|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Level-5||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Square Enix||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 11, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Joseph Catalanotto
March 7, 2008 - There's something exciting in the air when a popular franchise makes the switch from console to handheld or vice versa. Countless popular genres have undergone it, from Zelda to Castlevania to Metroid to Mega Man (yes, I'm a huge Nintendo fan). And now, one of the most venerable RPGs of all time, right up there with such series as Final Fantasy, is making the move as well. Fans were torn over whether or not it is a good thing that Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies will be arriving to North America as a Nintendo DS title.
And this is big news, because developer extraordinaire is finally bringing a full-fledged Dragon Quest title to the DS, not just a spinoff, such as Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker and Dragon Quest: Rocket Slime. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it's essentially a fairly traditional turn-based RPG, featuring a party of highly customizable heroes journeying around in a quest to (surprise!) save the world in one way or another. It's a basic formula, yes, but Dragon Quest has been immensely popular in Japan and lately in the US because it executes said formula incredibly well. And now DS gamers are getting a taste of it for themselves.
However, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies isn't exactly what players of past games might have experienced. Rather than traveling down the traditional path of turn-based RPG, Square Enix has taken a different path with Dragon Quest IX and created a title that plays out in real time. Rather than lining up with the rest of your party to take turns attacking foes, you'll gang up on them with a variety of party members and play out the battle in real time. It's definitely a big twist on the Dragon Quest series, and one that may come as an unwelcome surprise to longtime fans of the series. However, it certainly seems to be shaping up well in the competent hands of Square Enix, and I'm confident that it'll turn out well.
Aside from the major change in battle mechanic, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies will be very similar to the Dragon Quest games that US gamers are used to. While it employs some real time elements, Dragon Quest IX is first and foremost an RPG. You've got your various characters with different classes, experience points and leveling up, and a ton of equipment, ranging from armor to shields to helmets and two various different weapons. Equipping your characters is easy and intuitive, as all you've got to do is slide the desired equipment onto a picture of your character. And there's a ton of variety; as with many RPGs, much of the customization that occurs in Dragon Quest IX will come about as the result of the large amount of various items to be found and used in battle.
Additionally, the baddies that Dragon Quest vets are used to facing off against aren't going to be changed much from past games. The emblematic blue slime as well as countless other classic foes are making an appearance in Dragon Quest IX, and their main purpose is to serve as a punching bag for you and your questing party. There's still the classic top-down overworld exploration that the huge majority of RPGs employ, and the beautiful-looking 3D view that the game dons when you leave the overworld and enter a town.
And on that note, it's definitely worth it to point out the fantastic-looking visuals that Dragon Quest IX is featuring -- made all the more impressive when you keep in mind that this is a handheld title. The DS gets a lot of crap for being a graphically "weak" system, but games like this should put naysayers to rest. The game, to be frank, looks absolutely incredible, shaming even such good-looking games as Final Fantasy III and Metroid Prime Hunters. The 3D visuals are surprisingly good for the DS, and the brilliant, vibrant colors combined with a steady framerate ensures that this is a game that those of you who are a slave to graphics must pick up.
Dragon Quest IX is an immensely popular series both in North America and in Japan, and it's easy to see why. It's got all the things that classify a game as great: a time-tested gameplay mechanic, customization, a well-written story, and excellent visuals. Yet at the same time, the developers aren't afraid to step out of the box a bit and challenge the convention with a well-placed innovation. This, to me, is most what's going to make Dragon Quest IX really worth playing. If you've got a DS, I don't see any reason not to purchase this title when it releases later this year.
CCC Freelance Writer