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Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (Nintendo DS) Review

Review for Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Having already sold over 4.5 million copies in Japan alone in both its full and budget-priced formats, Square Enix’s Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies has become the biggest selling iteration in the long-running RPG series that started way back on the humble 8-Bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Such is the popularity of the Dragon Quest brand in general that many other companies will specifically avoid launching their new releases in the same week as a mainline entry. Whilst phenomenally successful in the Land of the Rising Sun, however, the publisher has failed to emulate the same level of positive furore amongst gamers in Western territories, even when Dragon Quest VIII launched on the PlayStation 2 with a demo disc for Final Fantasy XII. Now, however, Nintendo has stepped in to help promote Dragon Quest IX on DS in order to ensure as many people get the chance to play this superb experience as possible.

Rather than putting players in charge of a particular character from the minds of the developer themselves, Dragon Quest IX gives DS owners the chance to take control of their own specifically designed hero/heroine in order to travel across the world, helping those around who are in need of guidance and support. The reason behind this is that Dragon Quest IX’s protagonist hails from high up above, in the heavens, a place called the Observatory where numerous guardian angels watch over us mere mortal folk who dwell on the Earth below. Each and every one of the holy beings are eagerly awaiting the day when sacred fyggs blossom on the Great World Tree (Yggdrasil), which thus heralds the advent of when these Celestrians can commence the final leg of their long journey to the upper realms via the Starflight Express train to be with The Almighty One. To ripen the fyggs, though, a blue crystal representing the goodwill of the mortals they assist with tasks and pleas for help, called ‘benevolessence,’ is required.

As is normally the case in stories of this nature, all does not go to plan, and soon the young Celestrian tumbles from his lofty residence and awakens in a land fraught with danger, without wings and seen by humankind as one of their own. So begins a journey ripe with adventure, where the story is portrayed by a luscious mix of wonderfully animated 2D hand-drawn sequences in places, and stunning 3D characters and locations elsewhere. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a technical masterpiece, showing exactly how well Level-5 has mastered the humble Nintendo DS hardware, pushing the system even further than Square Enix previously did with Final Fantasy IV and Bandai Namco did with Tales of Innocence. The game is also helped along the way by the ever-resourceful folk at TOSE, who worked hard with the developers to craft a soundtrack perfectly fitting of the Dragon Quest universe; recreating classic themes and lavishing the engrossing ride with plenty of memorable new tunes.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Originally the plan for Dragon Quest IX was to transform it from its origins to make it into an Action RPG, similar to something like The Legend of Zelda or Secret of Mana. However, due to outrage from the enormous fan-base at such a proposal, Sentinels of the Starry Skies was delayed in order to morph it back into the traditional turn-based adventure that the series’ exceptional reputation has been built upon. Therefore, players are once more faced with something akin to Final Fantasy, whereby the character (and team-mates once three others have either been recruited or created from scratch - giving the option of having random people joining your troop, or those from your imagination) wander around the over-world, ravaged wastelands, underground caverns, and so on, encountering enemies and being thrown into battle where each side must take turns to attack/defend/use items/use magic. The premise is basic, yet the execution is masterful in its actual simplicity.

Whilst the basic structure of in-game fighting remains unaltered for the most part (choosing ‘Fight,’ ‘Spell,’ ‘Item,’ Special Ability,’ for example), random encounters, other than a brief section of the game, are a thing of the past, with enemies appearing around the player, just as in the Tales of series of RPGs, meaning that there is no forced battling until bosses are met. Whilst traversing areas, enemies will eventually spot you when in their eye line and then make tracks to engage a fight, or even run away scared if your level is considerably higher than theirs. What needs to be remembered in this scenario, though, is that to avoid partaking in too many battles can be extremely costly further down the line, since Dragon Quest IX involves plenty of level grinding in order to build up a strong group of fighters, as well as access some of the new vocations you may wish to choose (Sage, Paladin, and so on, all of which can only be changed deep into the journey) so that new skills can be accessed. The advantage of no random encounters, however, is that whenever tracking back and forth from area to area is required, it does not become anywhere near as tiresome as in RPG outings from yesteryear due to being able to dodge most monsters and not having to desperately struggle to hang on for dear life as you scramble back to an inn to rest, or church to save your progress.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Generally, throughout the Biblical-related story, the aim is to save mankind, protect the Almighty, and restore your character's halo and wings so he/she can rise once more to the Observatory and make it up to the Realm of the Almighty. This involves heading from town to town, talking to the village folk, mayors, holy people and general travellers, in the hope of finding not only the sacred fruit of the Fygg Tree, Yggdrasil, but also bringing peace and happiness to all nations, thus awakening the Almighty himself. Achieving this goal is no easy task and numerous monsters must be destroyed, sacred items recovered, and lost souls reclaimed from the dark depths of a world filled with treachery, doubt, deceipt, and wickedness. Are you up to the challenge of redeeming the masses and dragging them towards the path of righteousness? If so, then get be sure to get a damn strong weapon and some mighty armour, as well as plenty of gold for upgrading your kit the further you progress, for Dragon Quest IX offers one heck of a monumental challenge!

