SQUARE ENIX HAVE HIT THE HEIGHTS WITH THEIR LATEST RPG TITLE FOR NINTENDO DS
A stunning journey into the magical Land of The Goddess that shows why when it comes to RPG, nobody does it quite like Square Enix.
Jumping straight into this title, as we are, should already have your ‘Spidey Senses’ tingling about the lack of a waffling introduction to Square Enix’s awesome Nintendo DS exclusive title, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. The fact of the matter is that the game does not require a long drawn out piece to announce its arrival and herald the onset og our review. As we are pretty sure that most gamers out there, regardless of age and gender, will have either played one of the previous titles in the long running series’ list of impressive games, or that you know of the franchise from one gaming source of advertising or another? Whichever way you have come to know the name of the Dragon Quest games, we can readily suggest that for the next half an hour or so, that you pull up a pew and grab a coffee and read up on the review of one of the best handheld titles that it ha sever been our good fortune to get our hands on. So read on, and enjoy.
Dragon Quest IX:Sentinels of the Starry Skies or, as we are going to be calling it in this review for convenience, Dragon Quest 9, starts off much in the similar vein to all the previous titles in the much-loved gaming franchise. That is it warms its bones by the fire and has a coffee and eases into the morning before exploding in front of your astonished eyes in a breathtaking myriad of colour and fantastic gameplay. As you begin you create your ‘Angelic’ character who will act as Guardian to the little town of Wollo. At the first sign of trouble around the little hamlet it is your duty to then be the townsfolk’s protector and Guardian Angel as you drive any evil wrongdoer from the town’s streets and land. Successfully defending the inhabitants of Wollo means that you are then awarded with ‘Auras.’ These magical items you collect are the necessary tokens which enables the World Tree to permit you access to the legendary Lands of The Goddess.
It is now that the game’s storyline begins to unfold as at first you being an ‘Angel’ means that everyday mortal folk cannot see your cherubic appearance. However, following a catastrophe our hero is cast into the realm of the living and as such becomes a man who must quest to find the Fruit of the Goddess in order for him to be reinstated into the Realm of Angels. Success here means that you will be able to restore the World Tree to its former majesty and so be granted access to the Land of the gods.
Although the main storyline in Dragon Quest 9 is a little shorter than previous outings for the franchise, it is not a title that you are going to be done playing in a week, or two even. There are some 120 side missions alone to keep you busy and if that’s not enough for you then we don’t know what is? The 40 hour plus campaign has been greatly improved by the inclusion of the multiplayer, and Square Enix have most definitely been paying attention to the wants and desires of their customers by making the replay value of the title go through the roof. Just in the customization settings alone you will come back time and again to create a whole new character, and then also his trusty band of followers. Where not only are you are able to put your own deft touches on everything from height, weight, gender and even the colour of your characters eyes but also the colour of eyes of his friends too. Quite simply the character customization tools in Dragon Quest 9 have to be seen and experienced first hand to appreciate the quality and attention to every conceivable details that Square Enix have included in its make up.
Progression throughout the lands of Dragon Quest 9 are pretty much the same as they always have been, and in our opinion this is a plus as opposed to a minus. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? And in the case of Dragon Quest 9 one thing is certain and that this title is anything but in need of a touch up. There isn’t a single aspect at any stage of this cracking handheld title that we would want altered. Everything that Square Enix have done with Dragon Quest 9 they have done perfectly. But then again, why wouldn’t they? They have had a lot of practice at this sort of thing, and in Dragon Quest 9 that is blatantly obvious in the abundance of staggering detail in every frame of the gameplay. But we digress, the way you move is classic Dragon Quest, in that you enter a village or town and begin to strike up a conversation with one of the village elders or alternate characters, you are then made privy to their sordid tales of woe and persecution at the hands of whatever entity it is that is making their lives miserable? From that point your objective is clear, as you fight to free the village from its tormentors and regain freedom and tranquility for the inhabitants. As shown earlier this is where you will gain those all important magical ‘auras’ which you need so badly to continue along the main storyline.
In a nice twist to encourage players to adopt a more exploratory nature to their gameplay instead of just whizzing through the title like some sort of speed demon, Square Enix have introduced a new approach to the combat system that now sees you able to spot enemies on the World map. This also means that they can see you so if you are sufficiently levelled up you can avoid any unnecessary battles by just scaring away the opposition as they flee in terror at your bulging specs and rippling xp.
The new touch screen options that are now available to the Dragon Quest franchise due to the release on the Nintendo DS handheld have replaced the Phantom Hourglass, and in this reviewers humble opinion make the title better than before. In fact the game’s appearance on the Nintendo DS and the fact that Square Enix have fully taken advantage of the benefits of having a dual screen option, have combined beautifully and serve only to enhance the player’s experience of the title, especially when you are actually inside the dungeons. On the upper screen you have the map of the area of dungeon you are in, and on the lower screen you have the touch controls for your character. It works very well. So well in fact that we are looking forward already to the tenth episode of the series to be released, hopefully on the Nintendo 3DS?
