Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies Playtest: Absolutely Stellar

By Spencer . July 9, 2010 . 7:16pm

image Unseen angel-like guardians known as Celestrians watch over towns in Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. The hero in this game (we’ll call him or her “Nine”) is one of them and assigned as the guardian of Angel Falls. Nine earns crystallized “thank yous” called benevolessence by helping mortals. This kindness essence is given to Yggdrasil, a giant tree sitting in the sky, and acts like angelic fertilizer for fyggs. Legend says when Yggdrasil blossoms with fyggs the Celestrians will be able to enter the land where the Almighty lives…

 

Bucking the trend of many RPGs, Dragon Quest IX does not have a world ending threat to push the story forward. Nine’s journey is a series of mini-ventures where he (or she) steps in to lend a helping hand. You’ll investigate a menacing looking knight under a king’s request. Then, maybe, free fairies trapped in a magic wand. The most frequent problem tends to be mortals coming into contact with the Yggdrasil’s sacred fruit…

 

image Dragon Quest games are sometimes criticized for being a grindfest to the last boss. Perhaps, the reason why is the goal, slaying some ultra powerful monster, seems so far out of reach. Being a series of small tales, Dragon Quest IX gives players a sense of completion every few hours. When the story arc with the “WiteKnight” ends it has its own cute conclusion. Adding bits of resolution here and there keeps Nine’s journey from dragging. Also, Dragon Quest IX doesn’t have random encounters. Monsters fall into the field from the sky. Level 5 balanced this well since strong enemies chase you while weak enemies run away from you. In other words, when you need to fight enemies to level up, monsters hunt you down. When you don’t need the experience, like when you’re searching an area you explored earlier for treasure, you won’t be bothered with fights with a party that dominates two puny, blue slimes.

 

I haven’t said anything about the party yet because Dragon Quest IX’s story is centered on the hero. The other three party members don’t say or do anything. Actually, you get to create them too and they follow Nine wherever he goes. This is a big change from Dragon Quest VIII, where characters like Trode and Yangus overpower the protagonist. You’re the sole star of this game, which makes the charming tale feel a tad more personal. The secondary character that talks the most is Stella, a high fashion faerie who travels with you. She loves to talk and fleshes out the story since the hero is the silent type. Flip through the menu and Stella can tell you how many cruelcumbers you defeated around the plague ridden town of Coffinwell. Yes, Dragon Quest IX has a ton of puns, but not as many accents compared to the other Nintendo DS remakes. The localization is outstanding since Dragon Quest IX retains the same quirky tone as the Japanese version.

 

imageLevel 5 scaled down the look of Dragon Quest VIII so the world is rendered in 3D. Battles are animated with characters, outfitted in player picked costumes, scrambling on a field while they strike cyclowns and knocktopuses. Critical hits are spiced up with slow motion effects and spells have flashy graphics. Text like “Sacksquash smoothly dodged the attack” still appears underneath the action for nostalgia, but fights are more lively than any other Dragon Quest games.

 

Dragon Quest IX has a job system and skill point system. Points are used to beef up weapon proficiencies or a job’s special class of skills. Mages, for example, have spellcraft while martial artists have focus. Each job has its own experience level too. If Nine is a level 25 Minstrel, a musical warrior, and you switch to Thief, he’s level 1 again. Switching jobs is optional, but at some point something may happen in the game that will encourage you to change jobs. If the time is right, you can head to Alltrades Abby and talk to Jack (Jack of Alltrades, get it?) who can assign you a new profession.

 

Players can keep themselves busy post-game by trying to get every class to level 99, but that’s still just scratching the surface of Dragon Quest IX. There are alchemy recipes to find by checking bookshelves, gooey slime costumes to wear, tradable treasure maps (a passive social networking feature I’m not sure will catch fire in North America or not), and downloadable quests. As of this writing, those aren’t even online yet so, at least for me, there’s still a ton of Dragon Quest-ing to do.



  • Joanna

    Great to hear. I’m picking this up this Sunday. I can’t wait. :D

  • http://www.myspace.com/effluentrainfall Effluent Rainfall

    Dragon Quest has the best self-contained vignettes in the genre, in my opinion. Say what you will about the rest of the game and series proper, Dragon Quest VII’s were positively superlative and woven masterfully into the fabric of the overall experience.

    • Ereek

      Absolutely seconded. VII’s mini-stories were absolutely brilliant, especially the ones that spanned multiple regions. Once you get past the slow start, VII is a wonderful game. I found myself more attached to the more minor characters in VII than I did some major characters in other games.

      • http://www.myspace.com/effluentrainfall Effluent Rainfall

        It was handled incredibly adroitly and you’d often find the stories were relevant to one another in obscure ways, like a certain priest who appears in two seemingly unrelated subplots. My favorite is the Pepe and Linda arc, personally.

