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Old 03-28-2012   #1
NCZ
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Default Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies


In North America, Yuji Horii's Dragon Quest is a relatively well-known series among gamers, but in terms of mainstream popularity it pales in comparison to other Japanese RPGs such as Pokemon or Final Fantasy. In its home country of Japan however, Dragon Quest is quite possibly the most popular RPG of all time. In fact, it's actually a law that new DQ games have to be released on weekends so kids don't skip school to buy them! With Dragon Quest IX, Nintendo seemingly wanted to show that the series can be popular in the west. And for the most part, they've done a bang-up job, advertising it heavily and selling over 1 million copies. If you own a DS and like RPGs, read this review to find out why you simply must own this game.

Basic Information:
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Square Enix, Nintendo
Rating: E10
System: Nintendo DS

Graphics:
DQIX is one of the prettiest DS games I've ever played. The character and enemy models (based on designs by Akira Toriyama, who you may know for Dragon Ball and Chrono Trigger) are good-looking and show minimal signs of jagginess. The backgrounds are simply gorgeous, almost PS2-level in quality. There are numerous, varied types of backgrounds, including small villages, forests, beaches, and castles, each and every one taking my breath away. This is easily one of the best displays of the DS's graphical power. However, in order to get the graphics to look so good, one sacrifice had to be made. Pretty much all minor NPCs are 2D sprites. While they are decent-looking sprites, the combination of 2D and 3D people can be a little jarring. The characters were designed by Akira Toriyama (perhaps better known as the creator of Dragon Ball and designer for Chrono Trigger), and his trademark lighthearted, cartoonish charm is very visible in the game's art style. Nevertheless, the backgrounds man. The backgrounds! I give the graphics 9/10.

Story:
The story is pretty simple. You play as a nameless, speechless hero who is a Celestrian, watching over the people of a village called Angel Falls. One day however, due to an accident you lose your angel wings and halo and become a normal human. However, you retain Celestrian abilities such as the ability to see ghosts. Most of the game revolves around the quest for the fyggs, seven golden fruits with magical powers. Around the time you get to Stornway, the second major town, the game becomes largely episodic and formulaic. You visit a new town and discover it has a problem. You agree to help the problem and then venture off into a dungeon. You then fight and defeat a boss, solving the town's problem and also gaining one of the fyggs. It continues like this until the seventh fygg, at which point a new plot seems to kick in involving the Gittish Empire. To be honest, this story was interesting but there wasn't much buildup. It all seemed to come from nowhere. Overall, I'd give the story a 7. It's not the best in RPG history, but it's good enough to carry the game and keep you interested.

Writing:
Part of what makes Dragon Quest IX so charming is the very intelligent localization. Every enemy has its own name that's some sort of pun (for example, a cucumber enemy is called a "cruelcumber", an evil knight is called a "bad karmour"). In fact, the game is loaded with puns. Almost every name is bound to be a reference to the character in some way, such as Erinn (who runs a hotel in Stornway), Jack of Alltrades (the guy who lets you change your character class), and Jona (whose father was swallowed by a whale). There's also a hefty amount of alliteration (look at the title!). The game was translated in the United Kingdom, and it shows due to the use of British phrases, spellings, and accents for each character (troublemaking or "bad" characters will have their text written in a Cockney or even slightly Australian fashion, for instance). The British tone of voice helps lend the game a very medieval feel. Furthermore, a lot of humour and wit is present in the game itself. Your fairy sidekick Stella provides a good amount of witty banter whenever she gets the chance. ("Something smells fishy, and it's not the sardine you stepped in!") There are virtually no typos or translation errors, the characters are slightly-quirky and likeable, and the script is about as close to the original as possible. This game is basically a shining example of how to do a localization right. 10/10!

Sound/Music:
The music, done by longtime composer Koichi Sugiyama, is quite catchy and sets the mood very nicely. The music is very high quality and doesn't sound compressed at all. There aren't many tunes that stand out by themselves, but the soundtrack does have its highlights. My personal favourite is the catchy, peppy, "Stella's Theme". Other highlights include the overworld and town themes, partly because you hear them a lot, and partly because they're good tracks in their own right. Sadly there's no voice acting like VIII, but that's understandable due to limited space on the DS cartridge. There are a few retro NES-style sound effects in there, such as going down stairs or the victory jingle. Another 7.

Gameplay:
The most important part of any game, the gameplay itself. How is it?

If you're a fan of retro RPGs, you will be very pleased with IX. It's very easy to forget that it's a brand-new game, rather than a remake of an older one. Everything you expect from an old-school, pre-FFVII RPG is here. Battles are turn-based, there's magic, items, a medieval setting, inns to rest up in, saving can be done only at churches, there are dungeons, bosses, character classes... it's about as true to a classic RPG as you can get.