Combat throughout the Dragon Quest realm will usually entail fighting off enemies that appear in packs of three and seem hell-bent on ending your quest in the quickest time possible. This is all well and good if you are familiar with the style of fighting that is the norm in the Dragon Quest Universe, however for newcomers the task may sem a little daunting especially when you throw into the melting pot the all-new ‘class system’ that Square Enix have installed into the game. What this means is that although your character will start off in the mandatory ‘Entertainer’ class, this splits off into five smaller skilled sub-sets that include the Shield, Sword, Spear, Knife and last but by no means least, Bravery. From here you get ten bonuses per ‘skill tree.’ (look at these as tiers), and you then have to decide which bonuses go where in the construct of levelling up your characters so that they may best suit the needs of the tasks that are to befall them All in all we found that there were around 42 separate skill bonuses required with which to level up each ‘tree,’ so make sure that you understand your own strengths and weaknesses before allocating points as you will not be able to change your approach until you reach the Dharma Temple, from whence you can assign all characters ‘skill trees’ and bonus points as you see fit.
There are twelve classes of character for you to choose from and even though you may change characters at the Dharma Temple it is worth noticing that only those bonus points that are deemed ‘permanent’ remain unaffected by any switch from character to character. This is where paying attention to those ‘skill trees’ and the levels comes in very handy if you are to take full advantage of the very different formats offered up by each character class. The all important ‘advanced’ classes are unlocked by completing varying side missions and quest. You activate the side quests in the same way as main storyline based objectives in that upon entering a village or town you must approach the NPC’s and from that point you will be offered a mission that could be anything from a simple fetching a certain item to the construction of armour and weaponry for the locals. Make sure that you do not activate more than you can accomplish at any one time however, as you are limited to having 10 active side-missions. To attempt more is to be informed by a villager that you must see through a task to completion before you are permitted to add another to your list of quests pending.
In a stroke of genius, though it has to be said, Square Enix and Nintendo have put their highly accomplished heads together to come up with a plan that could, in fact, see that side missions are almost never-ending. First you must connect to the Dragon Quest Wi-Fi Store after being invited to do so by a mysterious little character that pop’s up automatically after around 10 hours of play. From here you will then have access to additional missions that will prolong and enhance your Dragon Quest 9 experience. A great move by the two gaming giants I’m sure all of you will agree?
But wait, it doesn’t stop there! On arrival at the store you will also learn that gold you have earned and accumulated throughout your adventures is available as hard currency at the Dragon Quest Wi-Fi Store, and allows you to purchase items ranging from highly desirable and very rare armour, weapons and equipment, to precious alchemy ingredients that can help forge the all important potions and items that could make a difference in any number of situations. The good news about this online ‘cyber shop’ is that the only currency required is the in-game gold that you amass through playing the title, and not your hard-earned real world money. A cracking move on the part of Square Enix who have also assured us that a new adventure will be available every friday from the Dragon Quest Wi-Fi Store following the game’s release, a promise that they have kept to and have extended to the entire year after launch.
So to try to find any kind of faults with Dragon Quest 9 is like trying to get blood out of a stone. Futile. The game looks and plays better than just about any other title we have ever spent any time with on the Nintendo DS. The 3D open world environment suffers no loss of quality since its move to the Nintendo DS and even though we have heard rumblings of dissent from a few regarding the single save file of the game as opposed to the multi we can genuinely tell you that is does not detract in any shape or form your experience during your tot;al enjoyment of this cracking title. The enemies are fleshed out as they arrive ready for battle dressed in their very best polygons and even when you have more than yourself and your opponent on the screen there is no noticeable detraction in frame rate or speed of play. The environments are quite simply stunning and are a shiny example of the hard work and loving dedication of the development team behind this gaming masterclass.. Overall we played this game from start to finish with a sense of fun and excitement previously unknown on a handheld.
Graphics: In a nutshell? Quite simply put they are some of the best looking textures and renders that we have seen on any handheld for quite some time. It wouldn’t surprise us here at GamesMediaPro if they remained unsurpassed until Square Enix releases Dragon Quest X. hopefully on the Nintendo 3DS 9
Gameplay: Fresh new idea’s bring a whole new dimension of gaming pleasure that you can squeeze from Dragon Quest IX. The blend of classic PG gameplay from the masters of the genre over at Square Enix combine perfectly with the handheld bonuses that you get from the Nintendo DS. The customization alone is fantastic, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the content of this cracking title. 9
RePlay Value: The fact that Square Enix have already given you the best handheld game of the year is only made better by the knowledge that they are to add a new mission every week for the first year after launch on top of the 120 you already get in the game makes for a dedication to their fans and consumers that is rarely seen these days by developers. 10
Presentation: When all is said and done and the smoke and mirrors of the media hype machine is long gone after launch day, the only thing that makes or breaks a game is the standard of its content and its reputation. With that we surmise that due to Dragon Quest IX:Sentinels of the Starry Skies having top-notch graphical content and a first-rate storyline, great characters, fantastic gameplay and awesome future DLC packages that this will be a title that continues to make headlines and smash sale records long into the future. A true gem of a game that’s stunning beauty is only surpassed by its cracking gameplay that will see you coming back for more time and again. 10