        Bloody hell is that game a slow burner, though. That’s why I never recommend Dragon Quest VII to anyone despite my affections for it, in fact. I found the first few hours charming, but I can envision others finding them absolutely torturous.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tommy-Lee/518924335 Tommy Lee

          I agree about almost everything except for the Pepe and Linda arc. While it was a good story, it was one of my least favorite considering how everything turned out. Of course I was a naive 14 year old back then, but it didn’t leave me with a good feeling that won’t leave even when I think back about it. My personal favorite is the Hero’s back story. Of course naming him after myself helped in that. =P

          • http://www.myspace.com/effluentrainfall Effluent Rainfall

            It’s a contentious arc, but it’s written with an uncharacteristic and uncanny maturity. Many (and I mean quite a few) of VII’s arcs aren’t resolved quite so tidily as much of the series, but they’re seldom without a silver lining; it’s that infinitesimal glimmer of hope that makes many of the more tragic sections beautiful and surprisingly relatable.

            It teeters (perhaps perilously) on WAY overshooting its target demographic, actually, and I’m not surprised VIII was a “return to form.” I also loved Coastal, by the way, and it’s a shame few make it far enough to experience it. :P

          • kupomogli

            I always thought the puff puffs meant something else until I played Dragon Quest 8 and found they were actually a massage.

          • Joanna

            @kupo: yeah they are massages, but I think the word “puff” (or at least the Japanese equivalent) is the sound for breast rubbing (as in the girl who is puffing is rubbing her breasts on you). So I do think it was meant to be a bit of dirty humor to it. Stuff that older fans can laugh at and kids can brush off, I guess.

            http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3520/the_history_of_dragon_quest.php?page=2
            (the paragraph right before different versions)

        • Ereek

          True, it does have a very slow start. In fact, you could probably argue the true gameplay doesn’t even “start” until you hit Dharma. Dharma is part 9(?) out of something like 20(?). Despite that, I do recommend it to people because once you actually get into it, it’s worth all of the time it took to start.

          And yes, I think Pepe and Linda was probably the best, they’re a beautifully written tragedy, but I’m actually more fond of the Coastal section. I find myself surprisingly fond of Sharkeye’s story, moreso than any other DQ hero except V. VIII’s felt too much like a cop-out to me after VII.

          • http://www.myspace.com/effluentrainfall Effluent Rainfall

            I’ll defend a GREAT many things about VII, but what were they SMOKING when they decided to shove Dharma twenty hours in? Geez.

          • kupomogli

            To be honest, I enjoyed the game before Dharma, but after Dharma when you had class changes is where the game really took off. The game was already very good before then, but it just got much better afterwards, and I honestly believe that’s what they were going for.

            I love Dragon Warrior 7 and while I will say both DW3 and DW7 are my favorite games, Dragon Warrior 7 has the slight edge due to it being the first game in the series to really expand on the series.

            The game was also massive in size. The large amount of sub stories kept the game contained when you were in each specific area to really get to know each of the characters in each area. It wasn’t just some random character here and some random character there. Just like what Ereek said, the minor characters were presented better in Dragon Warrior 7 than most of the main characters the rest of the series.

            Dragon Warrior 7 is an amazing game and it’s obvious that the developers put a lot of work into the game. I won’t say we don’t see this amount of effort put into games anymore, as we do, but I can say we rarely see the amount of effort put into it. Now days it’s all about the graphics and it really is rare that you find a team that really develops a game and puts in the amount of work because they want to create a really special game.

          • Feynman

            My biggest complaint with Dragon Quest 7 is the way classes were handled altogether. Having to fight X number off battles to master a class felt really, really grindy. Especially when you had to master multiple lower classes to get access to the advanced classes. The amount of mindless battling you had to do if you wanted to master some of the really fun classes was absurd, and probably the game’s biggest weakness. Everything else was fantastic, though, so it still gets a pass from me. :)

    • Joanna

      Here’s hoping for a remake and a release stateside so I can try this beauty myself. :3

      • kupomogli

        Do you have PS3, PS2, or PSX? You could always purchase the game off Ebay.

        • Joanna

          Have the first two systems (never owned the original Playstation). I *just* wikied DQVII and realized it was released in North America. Now I’m embarrassed. For some odd reason I thought DQ6 & 7 were never released in America. I don’t know why I grouped 7 with 6. ^//////////^Guess it’s time for some Ebay hunting. xD

          edit: just checked Ebay and holy moly the cheapest one is 80 dollars! I think I’ll go pine for a remake in the corner now. xD

          • kupomogli

            I didn’t know it was that expensive. That sucks. You could always hope it hits the PSN. If you’re like me and hate digital downloads then yeah, but atleast you’d be able to legally play it.

            You may have also been thinking about Dragon Warrior 4 on the PSX. If you ever get the PSX version of Dragon Warrior 7 you’ll see the advertisement of Dragon Warrior 4 on the back. I was so hyped up about seeing that game released again but it wasn’t until another eight years that we finally got a release of the remake.

