DS Game Review: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (RPG, 2010)

There is one thing for certain – hardcore console gamers do not like anyone to think of handheld gaming systems as equal to their favorite platform. Back in 2006 Square Enix announced that the next main Dragon Quest game would launch on the Nintendo DS, and the console gaming world pretty much exploded. But from the initial reactions when the game launched in Japan last year it seems that it wasn’t so bad after all. Now the game has been released in North America and I have put over 100 hours into it! How does it work? Read on and find out!

The Hype:
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is an action RPG designed specifically for handheld play on the DSi. The ninth game in the beloved Japanese Dragon Quest series, like its predecessors Sentinels of the Starry Skies features third-person oriented turn-based battles and a deep combo/multiplier system. In addition to this the game possess powerful new features including multiplayer and online functionality, extensive customization options, new play modes and a means to share content with other players.

* Gameplay with differing stories and missions depending on NPCs encountered
* Handheld action RPG action where players engage in epic quests in undiscovered lands filled with dangerous monsters and untold stories
* Connect locally with up to three friends in cooperative gameplay modes, and utilize wireless features that allow access to changing exclusive items and quests
* Customization allowing you to create your own hero, changing your hair, face, body style and equipping them from a selection of over 1,000 in-game items including weapons, shields, armor and accessories
* In-game treasure maps that reveal otherwise inaccessible special dungeons called grottoes, which can contain rare items or enemies

The Reality:
My experience with the Dragon Quest franchise consists of the two previous DS games – which were remakes of the 1990 Dragon Quest IV and 1992 Dragon Quest V – and some time on my kids’ PS2 with the last entry in the series, 2005’s Dragon Quest VIII. As such I have no long-standing feelings one way or another about the franchise.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DQIX from now on) tells the tale of the Celestrians, creatures who are invisible to humans, act as protectors and collect ‘benevolence’ to feed to the Yggdrasil tree in the hopes that they will be taken to another plane of existence when the tree bears fruit. Getting ready for that event serves as your tutorial in terms of combat, movement and interaction with other characters and the environment.

But when the time comes for the tree to bear fruit, everything suddenly goes terribly wrong! Your guardian character finds herself fallen to earth, missing wings and the ability to see benevolence … and visible to humans! Your quest is clear – you need to gain back your powers and figure out what happened!

The graphics are richly colorful and wonderfully detailed: they did a great job at translating the PS2 game to the DS for this version without losing any of the playful character. Similarly the soundtrack and combat music is bright and cheery for most of the game, but dark and atmospheric when appropriate.

For a game designed and developed in Japan, I was amazed at the localization – not only is the translation of text spot-on, but there is intricate word-play and puns and other devices used extensively throughout. The voice acting provides various British-sounding dialects for the various regions you visit, with always-enthusiastic actors doing a great job delivering the well-written lines. Unfortunately your character and other party members are silent.

Here is an example of how clever the word-smithing is in DQIX: there is a school you visit called Swinedimples academy. At first that seems like just another silly name, but when you pull it apart you have swine (pig) and dimples (things on a face). Change pig to hog and think of other things on a face – pimples, moles, warts …ah, warts. Put it together and you get Hogwarts. Just a silly little thing, but remember that this was originally done in Japanese and this sort of detail is even more stunning.

There are just tons of quests and things to do – you gain main quests on a fairly regular basis, but there are always characters looking for you to help them out. The game makes it easy to identify quest-givers without making it look silly. As I said at the start I have put over 100 hours into this game, running through my DS battery multiple times – though fortunately never losing data!

I mention that because the save system is a bit of a hassle: you either save at a church alter or do a ‘quick save & quit’ from the system menu. This tends to be cumbersome in practice and I have occasionally run back to town rather than complete a dungeon because my battery indicator was flashing red!

DQIX was build for extensive multiplayer use. You can have three other friends join up and fill out your exploring party and work through quests and dungeons together. The system is seamless and easy, but my one complaint is that it only supports local multiplayer! I know that it is a common theme that Japanese-developed games focus on the social aspects of local multiplayer, but outside of Japan there is much more focus on online multiplayer, so it is unfortunate that they didn’t support the friend code system here.

One of the coolest things about DQIX is that the end is only the beginning! There are dungeons and quests and just an unbelievable amount of stuff to do once you’ve finished the main game. I have heard it is possible to blow through the main quest in only 30 or so hours, but that would completely miss so much of the fun.

And that is ultimately what DQIX is all about – loads upon loads of fun! Tons of quests, plenty of customization options for characters, humor, multiplayer, an enjoyable story that you will want to explore and finish, and tons of cliches and tropes and other essential elements of a classic JRPG! If you own a DS and like the RPG genre, don’t miss this one – but be ready to invest a load of time!

Review: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Where to Buy: Amazon.com

Price: $39.99

What I Like: Great story; Loads of fun; Excellent interface; Looks and sounds great; Plenty of references to other Dragon Quest games; Supports four-player exploration

What Needs Improvement: Only local multiplayer; Save system is cumbersome

Source: Personal Copy

Categories: Gaming, Reviews


1 reply

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