Next to Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest has been one of the longest running role-playing game franchises on the market. The series has been a hit on consoles dating back to the NES and now the franchise has been revitalized on the Nintendo DS. Published by Nintendo and Square Enix, I suppose it shouldn’t be too shocking this latest installment, IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, is appearing on Nintendo’s popular handheld. Sure this is a break in tradition, but it’s a logical step.
Sentinels of the Starry Skies tells the story of Celestians and a heavenly tree named Yggdrasil. Basically, the Celestians are angelic beings with wings and halos and they watch over the mortal world below. Throughout the years they have been collecting a material known as Benevolessence (think a physical manifestation of thanks from the regular folk below) and feeding Yggdrasil with it. When they gather enough, they are supposed to ascend to the next plane of existence, but as the final piece of Benevolessence is delivered, a massive shot of light destroys all the Celestians had been working for.
As one of these Celestians, players find themselves wingless in the world of mortals and essentially have to figure out what went wrong. The plot progresses as players make their way around the world and learn bits and pieces of what happened. The story remains entertaining through to the end and the game does a great job of building up the world around your characters with side stories from towns and NPCs (non-playable characters).
When the game starts, players are allowed to customize their hero and eventually they’ll be able to build party members from scratch. This break in tradition for the franchise allows a great deal of customization to influence the experience; however, it does leave some of the franchise’s stronger elements nowhere to be found. Party members have no personality and never develop one through the course of the game. They feel excluded from the story and leave the experience feeling a little dry. On the flip side, the customization element is a positive step forward in the sense that players can dictate what skills and jobs party members can use (character classes can be adjusted later on in the game), and alter the way their characters look in whatever manner they choose.
Once you get some of the party member basics out of the way the game is pretty much like every other Dragon Quest title out there. What that means is you’ll arrive in a town, talk to people, head out on a quest, fight through a dungeon, and defeat a boss. It’s the tried and true formula that J-RPGs follow. Along the way players gain experience, level up characters, buy better equipment, and rinse, wash, repeat.
One thing that separates Sentinels of the Starry Skies from its brethren a little is the number of side quests available in the game. By talking to NPCs throughout towns, players can get MMORPG style missions and fetch quests. These extend the game a bit and lead to some worthwhile rewards. The game also produces random treasure maps that can be collected and used to get to rare items and enemies. These are separate from quests and the main story, being pretty much supplemental dungeons. One thing that’s interesting to note about the treasure maps is that they can be exchanged with other players in something called Tag Mode. This is one of the social elements added to the game and if you can take advantage of it, it will extend your experience immensely.
The other social element to Dragon Quest IX is multiplayer. Or, it is multiplayer in the sense that up to three friends can visit your world and help out. Visitors can level up their characters with experience points, but beyond that they are merely along for the ride. It’s an entertaining kind of diversion if you have a few friends with their own copy of the game, but chances of scoring this kind of experience are few and far between because it’s relegated to local wireless only. Then again, the same can be said for treasure map sharing.
If you’re coming to Dragon Quest IX, the chances are very good you’re a fan of the series. In that sense it’s important to note that all the things you love about the franchise are kept intact. The core gameplay, the combat, the leveling system, and exploration; everything in that regard will be familiar. The new customizable party element and multiplayer components are hit or miss, but not bad concepts by any means. The only problem is single players will find themselves missing out on some of the intended experience.
Sentinels of the Starry Skies looks great on the DS. The game is bright, colorful, and maintains a style akin to what fans have come to expect from Akira Toriyama’s artwork. There’s personality bursting at the seems in this title, and it’s very easy on the eyes. As far as DS games are concerned Dragon Quest IX offers some high end material, though long-time fans of the series may consider it a step back from Dragon Quest VIII on the PlayStation 2. Even so, the title looks great and the customized elements play a big role in the experience. Player created characters take on very original looks and every piece of equipment (over 900 are included) has a unique look that changes the appearance of characters in the game. Very cool!
The sound here is iconic Dragon Quest through and through. That means players can expect familiar music and sound effects. Some newer content works in occasionally, though if you’ve played any of the previous outings for the franchise, don’t expect much innovation. This is a game that sticks with what works and doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and there’s something to be said for that familiarity.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a game that fans of the franchise absolutely must pick up. The adventure is long and challenging and the new elements are fun to explore. Players without easy access to friends with the game will miss out on some of the experience, but even so it’s a worthy installment with plenty of game time. If you had fears about the next major Dragon Quest title appearing on the DS, put them to rest — this game is highly recommended and will be enjoyed by role-playing enthusiasts.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, and Mild Suggestive Themes.