          • kupomogli

            Hey. I went and looked on Ebay just now and actually searched Dragon Warrior 7 instead of Dragon Warrior VII. There one that’s mint condition that’s $49 BIN. There’s one that’s an auction only one bid on it for $.99 and only two days left.

            Just keep looking for a price you’re interested in.

          • Joanna

            really? awesome. then I’ll keep checking back. (It also might be because I’m using Ebay.ca – so US-only shipments do not show up)

            I know the Japanese DQ7 is going for cheap as well. lucky Japanese gamers!

            PSN would a great as well. I don’t mind having Digital-only as long as it’s cheaper than the physical game itself.

          • kupomogli

            Hopefully you see this in time. This one is $17.50 and ends in less than 24 hours. Unfortunately there’s both $10 shipping and the seller has only one other feedback. But Paypal will refund you if you don’t get the game and I doubt someone is going to rip someone off with Dragon Warrior 7. If I was going to cheat someone then it’d be with a really rare game, or atleast a common overpriced game like Suikoden 2, etc.http://cgi.ebay.com/Dragon-Warrior-VII-PlayStat…There was another that I saw was $40 and it ships worldwide. Didn’t look at shipping charges. Bad thing about that one and reason I didn’t list it is that it was refurbished and is missing manual, so to me that’s a ripoff.

  • http://ofurotaimu.dreamwidth.org shirokiryuu

    I preordered this, this’ll be my first Dragon Quest game, so I’m excited! (I don’t count the short time I tried out DQV)

  • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

    SUNDAY!!!!!!!!!!

  • Electrium

    Sunday is too far away =(.

    Maybe that’s a good thing though, I can’t decide if I want to make my main character a mage or a priest first!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tommy-Lee/518924335 Tommy Lee

    Personally, since the hero starts off as the minstrel, I’ll make him utility character that can do a bit of everything.I’m contemplating whether I should name him Alpha, Beta, or Gamma.(This is a reference to a certain Korean manhwa)

    • http://www.siliconera.com Jenni

      Minstrel is a really good class. Some decent magic spells, good abilities and pretty good stats as well. Plus it can equip some good weapons.

      At first I was going to shift my main to a martial artist or mage, but she works so well as a minstrel. I figure I’ll level her up to 100, then switch to martial artist.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tommy-Lee/518924335 Tommy Lee

        Yea, now that I have the game, I see the minstrel can fit into any party role a player lacks with the other 3 members. In my case, he’s the party’s healer.

  • kupomogli

    I have a question about the passive treasure maps that are acquirable. Since it’s got Wifi, can we trade treasure maps through that?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tommy-Lee/518924335 Tommy Lee

      Nope, local wireless only. But it does seems like Nintendo of America is going to have downloadable maps since that’s what the DLC tab on the official site says.

    • http://www.siliconera.com Spencer

      That would *make* a lot of sense, but unfortunately you can’t do that. Wi-fi is only to connect to the DQVC – an online shop where you can get quests and special items. As Tommy points out, treasure maps will be available via the shop sometimes.

  • mooncalf

    Dragon Quest has a very unfair reputation as a grindfest. I’ve never needed to grind to complete the story in any DQ game that has come out in the last decade.I can’t wait for my copy to arrive. Infinite Space, Strange Journey, and now DQ9, the DS is just having an epic year.

    • Extra_Life

      Even if you do feel the need to grind some levels (I have), it isn’t a problem, as DQ games feature some of the most charming turn-based battles I’ve played.

      And yeah, the DS really is having an epic year, I’ve enjoyed both Infinite Space and Strange Journey too (SJ being one of my favourite DS games ever now), but don’t forget Etrian Odyssey 3 shortly after DQIX!

  • http://thrust-the-sky.deviantart.com/ WildArms

    I only wish there was a skill description in the game, there are a lot of weird names for skills and the only way to know what they do is checking internet -.-

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1839181128 Eric Blais

    I had fun with the firsts Dragon Quest when I was young, but today I prefer DQ8. I don’t need the best story of all the time when I play, but at least characters who talk are welcome…I’m not interested in DQ9 and I won’t buy it even if I have a DS.

  • http://www.siliconera.com Jenni

    I agree completely. I’m a little sad I had to wait until Saturday to access DQVC though. I had no spare in-game change by then. :P

    I have to admit though, I feel bad when my characters’ outfits don’t match. For my avatar main character I’m going for fashion rather than function when it comes to the outfit. (I’m hoping to do lots of canvassing, and I don’t want my character to look sloppy in other people’s games!)

  • http://modorenai.livejournal.com/ modorenai

    Level 5 balanced this well since strong enemies chase you while weak enemies run away from you.

    This is an excellent idea, and something more RPGs should implement in the future. I get so tired of being forced into battle with weak enemies because more often than not, the loading times take even longer than doing the actual killing. >_<

Video game stories from other sites on the web. These links leave Siliconera.

Siliconera Tests
Siliconera Videos