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…
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.
Level 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.