Dear readers, count this day as one of great fortune.
Ginia got me all riled up to write about gameplay mechanic changes coming in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, but before I started a multivolume epic, I paused… “Did I not,” I asked myself, “promise my dear readers a review of Dragon Quest IX in my post-surgery drug-induced haze?”
I did, dear readers, I did. And let it never be said that I abandon my promises.
Last Friday, as everyone was reading and enjoying my column, I was under the knife. Four teeth, the so-called “wisdom teeth” (though I call them the teeth of endless pain), were removed from my head. To console myself, I purchased Dragon Quest IX – Sentinels of the Starry Skies, which kept me company during my convalescence, bedridden as I was.
I am a fair ways in to the game, so I think I have a firm grasp on the basic mechanics, enough to write a review. Fair warning, some perceptions may be skewed by my aforementioned hydrocodone haze.
The game bears the hallmarks of Akira Toriyama, creator of such dreadful pap as the Dragonball series and Blue Dragon. Fundamentally, I find something wrong with this art style; it is not that I dislike animation. It is just that I dislike Toriyama’s animation. The eyes, I think, are all wrong. And that stupid hair.
The style aside, however, the actual graphic elements are quite nice. Animations are fluid, armor models are unique and interesting, and enemies are quite detailed… if stupidly-named. Fighting one more Meowgician or Cruelcumber will collapse what is left of my sanity.
The music is bright, cheery, and almost entirely at odds with the story of the game, which is somewhat dark. The basic overview is that the player character is a Guardian, a sort of enforcer of goodness in the celestial hierarchy… at least until something mysterious and bad happens and the player is stripped of his or her divine powers (seriously; the name of the starting town is “Angel Falls.” Can we say foreshadowing?).
The downside to the story is that it is very much aware of its target audience, younger children playing on the DS. Exposition is obvious and heavy-handed. Subtlety is a thing of fantasy, and look not for maturity within these digital bits.
The best feature of the game is the ability to custom-create your own party. The class variation is nice, and the stat system on the gear is easy enough to comprehend. The options for character customization allows for each character to develop his or her own look and “personality.”
The game’s difficulty, however, suffers from a flaw of being entirely too easy. The amount of grinding necessary to buy the latest town’s gear will level characters to the point where trash encounters are laughable, and boss encounters are easily overcome with a minimum of strategy. The best thing I can say about the battle system is that there are no random battles; players must “run in” to a monster to start a second battle screen.
Perhaps it is my lack of nostalgia for the series that has colored my opinion; I have always been a Final Fantasy and not a Dragon Quest fan. Perhaps it is Nintendo’s constant pandering to children that turns me off, but I cannot help but think my money would have been better spent on Persona Three Portable for the PSP instead.
That said, do not let my pessimism dissuade from Dragon Quest IX. As far as a typical JRPG goes, it has high production values and constitutes an excellent diversion for fans of the series, and fits well within the series’ established style. Fans of RPGs in general may find that their tastes run a little less cartoon-y.