On top of all the challenges faced along the way, players should keep in mind the job system employed in Sentinels of the Starry Skies since it is a large part of the fun, along with the extra quests. Your characters are able to eventually change their class, or ‘vocation as it is called here, with there being six main vocations on offer. The primary ones are Warrior (skilled with weapons), Mage (expert with spells), Priest (specialises in healing), Martial Artist (lean, lithe and focused), Thief (steals items and finds treasure), and Minstrel (a flamboyant fighter). Each one carries with it a different set of spells and skills that can be learned as your levels build up, experience is gained, and skill points are accrued during the numerous battles over time. Making the best use of a vocation on a team-member can be the difference between victory and loss in some major battles, so choices should be made wisely.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Square Enix and Level-5 have attempted to make Dragon Quest IX as customisable as possible in order to draw in a new crowd to the already burgeoning fan-base found in Japan, and it this aspect, paired with the drop-in/drop-out four-player mode, that Nintendo has been using for the advertising drive in the US and Europe. Right from the start of the adventure players are given the opportunity to create the lead character, choosing their gender, hairstyle, skin colour, facial expressions and even body shape before naming them. Then, whilst on the journey, players will come across a multitude of different items, weapons and accessories that can be equipped (over 1,000 in total). These do not only have an effect on any statistical characteristics, but actually alter the physical appearance of the on-screen character(s), helping to make the experience all the more realistic. The resultant combinations that are possible may seem comical at times, or even lead to the false arrogance that your team is invincible. However, always take heed of the fact that judging a book by its cover is not ideal in every circumstance and although your team may look fierce, their attire may not necessarily be the most suitable for battle, which is why the top-screen’s statistical breakdown must be checked each time your equipment is changed or updated.

Another major part of Dragon Quest IX’s longevity and extra appeal, other than the wealth of character customisation available and four-player shenanigans, is the whole host of side-quests that Level-5 and Square Enix have included to lure players back to the adventure time and time again. The first 120 of these can be accessed right from the very start, with your warrior meeting certain people (normally hidden out of plain sight, such as remote corridors of castles or in the depths of a well) with blue speech bubbles above their head. They will converse as normal at first, before eventually posing the question of whether or not you choose to take on the responsibility of the task they bequeathed unto you. Additionally, if the standard amount of supplementary missions does not satiate your desire for questing, there are plenty of others to sink your teeth into thanks to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, where a further 64 can be downloaded as extra content over time. For each objective successfully completed, a reward is offered up, sometimes in the form of mere items, whilst others can be more important, such as the unlocking of new vocations and pieces of useful equipment. The developer's and creator Yuji Horii's aim was not simply to make a run-of-the-mill ninth entry, but to ensure that Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies was by far one of the most well-rounded RPG experiences on any system, something that has definitely been achieved.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies on Nintendo DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

Combining the tried-and-tested turn-based RPG mechanic of yesteryear with touch-screen controls, a stunning amount of quests to undertake, a gripping story that actually continues after the game’s conclusion, plus the smooth integration of multiplayer adventuring, Level-5 and Square Enix have crafted one of the finest RPGs experiences to date.

Graphics

With a stunning array of 3D visuals that lift Dragon Quest IX above its competitors in the DS field, as well as a smattering of gorgeous hand-drawn 2D animated sequences, plus an overall general glean to the whole presentation, this is a joy to play through.

Sound

Between the classic themes that roar from the DS speakers to the new tunes that have been specifically created, the world of Dragon Quest sounds splendid throughout the entirety of Sentinels of the Starry Skies.

Value

The main adventure alone can last for up to forty or more hours, and once completed there is the draw of continuing the adventure to uncover extras unavailable the first time round, bringing friends along for the ride, and even taking part in nearly 200 side-quests.

Cubed3 Rating

10/10
Rated 10 out of 10

Masterpiece - Platinum Award

About this score
Rated 10 out of 10

With Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, Square Enix and Level-5 have delivered what is without doubt one of the most stunning RPG experiences not only on the Nintendo DS, but in existence, full stop. Filled to the brim with charm, stunning presentation, a highly entertaining story, streamlined role-playing gameplay elements, and enough extras to keep players on their journey for several months, Dragon Quest IX is a title that no DS owner should be without.

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03.01.2011

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Developer

Level-5

Publisher

Square Enix

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (7 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

I really should get this. It's cheap on Amazon right now and this review has convinced me that it will be worth investing time into.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Try out Dragon Quest IV: The Chapters of the Chosen as well. I'm planning on trying to get through DQV: Hand of the Heavenly Bride soon as well...all depends on how much time I have.

DQIX is damn impressive and really has me wondering what to expect for DQX on Wii.

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

All I have to say is.. Meh. It sort of grabs me by the balls, but it also sort of doesn't.

I love it when I'm playing it, and then I can usually play it for hours on end as long as I don't have to do too much grinding; Once I put it away, though, I rarely feel the need to go back to it.

