After what feels alike an eternity, Dragon Quest IX has arrived, and I couldn’t be any more pleased. The last few days have been extremely difficult. I didn’t want to check out any other sites, but couldn’t help myself. I looked at Amazon and saw those Japanese player reviews and it scared me to death. So, after all the waiting, was it finally worth it? After a solid hour and a half of playing, you bet it was worth it!
As you can see by the above picture, this is what arrived earlier this afternoon. I turned the box over so you don’t see all the personal details. Anyways, below you’ll find all the unpacking pictures. Can you feel the excitement?
It’s hard to believe that it has already been over four years since DQ VIII launched in Japan. Finally being able to hold this game in my hands was quite a powerful moment, but at long last it has arrived. What follows are a series of pictures that I took while playing the game for the very first time. Some are blurry, but that’s besides the point. What matters here is the detailed explanation walking you though the opening moments of the game as they occurred. So let’s get started.
Before we go any further I just wanted to say that DQ IX features some very nice anime at the beginning of the boot sequence. You’re treated to a new rendition of Overture at the same time, which is simply breathtaking. The sound quality is beyond superb to be honest. Also, you may notice a familiar Wi-Fi icon on the screen. That’s where you can access the downloadable content, however I’m not sure if this can be accessed outside of Japan. I have yet to be able to connect successfully. I’ll keep trying to let you know what happens. Let’s move on.
After you’ve done all that, it’s time to jump into the game. A pair of wings gets slapped onto your customized character and away you jump to the heavens. It appears you’re some sort of guardian angel. Isn’t that special? You’re tasked with venturing to a small village to help the locals out with any problems they may be having. At this point in time none of the villagers can see you, so it makes helping them a bit difficult. Nonetheless, as you and your companion, another angel, approach the village you witness a girl and her father getting attacked by insanely powerful enemies, you know…Slimes.
Once you’ve dispatched these three boneheads, it’s back up to the celestial temple to give the World Tree the Star Aura you received for doing the good deed. With that out of the way, your companion tells you that you must return to the village in order to do more good deeds. No good deed goes unrewarded right? Well, apparently not in this game.
Once you arrive back in the village, still invisible I might add, it’s time to get moving. Without giving too much away, after you collect another three Star Auras, you’ll be whisked back to the temple and will give the World Tree the goods. With this done, a very nice, but artifact-heavy cinematic plays out. You see fruit growing on the tree, and then a magical gold train appears out of the sky and lands beside the tree. It’s very magical, and besides the artifcating, the cinematic looks awesome. Anyways, within a few short seconds the train explodes causing massive damage to the temple and knocking you out of the heavens. Indeed, you’ve fallen from grace.
When you come to, you’re back in the same village you were at moment earlier. This time around you’re visible, your wings are gone and you need to find out exactly what the heck happened. And so begins Dragon Quest IX.
I only played for around one and a half hours so I don’t know any other story details than what I just mentioned, and even in the reviews I won’t say any more than that for fear of spoiling anything. There are a few important things we can discuss right away. For starters, the game was developed by Level-5, the same developers behind the excellent Dragon Quest VIII. What that means is these guys have the DQ feeling down to a science. It also means they like to try new things. For starters you’re able to use the stylus to play the entire game. While movement feels a lot more clunky compared to something like Phantom Hourglass, it works.
After fiddling around with the touch screen, I immediately jumped back to using the d-pad and buttons. It feels far more natural that way. There’s something else that is immediately noticeable upon playing the game for the first time, this game is far more Japanese than either DQ IV or V remakes on the DS. What that means is that you’re going to have to figure out the basics before you do anything. In the other two games mentioned, there were nice icons that clearly showed where items, options, etc were. Here, everything is in Hiragana. That means if you don’t understand any Japanese whatsoever, you’re going to have to learn and learn fast. Sure things are easier to comprehend if you’ve played a DQ before, and yes items still show a little icon once you’re in the menu system, but not while in battles. You’ve been warned!
What’s immediately noticeable is the fact that everything is in 3D, and uses nice cel-shading for effect. Now obviously the Nintendo DS isn’t the PlayStation 2 so you shouldn’t expect anywhere near the level of detail found in DQ VIII. That being said everything is about as detailed as it possibly could be for being on the DS. The world is extremely bright, but your sight is highly limited. In other words, don’t expect to see massive mountains in the distance because that isn’t possible here. What you get is a mixture of the DS remakes like we’ve seen over the last two years, and Final Fantasy III on the DS. The camera system is exactly like the one featured in the remakes, except that this one doesn’t allow you to rotate the camera 360 degrees, which is a shame actually. Instead it stop at around 60 degrees in either direction. It’s enough for you to spot doors on the sides of buildings, but it keeps certain things hidden, which means you’re really going to have to explore every nook and cranny in order to collect all the hidden goodies.
