Back in September of 2008, I had the pleasure of playing my first proper Dragon Quest game with "Chapters of the Chosen" for the DS. After completing it, I couldn't help but wonder why I had never played a game in this series before. I'm always complaining about the gimmicks thrown into many modern games and how I'd want nothing more than to just play a modern RPG that stripped away all the nonsense and took things back to basics.
Well, Dragon Quest has been sitting right under my nose since I was in diapers. Not content to stop at the fourth game in the series, I've set out to acquire and play through every localized Dragon Quest title right up until I replay the fourth entry ... on the NES. I've spent months lurking around eBay, and I've amassed a complete collection that now only needs me to experience it.
If you've played any of the games I'll be talking about, I'd appreciate your comments as I don't know anyone locally who I can talk to about this wonderful series.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinals of the Starry Skies
It's not every day I get to buy a new Dragon Quest game. Sure, I've bought dozens of DraQue games over the past two years that were new to me, but IX is new in the States to all but the most ardent of DQ fans who imported a Japanese copy to stumble through. It's been a long time coming, being announced bout four years ago and having been available in Japan for over a year, but now I finally get to see what all the fuss is about with this new-fangled "Make-your-own-character" feature.
Well, say hello to my party! I made them myself! Right now, I'm rolling with:
Ben (Myself, the main character): A level 36 Minstrel
Derrick: a level 37 Martial Artist
Steph: a level 35 Priest
Will: a level 37 warrior. Look at that bad-ass blue mohawk!
It was a lot of fun to make my party. My main character pretty much has the default settings, except he has the Cesar Chaves haircut and blue eyes... that is as much as I was able to make him look like me. The other two male characters are kinda generic, but whatever; I like the way they look! I mean, Derrick just looks like a martial Artist, and Will's got that blue hair. BLUE HAIR!
The variety of equipment you can use is staggering. We're all used to having little drawings of all the equipment and items in our DraQue games, but I can't believe the development team took so much care in modeling the equipment in 3D... it looks so good. And the fact that I can see them on my party members... Wow! I never thought I'd see an RPG hero with a turtle shell, fishnet stockings, cat ears, a slime shield, and a spear.
Prior to its release, I was admittedly a bit worried about how I might feel about Dragon Quest IX. Long-time Japanese players had their gripes with a couple of things, and some reviewers here in the states noted the overly-simplistic battle system, the lack of a good story, and a distinct lack of character development. So I was a bit scared that I might not actualy like this game. Fortunately, upon booting up IX, my fears have been cast aside as this is just good old Dragon Quest. Sure, it's weird that no one in my party ever utters a word, and even weirder that my three party members don't even exist as far as the story is concerned (The hero is alone for all story elements and cutscenes, even if the rest of the party was right there before), but it's easy to get over that when the rest of the game is so darn pleasant. And I would argue that the battle system is more robust now than it has ever been before.
The game actually reminds me a lot of VII, in the sense that the overall story arch is rarely brought up and merely ties the game together. But again, like VII, the real stories come from the various towns you visit. Tales of plagues, kidnappings, monster attacks, and other short stories are beautifully executed and introduce some great NPCs. So even though you're not going to find anything like Angelo's deep backstory (From VIII), or the Hero's decade of stone (From V), rest assured you'll find plenty of character development in the form of drama, flashbacks, and deep storytelling from the various NPCs.
If I had to gripe about something, it would be the music. I've played an ass-load of Dragon Quest games in a very short amount of time, and the music from almost all of them has been memorable. The song that plays while you ride the bird in VIII is beautiful, the town theme from V is catchy and upbeat, and the battle theme from IV is just great. The music in IX isn't bad per se, but it's certainly not anything to write home about.
I was a bit puzzled by the decision to change the name of the Dharma Temple to the Alltrades Abbey, but I'm glad the change was made now, if only because IX is so diferent from how VII handled class changes that they're hardly the same thing. In VII, when you changed classes, you maintained your level, your skills, spells, and equipment restrictions. But in IX, changing classes brings you back down to level 1, removes the spells associated with your last vocation, and strips you of all your equipment that can't be equipped with your new job (Martial Artists can't equip shields, for example)... and I mean that literally, by the way; I changed my Warrior to a Mage and was straight-up stripped down to my underwear! The only thing you carry over from one class to another is your skillset.
This seemed a bit harsh at first, but it's really kind of an interesting approach. Very late in the game, I changed the classes of my entire party, and went to fight a monster on the world map. And because I still had all the skills from my previous class, killing the baddie was a cinch. And just from that one monster, my entire team jumped from level 1 to 7!!! Then, I took my party to a cave with liquid metal slimes, and killing just a single one jumped my party from level 7 to 17, earning each character around 30 skill points!!! In just a few more minutes, by killing several more liquid metal slimes, my group was half-way through mastering new skillsets. So even though it sucks that you're so vulnerable after trying a new class for the first time, it only takes a little bit of planning and careful work to catapult your way back up the foodchain.
Things didn't always work out though... I went back to Alltrades Abbey a second time and once again changed the vocations of my entire party, reverting everyone back down to level 1. In a move that was a little overzealous in hindsight, I ran straight back to the cave where I was farming for liquid metal slimes and waited around for more to show up. Over the course of an hour, I came across nearly a dozen of them, but couldn't land one hit on a single one of them! It may have had something to do with my stats, as it never happened before when I was of a higher level, but these slimy little bastards would run every single time! That is, every single time but the last... although I was equipped with some really high-level equipment, it couldn't make up for the fact that my party was still at level 1. So when I finally came across a liquid metal slime that didn't run away, the dick landed one-hit kills on my whole party until they were all dead! Yes, MY WHOLE PARTY DIED AT THE HANDS OF A LIQUID METAL SLIME. Oops. Back to the drawing board.
I've only had Dragon Quest IX for one week, but I've been so compelled by it that I've already racked up over thirty hours on the clock. Whether it's working through the main quest, taking on odd jobs from the citizens of the world, power-leveling party members or digging through Mystery Dungeon-esque grottos, the game always has something to do. Kind of like how GTA games always have short-lived missions you can do for near-instant gratification. I can tell that I'm getting closer to the end of the main quest, which isn't nearly as long as other Dragon Quests, but I'm excited about all of the side quests and post-game content that will surely extend my playtime with the game. Not to mention multiplayer, which I'll be trying out soon.
As always, thanks for reading!
For the past Dragon Questing blogs, click the link in my signature
Edited by benHaskett, 20 July 2010 - 12:58 AM.