Also, it's graphically sort of disappointing once you lay your eyes on games like Final Fantasy 4 Heroes of Light or Golden Sun Dark Dawn.

I have to say that Golden Sun is the only one out of the three that keeps me coming back regardless of what I have to do in-game. I JUST WANT TO LAY MY EYES ON IT T_T

~Getting on C3's massive tits since 2K5.~
James (guest) 04.01.2011 09:20#4

You like Golden Sun's graphics? The battles are great, but the main adventure looks like a sub-standard Spirit Tracks, in my opinion. 4 Heroes of Light is a good looker, but has a shorter horizon due to the 'round' world. DQIX is a technical marvel overall, I'd say.

I too was disappointed with Golden Sun's graphics at first. The GBA games were great, but I thought the DS version didn't look right without sprites. But man, after buying the game and going through some of the locations and towns, it really is one of the most beautiful games on the DS, artistically.

Staff Member

Honestly, I've tried to really get into DQ IX after I've beat the main story but it just didn't capture me. It could have had something to do with the job system and the fact that you have to grind up other jobs for the stat boosts you really need in the end to do the hard stuff. I have nothing against grinding(I got all 4 characters in FF III to Lvl99 each with a couple of jobs to Lvl99) but when I'm grinding I usually expect it to get more efficient with the time as you get more powerful but in DQ IX you always have to start from scratch(+ stat buffs and equipment) which was really offputting for me. It's also a fair bit annoying that you can't disable skills from other jobs you don't need at all which makes the menu in battle a mess once you've gotten skills from various jobs.

So yeah, my reasons for not continuing playing the game after the main story. They may look pretty minimal to most of you but for me they were irritating enough considering I would've easily spent another 100 hours playing the game. It's a great game nonetheless and I'm really looking forward to what Dragon Quest X has in store for us. Smilie

 

The only main DQ game I own is DQVIII on PS2. I love how simple it is and how it does little to stray too far from the standard JRPG formula. However, I can't bring myself to do so with another DQ. VIII had the benefit of having great voice acting and graphics to get me through it.

I bought DQ: Joker for DS and that too has suffered due to having to grind every 2 minutes. Smilie

With the fanbase demanding the same structure with each game, I guess I'll just have to pass on DQ for now. Smilie

To be fair, they do seem to have done a great job with DQIX, especially the multiplayer side. Smilie

( Edited 04.01.2011 12:14 by Ifrit XXII )

I tried it out, but it just felt like another generic RPG, which I don't like. To be fair to it though, it's not my sort of game at all.

( Edited 04.01.2011 13:08 by Marzy )

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I'm surprised about the negative comments! Thought more of you would have been drawn in by the whole adventure. This is the first RPG I've seen rigt through to the end in a LONG time. Normally I only have time to get through enough a large games like this to give a fair review. DQIX's review was so heavily delayed because I was determined to squeeze in time here and there to ensure I finished the main story, levelled up considerably, got access to the key post-game 'item' and then hammered the extra quests. The fact that this kept me coming back to chip away more and more over the months made it that little bit better than the wealth of 9/10 RPGs I've played on DS.

I've just started Golden Sun and plan on playing the English patched version of Tales of Innocence soon, but for now I've gone back to another of my favourites that I never quite completed - Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. One of the most entertaining adventures I've played - takes all the best elements of other Mario RPGs, tweaks the system slightly, adds in even more humour than before AND some truly inspired mini-games.

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

I feel like this game is similar to Pokemon where you don't just play the game but instead you do something else while playing. I watch The Office while grinding on DQIX. Switching classes is a tough choice in that game because that is hours of work to get that character up to speed. Otherwise I really like the game. Still haven't finished it yet and still haven't finished DQ VIII for the PS2 because I got lost in that game's massive world. But still I just love the DQ story attitude in that it is fairly light hearted.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I really struggled with DQVIII, I have to be honest. At first I thoroughly enjoyed it, but then it started to drag considerably, and I just never went back to finish it.

Welcome to the site Yoshindo1, by the way, and thanks for commenting Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Hey thanks Smilie I've been visiting this site for years and would occasionally comment as a guest (my guest name was Yoshindo) but I decided the other day that I wanted my posts to be put up instantly and signed up.

I'm enjoying it so far, playing it in multiplayer with my bro at times aswell.

Enjoying the story aswell, I have got really sick of how most JRPG's are so over the top these day and filled with shit unlikable characters, and recycled stories that I have watched a million times before.

I appreciate the simple "go here", "do this", "heres your reward" aspect.

Kind of reminds me of a JRPG diablo in a way.

Only thing that annoys me is there is the frame rate seems to dip with 4 characters on screen which is kind of a bummer, but the graphics are pretty amazing for a DS game, love the way all the sprites rotate and change to a different angled sprite when moving the camera, really nice touch that.
I quite like that Dragon Quest IX has continued using the UK accents in the game, even though it's all via text it's still kind of cool they went to the bother of doing it.
Smilie

( Edited 08.01.2011 21:24 by Jimmy2000 )

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