, but that was interesting for the first 15 minutes or so. No matter what I did, they were nothing more than empty shells. My Elena and her crew, Chunners, Brawlee and McAngree, were mutes. Emotionless avatars that did not contribute to the narrative, share quips or voice opinions in any fashion. That was a bit disappointing.
On the bright side, the ability to customize extended to my adventure as well. The main story arc was structured similarly to Mass Effect 2’s where I could go out into the world and complete quests in any order I like. But instead of gathering a cast of characters to save the universe, I was collecting seven fyggs to save the heavens and the Protectorate (Earth).
The goal was simple and so were the little stories wrapped around each fygg’s retrieval. Those stories were surprisingly effective at tugging at the heart strings. They were neither original nor elaborate; they were very direct and easy to empathize with. The theme of loss was common through and through, but I kept falling for them. Who knew playing the same sad theme when something tragic happens could be so effective?
In fact, I had forgotten how effective simple tunes could be. The adventure tune. The sailing tune. The crisis tune. There was a tune for just about every situation and they used them appropriately. And as a testament to the quality of those tracks, I didn’t get tired of a single one of them.
The visual style of Dragon Quest IX was also very endearing. The chibi caricatures came in two forms: polygonal and sprites. The sprites were for the periphery characters while polygonal models were used for the stars of show. The two styles meshed surprisingly well thanks to Akira Toriyama’s art. The only fault I had with the visual presentation was with the framerate and its occasional dips. They were to be expected, but it was an unfortunate blemish to an otherwise great looking game.
On top of pushing the graphical hardware, Level 5 put other capabilities of the Nintendo DS hardware to work as well. The Nintendo Wi-Fi service unlocked new quests and allowed other DQIX players to visit my game. I couldn’t do the latter since I’m not living in Japan where nearly everyone and their mother brings their Nintendo DS on their travels to work. But I was still able to appreciate the online enabled content like the extraneous quests and weekly sales of in-game items.
But as forward thinking as they were the online integration and their approach to the story progression, the battle system left a lot to be desired. I have nothing against turn based systems, but I am not a fan of repeating meaningless fights. Even though I could avoid enemies on the field, it didn’t excuse the fact that many battles were slow and monotonous. I realize that Dragon Quest games have a tradition to uphold when it comes to their battle systems, but would it be so blasphemous to add an a “rush auto attack” mode like the one found in Persona 3 and 4?
Even though I was juggling eight job classes, I did not see the need to utilize any of their fancier abilities. The basics worked and I exploited that. A few party buffs, a sprinkle of enemy de-buffs and most bosses were done. Needless to say I wasn’t too thrilled with the battle system which is a shame because that’s the one major obstacle that’s keeping from exploring the post-game content.
Dragon Quest IX showed off a lot of the depth and Japanese game development craftsmanship that we rarely get to see the home consoles anymore. I can see why people say that the “new home for JRPGs” is on the handhelds now. However, I believe they may have played it a bit too safe with the battle system and a bit too loose in narration department for my liking. But in the end I did enjoy the 70 hours of play time I invested in this game.
It was strangely comforting.
For more information on Dragon Quest IX, visit the official website.