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 … see full wiki
Dragon Quest has been the pioneering name in RPGs since the 80's. In fact, Dragon Quest was the series that codified a lot of the little, established facts of life about RPGs that we now take for granted: Class changing, battle bonuses, and head to head combat all have their roots in Dragon Quest.
Now, someone please tell me that Sentinels of the Starry Skies, the ninth entry into the Dragon Quest series, is more of a hiccup than a standard. Dragon Quest IX is my first encounter with the RPG series that started everything, and while I've played around 30 hours so far, it really isn't living up to the standard set by the series.
Online multiplayer is turning into the chic way to role play your grand adventure video games, but I'm suspicious. Certainly the idea of a multiplayer RPG is wonderful, but the ability to play one with other people hinges on the idea that lots of other people have internet connections, plus the very same console to hold the very same version of the game. This goes double for the Nintendo DS which, despite being the biggest seller of the last console generation, is also a portable console and therefore seen as a pleasant travel diversion rather that as a legitimate machine to play full-scale adventures on. I'm starting to think portable gaming consoles are never going to shake that stigma. Even in places with a lot of DS owners, there aren't likely to be a lot of Dragon Quest IX owners because the children are too young to appreciate the various quirks, complexities, and nuances of RPGs; adults have responsibilities to take care of first; and teenagers don't have the attention span. I love RPGs, but portable gaming is not a medium meant for them. Therefore, I can't give an accurate review of the multiplayer mode of Dragon Quest IX.
The other thing I have against multiplayer RPGs is that so many of them involve the creation of personal avatar characters. This isn't just having a chance to rename a bunch of characters who drive the story; this is you getting to decide all the facets and features of every last man in your small army. Square Enix seems to have used that in Dragon Quest IX to go light on character development, and that's "light" as in "absolutely nonexistent." There's a main character in Dragon Quest IX, but he doesn't say anything, and he's at the whim and call of a sprite assistant named Stella. Stella is the only character in the game who is any kind of constant. She's the only one with real purpose or personality. Unfortunately, she also comes off a little like Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in that she comments at the obvious. She also has a fierce selfish streak and a bit of a bubble brain. This, again, is the only character in the game who's not a blank slate.
The main character is a Celestrian, a guardian of sorts. He's just earned his guardianship when some major disaster crashes Celestrian-land, and the main character is suddenly a mortal. He goes to a nearby town, picks up a few adventurers at random, and does favors for locals in order to earn his way back to jannah. He gets there, his immortality is still missing, yada yada yada, find seven pieces of weird fruit back on the surface.
Don't worry about a crew, because four characters are all you're going to need. Don't worry about the job system, because so far, I've been able to physically bash my way through everything Dragon Quest IX has thrown at me, so the job system has been useless. This makes Dragon Quest IX a very simple game, and that doesn't speak well of it to people who enjoy playing RPGs to stretch their minds and imaginations a little bit. The only real complications I've run into so far are keeping enough money in my bank account to keep my characters sufficiently upgraded with the best weapons and armor.
Combat offers the typical array of options, save for one: When a certain meter fills all the way up, that character will suddenly be primed to perform his coup de grace move! This is basically Dragon Quest IX's response to the limit break, but there's one difference: The coup de grace really doesn't mean very much. It's not a wonderful power move in a fight, so there's no saving your own hide with one in the intense throes of a losing battle. There's also a feature where, when you're allowed to hit more than one enemy with a single attack, the game makes you choose between certain groups of enemies. Sometimes, those fights against a more than one of the same kind of enemy will be split into a number of smaller groups for no apparent reason.
When leveling up, the game offers the nice feature of getting to give out five points to whatever you want your characters to be more proficient in. Some of the abilities this grants are more useful than others.
This game has the nastiest instant death spells I've ever seen. It's a good thing the game chooses not to use them very often, because it would destroy you every time, and there's no springing back to life in or after a battle. Yes, the game does offer the common method of going to a Minister to spring your loyal troops back to the land of the living, but are you caught in a dungeon with three dead guys, a living character down to his last legs, and out of every healing item? You CAN use a bell to escape the dungeon and then the egress spell or a chimera wing to get back to the local church (egress spells and chimera wings don't work indoors - the characters hit their heads on the cieling) but if you don't have those, you better hope the enemies (which are visible off the battle screen) aren't fast enough to catch up to you. I haven't seen any items that do the resurrection job and if there's a spell for it, my characters (all around level 30) don't have it. Well, wait, I have ONE item, and I had to randomly run into it while exploring.
The graphics are nice. They're fully animated and have decent designs. The sounds are very simple and predictable. Some of the tracks sound like they are 16-bit RPG tracks given an upgrade.
The controls are heavily menu-reliant. The menu setup is very bulky and inconvenient in every aspect of the game. The battle menu goes through a pair of screens, while the world map menu offers a lot of different options, many of which come across as meaningless. There's a Heal All option which heals the entire party in what the game decides is the most efficient way, but casting spells to heal takes you through about four screens. There's also an option to produce little party tricks like bowing and saying hello, but they don't seem to serve much of a purpose, although some can be quite important. There are a lot of them, and you can only assign for to use at any given time. It's a pain.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies works best as a beginner RPG. Any war-torn and battle-hardened vet looking to tackle the next great challenge won't find an end for that quest with this Quest.
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