It's Dragon Quest and it's good.
It's easy to draw some comparisons to Final Fantasy when talking about Dragon Quest. Both series debuted on the NES, both are long running series, and both are JRPG's at their core. However, despite it not being anywhere near as popular as Final Fantasy is over here, Dragon Quest is a phenominom to the Japanese and with it's latest installment, it's not that hard to see why.
As with any other RPG, story is a big aspect here. You start as a celestrian (Pretty much an angel) tasked with protecting and helping a small, out of the way town. By doing your job and completing requests from the townsfolk, you gather Benevolesence, which is then used in your floating castle of a home to power up a giant, magic tree. This sets up the basic premise of the game for about the first thirty minutes, as soon after you start, catastrophe strikes, and your sent plummeting to the planet. From there, you have to find out what happened, and collect the magical Fyygs that fell with you.
The rest of the story plays out in chunks, as each town you come across has it's own problems that you, being the hero, must solve. While some can be a bit bland, others can really tug at the heartstrings. However, this is by no means another usual sappy-storied rpg. This game is absolutely brimming with personality, most of it wacky or pun-based. Spells, enemies, characters, places-nearly everything in this game has a pun attached to it. A personal favorite is a crab-like enemy named a "Crabber-Dabber-Doo".
One of the major differences from other DQ games lies in how the characters are set up. Every character you use is created by you. You start with your main character (created by you), and instead of gathering a party as you progress, you simply go to a specific place in-game, and recruit whatever class you need. Though you have to start the game as a minstrel (all around) class, you can create supporting character from five other classes, and take three of them with you into the game. Each class has a seperate set of skills that you can decide to either invest in or ignore.
Though you can change anyone's class later on in the game, you may not feel the need to do so, or rather, you might not want to. Changing classes sets you back at level one, and while you can turn your character back to their original class and level at any time, the need to re-level can really make you want to ignore these opportunities. This is a real shame, as you will gather even more classes later on that could be very useful if there was a consistant level.
Another of the big departures for this series is that there are no longer random battles. Any enemies you encounter are represented in the overworld, and will either run after or away from you, depending on level. When you get into battle, the system is standard, but fast paced. You'll select what you want your team to do on who with their turns on the bottom screen, then watch as everything unfolds above. The action moves fast and aside from bosses, there aren't many enemies that'll stand up for more than a few turns (provided you last that long). This helps turn battles and grinding into less of a chore, though make no mistake as grinding is still vital to your success.
On the graphics side of things the game looks great. The environments, enemies, and main characters are all in full 3d, while minor characters are relegated to 2d sprites. DQ also takes some inspiration from western rpgs, and make all equipment on your characters noticible. While a nice touch and one that definitely gives you a good reason to customize, some of the equipment can be a bit... odd (Speedos, bunny outfits, and briefs are only the tip of the iceburg.). I personally both loved and hated this, as i always ended up short on money because I would never sell any equipment (In case I ever wanted to play dress up).
Speaking of appearances, Akira Toriyama's signature style is here in full effect. Whether this is a drawing point, or a problem depends entirely on you, but I didn't truly mind either way.
While this game doesn't suffer from any big problems, it does have a few missed opportunities and minor blemishes. The multiplayer is local-only, meaning that some of us (I.E. me) don't get the chance to test it out. The menus are occasionally a bit more cumbersome than they could or should be, and some of it's features make us realize how good other rpg's make it for us (The revival spell can miss, and you have to revive/cure your characters at a church for a fee.).
With it's lighthearted feel, fast battles, and intruiging story, this game manages to grab ahold of you, and never let go. So far, I've put 50 hours into it, about five or six of them postgame, and it's proven to be one of the best games all year. I'd sincerely. suggest picking up the game, and finding out why Japan loves it so much.