Be a hero. Be yourself. Do good in Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, a game in which you play a fallen angel trying to help other people down on their luck.
As the mute warrior that will bear whatever name you'll give him or her, you'll join a randomly generated squad of unquestionably motivated partners and journey forth on a cute, epic quest. Rollicking battle themes will play alongside your turn-based battles against familiar Dragon Quest beasts; you and your teammates will be rewarded with gold and experience points upon defeating them; mystical items will be collected and materials alchemised; some number of heavenly fruits, disastrously scattered across a colourful world, will be hunted; and evil will ultimately be vanquished.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is an RPG steeped in tradition, perhaps playing it safe, but also stuffing in a few innovations, thanks to the hardware capabilities of the Nintendo DS.
Loved Do Goodery: As a Celestrian, an entity that exists somewhere between flesh and spirit, your gig is to make people happy, profiting in the "Benevolessense" acquired from doing good deeds. That's your gig, and throughout the course of Dragon Quest IX, you'll encounter all manner of folks down on their luck and in need of a warrior. This is an RPG almost completely free of angst, in which monsters and heroes wear smiles on their faces, staring at each other with bright bug eyes. As an excuse to go on an epic, 40-plus-hour long adventure, the "Up with people" attitude is welcome.
Free Roaming: While Dragon Quest IX will offer suggestions about where to go, who to help and when to return to your Celestial home, hey, no pressure. Roam if you want to and seek out new quests, grind for XP if you want to, chat with townsfolk who occasionally have something of interest to say. Dragon Quest IX often feels less like a churn through an endless story than a chance to, as a good person, exist among the daily lives of the people you've been charged to protect.
A Long Adventure & More: If you equate hours of gameplay with value, DQIX is perhaps the best bang for your buck. The core quest, if paid attention to, will take somewhere around 40 hours to complete. Post completion, there's more to do, including after-game quests and more. The Battle Records menu is something of a draw, as you watch progress and achievement-like titles rack up. Swapping vocations (aka classes) is something to experiment with, but I was loathe to reset the characters I'd been grooming. Alchemising elements that are buried like Easter eggs and scouring treasure chest for mini-medals are just part of this completionist's dream.
Dracky On The Battlefield: Dragon Quest IX does away with random encounters, letting you see creatures pop-in from the sky or burrow forth from the ground. It's an opportunity to avoid some of DQIX's grind and save you from a dangerous encounter when near-death. Some confrontations are simply unavoidable and you'll never know exactly which monsters you'll face in a battle, so don't expect to breeze through the game without a few scrapes.
Y Am I Here?: I've long hoped for more Cliffs Notes guides in games that will remind you where you are, what you're current task is and what forgettable NPC #1008 just said. The Y button on the Nintendo DS is dedicated to "The Story So Far". Incredibly helpful for scatterbrains like me.
Slimes & Other Charmers: The charming Dragon Quest bestiary is well complemented by the equally charming non-player characters you'll interact with, all of which appear to have some strange accent, quirk or comical way with a spoonerism. Good thing, too, as your character and the your group of compatriots have zero personality. Dragon Quest IX's narrative may not have much meat to it, but the collected short stories of its citizens are fun to be a part of.
Get In, Get Out, After People Get Hurt: Dragon Quest IX's battles are easy to blaze through, simple to manage and full of tactical decisions to make - if you want to spend the time. Shame that other portions of the game's menu system aren't so elegant, as item management can be a bear.
Hated Lonely Without Multiplayer: It's not you, Dragon Quest IX, it's me. I was unable to take part in the Wi-Fi powered side of this role-playing game that puts more of an emphasis on multiplayer. Since local wireless multiplayer is the only option and my city of choice is less ideal for random encounters on the subway or bus, DQIX was, for me, a purely single-player experience. With vacuous AI-controlled characters on my team, it made playing through the game lonelier. Your exposure to more Dragon Quest IX players may differ and you may find that you love the multiplayer side of this game.
Clunks & Chunks: Dragon Quest's transition from the PlayStation 2 to the Nintendo DS is better looking than I would have thought. But there are batches of slowdown when you're escorting a full party through this 3D world. The game throws in a few 2D sprite-based characters, which don't look too hot, perhaps to alleviate some of the chugging. For a cartoonish, 3D-based DS game, it's a looker, but those technical issues are bothersome.
For all of its grind, its un-challenging mechanics and its post-campaign fetch quests, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies manages to charm. It must be the constant stream of progression, of doing nice things and getting sweet rewards. Perhaps it's the people of the world. Maybe its the constant cycle of levelling up easily, acquiring some new skill via the game's Skill Point system and swapping out some questionably fashionable piece of armour to replace your old one is addictive.
There are dozens of things to see and do in this game, some of them familiar from Dragon Quest games past, some of them new to this Nintendo DS entry. If you've tried out multiplayer adventuring, tell us what you think. Maybe we'll run into each other some day and share a quest together.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies was developed by Level-5/Square Enix and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo DS on July 11. Retails for $US34.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played single player campaign, plus a dozen quests. Spend zero minutes in multiplayer. So lonely.
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