Dragon Quest IX: The First 20 Hours

Yes, I said the first 20 hours.

Because that’s how Dragon Quest games roll.

Looks nice.

Dragon Quest and I have a very strange relationship. I played DQVIII on the PS2 close to when it came out and I spent the entire time waiting for it to get good. I suppose I was expecting something completely different. I decided to play the DQIV remake for review when I worked at RPGamer. I was surprised that the game was actually progressive in many of its story-telling choices, but incredibly archaic with other design choices. In either case, I enjoyed it well enough to give DQV a try on the DS as well and I actually had a great time with it despite many of the same interface issues.

Armed with a better knowledge of how the series operated, I started a new playthrough of VIII during the Christmas break and enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than I did the first time. This time I found the simplicity of the game charming, and the world to be a lot more engaging. Still, after playing the hell out of it, I never missed it once I stopped.

Dragon Quest IX seems to be having a similar effect. I’ve already played over 20 hours in about half a week, and sometimes I’ll be really excited to play while other times I feel like I could put it down and never pick it up again.

The strange thing about Dragon Quest IX is that it finally introduces some new features that are quite engaging while managing to continue to refuse to progress in other ways. Being able to see enemies on screen and making them largely avoidable is massive. I can now choose when and to what degree I want to grind, and generally which monsters I prefer to fight. If I’m in need of cash, I make note of which monsters give out more coin and stick to going after those guys. The game sticks with the ability point system from VIII and adds the ability to switch vocations (see: jobs). Not a new mechanic to RPGs, perhaps, but a welcome one. Alchemy is way more accessible this time around, and equipping your characters is fun, easy, and changes the character models which actually plays into my decisions. I don’t want to equip an ugly helmet if it’s only a bit more powerful on my carefully created characters.

Decent customization

That’s the other risk DQIX has taken. There are no more set party members that you gather over time who reveal their own back stories. There is a single point near the beginning in which you are literally given the choice to go multiplayer or create up to 3 party members; gender, look, vocation, and all. I have no interest or means to play the multiplayer, so I’ve been playing with created characters. This was my largest hesitation and it’s actually been really nice so far. I never understood the appeal of a “silent hero” before, but when all four heroes silent, I’m actually warming up to the idea. It’s no longer confusing to have my party members talk while I sit in silence, because nobody says anything. I’m left alone to level up, choose which abilities and vocations to master, and how quickly to progress the story.

And the story has been interesting so far. I mean, it’s nothing incredibly engrossing, but it’s not a negative bullet-point which can actually be the case for some RPGs. There have been some intriguing moments and some cool missions, and I’ve been thankful to be an observer without the game trying to make it personal somehow.

Still, for all these positive changes, the main menu is still ugly as shit, it’s still way too difficult to check experience needed to go up a level, and lots of grinding will be required if you want to keep up with the best equipment and abilities. Also, even though it’s apparent that the game is impressively massive for a handheld title, it’s weird for zero voice acting to be present even during the rare cut scenes. Suikoden Tierkreis had lots of it, and that was also a huge game.

Ultimately, I’m not going to review this game because I doubt I’ll finish it in time, and I also won’t be able to check out the multiplayer, which is a very big part of the game. Dragon Quest IX confirms that I’m a fan of the series now, proving that the series gets better as it ages with you. However, the game also proves that despite its initial addicting nature, the series will never be anything transcendent nor make a big impact in storytelling or gameplay. Jeremy Parish may claim that the game is actually quite progressive, but despite new ideas and an impressive handheld design, the fact is that these new – and welcome – things are still crammed into the archaic Dragon Quest design that desperately needs more change than just multiplayer, a job system, and lots of costumes.

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5 Responses to “Dragon Quest IX: The First 20 Hours”

  1. SiliconNooB says:

    The Japanese version of DQVIII also had zero VA and a midi OST, it’s down to Japanese preference I think (just like the awful menus), the only reason our DQVIII was nice was because they were trying to make a concerted push into the West (one which I believe largely failed).

  2. SiliconNooB says:

    DQ need MOAR Mass Effect!

  3. Ethos says:

    Ugh, midi OST. I’d take orchestration over VA any day.
    But I can’t see how awful menus are a cultural thing! FFXIII may have been rubbish in a great many ways, but those were some attractive menus.

  4. SiliconNooB says:

    DQ fans want DQ to be just as it was in the 1980’s, that means awful menus and only ever making incremental improvements …

  5. breaka666 says:

    @NooB – actually, DGVIII had shitty menus too. God only knows what the japanese had to deal with…

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