The other thing with the graphical style is that the DS can’t handle too many polygons at any given time. While your character animates well, the camera is pulled extremely far back, everything in the environment is very flat. Don’t expect lush textures because it’s just not possible given the hardware. Again though, if you’re expecting this, you’re going to love the visual flare Level-5 uses. They’ve reused all their designs from DQ VIII so just imagine how detailed certain areas are. You should know that characters now have blocks for hands and feet, and yes they can’t express themselves quite the same way as Arte Piazza was able to do with sprites in the DQ IV and V remakes. Even with all these limitations though, the final product will leave you highly impressed. For a series that’s always been about keeping with tradition, I haven’t seen too many people make comment on just how impressive the final package comes together. It’s one of the nicest looking DS games ever released, especially when you consider everything that’s going on here, and how large the game really is.
Perhaps the only negative aspect I’ve noticed from the game appearing on the DS hardware is the fact that these limitations have forced Level-5 to reduce the amount of enemies on the screen at any given time. The largest battle I faced in all my time playing was against three enemies. That’s a far cry from the six or more enemies you could face in past iterations of the series. Hopefully this will change in the coming days, but I doubt it.
Outside of graphical changes and limitations, players can expect a major change in the way they move around the world. No I’m not talking about stylus controls again, I’m talking about the removal of random encounters. I have to say this right here and right now, THANK YOU Level-5!!! Honestly, it makes exploration that much more engaging. The number one reason is that you don’t feel pressured into venturing too far because of low HP. Now you know you can always run around enemies if you’re getting too low on HP to high-tail it back to town. This comes with a high cost though, the game is extremely easy. It appears Level-5 catered the game towards the casual market. This is the first DQ I’ve ever played where I could walk out of the first village and not have to worry about getting killed by even the most basic enemies. Within an hour players will reach level five, have the heal spell and already be on their way to building skill levels. Skill levels have been featured in the series before and essentially unlock new battle techniques for players to use while fighting enemies. Hopefully the challenge increases moving forward, but I don’t think it will given the current setup.
As for the new battle system, well it’s an awful lot like the older battle systems. Players can attack, defend, use magic, etc. It’s all menu-based like the previous entries in the series, so that’s good for traditionalists like myself. Again, the menu system is completely in Japanese with no visual aids whatsoever so if you’re a little rusty, take some time to learn the ins and outs before you jump into this game. Anyways, there’s an interesting new twist to battles, the ability to move. No you can’t move in realtime, but you can assign your character to move in, away or around enemies. You even see yourself while fighting enemies. The camera pans around the action giving you a more dramatic feel while in battle. As enemies go in for the kill you’ll see a line with an arrow pointing in the direction of the attack. A blue line is used for your attacking. The bizarre thing is that I haven’t noticed any benefit to moving around the field at all yet. Perhaps this too will change as time goes by.
Slight changes don’t stop there though, you even have the ability to customize the way your speech bubble looks like. I believe this was done for the co-op aspect of the game because you have the option to perform a series of gestures while moving around the map. These include being happy, angry, etc. There’s little logic to doing this while playing alone, but I assume it would be interesting having live players around you. Sadly the multiplayer is something I can’t test given no one around me has another copy of the game.
Finally we have the return of the job system. It’s possible to change your job class at some point in the future, but obviously not at the onset. You begin the game as an entertainer, or something to that rough translation. This allows you to perform spells like Heal and other party friendly spells, but also gives you the freedom to use more advanced sword techniques. Obviously Warrior, Mage, etc will be available at some point in the future.
So there you have my very first impressions of Dragon Quest IX. I haven’t bought any new armor, weapons or anything else yet so I haven’t tried the whole costume mechanic, but it looks cool. Here’s a sample.
Before taking off to play some more, I thought it would be cool to let you in on how the game sounds. The good news is that it uses a mixture of brand new and old tech. First off a lot of the classic gameplay sound effects return, such as the walking up and down stairs sound. For the music though, the new music is simply incredible. Once this soundtrack gets orchestrated it’s going to be amazing. It almost sound orchestrated right now, that’s how good the synthesized soundtrack is. The new Overture is wonderful and the celestial temple music is awe-inspiring. Even the world map features a great tune that will make exploring fun, as you hum along to the song. Overall, I didn’t even notice there was no voice acting. Then again, I’m an old school DQ fan so perhaps that’s just me.
I’ll return later in the week with updated impressions, but for now, I’m really enjoying the latest Dragon Quest and think Level-5 did a really great job. Hopefully everything continues to impress moving forward. Sure there are a few little hiccups here and there for the game being limited to the DS hardware, but as a videogame, it’s been over four years since I’ve played a new DQ and this one has thus far earned it’s name-stake.