The one key thing that sets IX apart from older games is the complete lack of random encounters (hooray!). Enemies now appear on the field, so you can choose if you want to fight them or not. Unfortunately, avoiding enemies usually leads to your party being underlevelled, so you'll still have to grind for EXP on Metal Slimes anyway.

The battles have a very satisfying and natural flow to them. Boss battles also have a heavy strategy element. You may spend a lot of time thinking through each move. Should you perhaps buff your martial artist's defence a little, or simply heal him when his HP gets low? When you finally take down the boss, which is accompanied by a slow-motion finishing move and the screen fading to white, you get a satisfied feeling that is incomparable.

Unfortunately, expanding my previous point, the game seems designed to encourage grinding. After every three bosses or so, the next one has a sudden difficulty spike that almost always requires grinding. Whether it's a significant difference in HP, having stronger attacks, or (worse yet) attacking multiple times in one turn, some of the later bosses are absolutely unforgiving. This combined with grinding can be a major turn-off. You'll also have to grind when you feel like changing classes; a new class always starts at level 1 (you can always revert to the previous class, which keeps its level). Mercifully, hunting Metal Slimes (plus their advanced counterparts which come up later on and give out even more EXP) is much easier thanks to the aforementioned ability to see enemies on the screen.

Finally, DQIX is absolutely PACKED with content. There are more than 100 sidequests to do in all, ranging from fetchquests to killing certain amounts of enemies in certain ways, to doing things you wouldn't otherwise think of. They provide a fun additional challenge and you are rewarded with cool items, or sometimes even a new class beyond the basic six. The main story itself should last around 40 hours, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Ultimately, I give the gameplay an 8.5. The game is without a doubt a very fun experience, but the noticeable amount of grinding required throughout later portions of the story is too significant to me to ignore.

Customization:
I absolutely LOVE the sheer amount of customization in this game. At the start, you can feel free to design the hero however you like. Your options include gender, body type, skin colour, hair colour, and facial features. Another very unique feature is that unlike most other RPGs, where new party members are met as the story continues, you can fill up your party as soon as you get to Stornway (about an hour into the game). Your party members are no less customizable than your hero. This truly feels like a game where YOU are the star. It's a great way to just slip and escape from normal life.

In addition to customizing what the characters actually look like, there's also equipment and clothing. Unlike other games, where equipment isn't visible in gameplay, this game is an exception. This can have some interesting results. As you proceed through the game, you'll probably have acquired an outfit that is a mix-match of various clothing pieces (a warrior's helmet, heroic sword, blue jeans, and colourful armour, for instance). Some items are clearly on the comical side, ranging from bunny outfits to having the characters literally fight in their underwear. Other clothing items allow your party members to look like characters from previous Dragon Quest games. The outfit possibilities are almost unlimited, although there are a few limits (some equipment is exclusive to certain classes or genders).

New characters also have six class options. The warrior focuses on attack, while the mage uses offensive magic. Then there's the martial artist which uses attacks to boost its own power, the priest that uses healing and defensive magic (you'll pretty much need one if you want to survive), the thief is quick and specializes in item-snatching, while the minstrel (your hero will be one at the start of the game) is a well-rounded Mario-type character, being great at nothing but good at everything. Six advanced classes can be unlocked through sidequests later on.

Finally, there's an alchemy pot that allows you to use various items to produce new pieces of armour or weapons. It can be difficult finding the ingredients, but the results are definitely worth it.

Overall, I give the customization a 10/10. The only thing you don't have a say in is the world itself. Everything else is all you.

Final Verdict:
Pros:
- Excellent customization
- Beautiful graphics
- Fun, retro-style gameplay
- Charming designs and localization
- Will last a very long time

Cons:
- Lots of grinding
- Story takes a while to kick in

With all said and done, Dragon Quest IX deserves a 9/10. Maybe it is a little too old-school in some respects, being a little tough at times and emphasizing grinding. But the rest of the game is utter brilliance. It is not only one of the best RPGs on the system, but in my book it is a must-own for anyone with a DS.
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Last edited by NCZ; 03-30-2012 at 12:13 PM.
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Old 05-01-2012   #2
Hathor Liderc
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Default Re: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Curses...stole my idea! XD
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Old 05-01-2012   #3
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Default Re: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Heh, sorry about that! Anyway, you can feel free to share your own thoughts or post your own review. I'd be interested in hearing what you have to say.
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Old 05-14-2012   #4
Hathor Liderc
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Default Re: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Quote:
Originally Posted by NCZ View Post
Heh, sorry about that! Anyway, you can feel free to share your own thoughts or post your own review. I'd be interested in hearing what you have to say.
Nah, its cool. I'll post up my review later.

I know the whole word-play in the naming, while quaint, isnt necessary.
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Old 05-14-2012   #5
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Default Re: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Can't wait to read it!
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