Level 5 and Square Enix are at it again with another fantastic RPG that incorporates much of the old with a little new to create a traditional, fun, and often tough little masterpiece. The very fact that this was all done on the DS makes it that much more impressive. If you love traditional RPGs and/or have always been a fan of the Dragon Quest games, this is a title you absolutely cannot afford to pass up.
Available For: Nintendo DS
Publisher(s): Square Enix, Nintendo
Release Date: 2010
Archetype(s): RPG, Traditional
I wasn’t too terribly impressed with the original Dragon Warrior. Oh sure, it’s a classic RPG, but it’s way too basic and often has ridiculously obscure puzzles that you can only solve if you have an FAQ handy. In fact, more recently I’ve been playing DW2 on an emulator and, in between bouts of constant yawning, have actually made some decent progress…but I’d be hard pressed to give the game much more than a “meh.”
In fact, that’s pretty much how the Dragon Warrior/Quest series’ impression fell on me for so many years until Dragon Quest 8 came out and blew my socks off. They did so many new things while retaining so much of what made the series popular in the first place with an unabashedly oldschool stance and feel that it was amazing. In fact, it was incredibly hard to put down for a while.
Lo and behold Dragon Quest 9 comes out and for a seemingly inferior system and yet it feels BETTER. And why is that? Well, let me tell you. Firstly, you get to completely create your characters from the ground up, not only in the form of jobs, but also facial features, hair, gender, height, and so on. The game is still cel-shaded, just like Dragon Quest 8, and it actually looks really good.
Alchemy makes a big comeback in this one, especially since there’s no wait time between cooking up different recipes. Skill points are also present as well and because of the great variety in classes and the ability for crossover techniques, well, it’s not just diverse, it’s incredible. From a technical, visceral, and overall enjoyable leve, the game delivers in spades. But how is the plot?
Well normally this is one area that can go either way with the Dragon Quest games. Thankfully, the plot is spot on. I won’t go too in depth into it, but suffice to say there are some nice plot twists, clever writing, and lots and lots of puns abound. I mean, come on. Mayor Laria? Garth Goyle? Wight Knight? I swear I’m not making these up. The game is as funny as it is competent and delivers a deep and rewarding experience.
To be honest, it’s almost hard to come up with anything negative to say. I’m really trying…so…uhhh…let’s see. Okay, two aspects I don’t like are as follows. Firstly, job classes are tied directly to character level. Now, what that means is if you’re a level 5 thief and decide to change into a minstrel for example, you aren’t level 5. No, now you’re level 1.
Granted, if you switch back to a thief, you’re level 1, but it’s almost as if you become an entirely different character. The good news, as I briefly mentioned previously, is crossover stuff. See, let’s say you worked hard as a martial artist (or monk or whatever they’re calling it) and developed your bare handed skill well. Okay, the thief class allows for bare handed combat as well, so when you transition to a thief, you still have all those skill points allocated in bare handed ability.
So sure, your level sucks, but you retained all your bare handed skills and boosts. So the idea is to incorporate as many things as possible that cross over to create a truly incredible mixed class that can be dedicated to many things. The only other thing I can find to bitch about is sometimes the game doesn’t give you enough direction. Typically in a linear RPG you’re told where to go, what to do, and you’re usually given some sort of obvious reason for this.
However, the first time I got the boat, I got totally lost. Where was I going? Why? I got killed over and over again by going into territory I apparently wasn’t supposed to go to yet. Then I kept wondering if it was maybe because I kept transitioning jobs or if I simply wasn’t supposed to go there. Worse still, the game made no attempt to try to set me back on track. Still, this can be easily remedied with an FAQ and most oldschoolers won’t mind this one minor detail.
So once again, would I recommend this title? Well, if you’re an oldschooler and/or you like classic RPGs, this one’s a no-brainer. The real question is would you appreciate this title if you grew up on more modern and/or casual RPGs? I’d still be tempted to insist you check this one out and here’s why. Yes, it’s very traditional to the point of still having menus to do different stuff and often having to organize different things, but most of this is still quick and very much on the fly.
The game is also very beautiful, both visually and audibly. A lot of thought was put into each bit of text, mapping, enemy balancing, and much more. The game can be hard, but not to the point of unfair or frustrating. Plus, with alchemy, skill points, the ability to switch around jobs, customization of characters, and much more, the game is as modern as it is traditional, which is a very different take that somehow works very well.
In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of any one person who wouldn’t like this title except for those of us that absolutely cannot stand RPGs at all or have completely grown out of turn-based RPGs. For the rest of us, however, this is one you will not want to pass up.