bshirk's Dragon Quest IX: Hoshizora no Mamoribito (Nintendo DS) review

Slaying the dragon is nine parts fun, one part work

 

When I gave a family member Dragon Quest 9 as a Christmas gift suggestion, I wasn’t all that excited about it. To be honest, I only put it on my list because fellow gamers had been raving about spending 200 hours with the game. Despite enjoying Dragon Quest 4 and 5, I feared that 9 would present a slightly altered version of 8’s slow battles and a sprawling world I didn’t care about. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Dragon Quest 9 does rely heavily on battles, but it takes the best aspect of 8’s system (assigning character attributes), combines it with 3’s wonderful job system, and sends archaic random battles to the netherworld. Besides eliminating those dastardly random battles, Dragon Quest 9 speeds up combat while animating characters and enemies to give it a contemporary feel.

If you’ve played its predecessor, the addition of visible allies won’t surprise you, but 9 further enhances the series’ visual appeal by displaying your characters’ equipment. Dragon Quest 8 may have allowed players to ogle Jessica’s cleavage-bearing outfits, but the other characters retained their default appearance. The latest Dragon Quest allows you to proudly display your noble garb, shell helmet, or dunce cap.

Character customization doesn’t end with playing dress-up. You can also choose from several different faces, a multitude of hairstyles and colors, and various skin tones and eyes. Designing characters in games often feels like an ordeal, but Dragon Quest 9 gives you plenty of options without making it feel like forced labor.

Lastly, you have the option of assigning your characters’ professions. I chose the stereotypical balanced party: Warrior, Martial Artist, Mage, and Priest, but if you’d rather steal than put in a solid day’s work, you can be a Thief (OK, fine. “Treasure Hunter”).

Dragon Quest 9’s job system is a throwback to 3’s where characters were blank slates defined by their professions. While assigning your character beginning classes requires no explanation, its system feels less intuitive than Dragon Quest 6’s which describes what must be mastered in order to advance to another class. Learning an advanced job in Dragon Quest 9 requires you to complete side-quests that may go undiscovered, and the benefits of a second-tier classes aren’t clearly explained.

While much of Dragon Quest 9 borrows from earlier games in the series, there are a few innovations such as its gesture system (e.g. clapping, bowing, etc.) and tag mode that allows you to explore optional dungeons with up to three other human players. Personally, I didn’t find this content compelling, but if you enjoy tackling challenging bosses and outfitting your characters with specialized equipment, this can significantly extend your gameplay time.

Character customization is certainly one of the highlights of Dragon Quest 9, but its witty dialogue, charming visuals, and ethereal music are equally memorable. Puns have long played an important role in Dragon Quest, and players either love or hate them, but they helped me grow attached to even the most minor of characters.

Dragon Quest 9’s visuals, though a step back from 8’s also provide for a vibrant world. Its lush grasslands and celestial realm are a refreshing change from the post-apocalyptic worlds which have inundated modern consoles. Its 3D characters models are simple, but have a certain charm to players who have fond memories of 16-bit RPGs.

One of Dragon Quest 9’s least discussed aspects is its soothing, otherworldly soundtrack. The song list is a bit sparse in comparison to games in the Tales and Final Fantasy series, but its paltry list of songs makes up for this by being beautiful, yet haunting.

If you’re looking for an RPG that’ll make you feel like a kid again, Dragon Quest 9 is a great buy. While it lacks the visual splendor of its console brethren, it still tells a memorable story -- and more importantly --makes you feel like you’re a part of a grand adventure.

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