Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies Review
One of the biggest games ever made finds a home on one of the smallest consoles. The result is pure gaming joy.
RPGs are those type of games that can be the most addictive. Endless hours of quests, levelling up, exploring the world map and living out your chosen character's life - it can very easily swallow hundreds of hours of gaming. Well, here's Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies to show everyone how true RPGs are supposed to play out. Hope you've got a spare few hundred hours lying around...
The unnamed hero of the piece (let's call him/ her 'You') is a Celestrian, essentially an angel that watches over the flock below, until the time comes to return to the heavens, where the Almighty awaits. Unfortunately, this all goes wrong immediately and You get blasted back down to earth and stripped of your heavenly gifts. From this point on, it's up to You to try and fix all of humanity's problems from the ground while attempting to solve the mystery of who attacked the Celestrians.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is a game that will consume time like none other. The world map's awe-inspiring size is carefully handled and cut down into smaller sections, almost episodically, and the game works well when given a brief two-hour spurt instead of longer bursts. The best way of describing it is to say that you won't realise you've put in over a hundred hours into the game until it says so on the main menu.
While most JRPGs are incredibly linear and focus on trying to steer you down a very strict (and sometimes very clumsy) narrative, Dragon Quest IX shines like a star for one very simple reason: character creation. From the word go, you're allowed total control over what your version of You looks like - facial features, hair, eyes, etc - and this endless customisation spills out into the costumes as well. Equip a pair of steel boots and You will actually wear them. Choose to wear a lump of wood for a helmet and You will stand there, grinning like a loon (if you chose that mouth), with a bit of tree perched on his or her noggin.
The customisation even extends to the fellow members of the party. Because the story is only focused on You and the journey You embarks on, the supporting members of the party are completely up to your own imagination. With no dialogue, the personality of each of them is up to you, as are their facial features. It's a simple trick, but one that makes the grand total so much more personal that perhaps any other JRPG yet made. You can even set how your optional characters choose to fight, too. With the game's cracking A.I., the only character you need to worry about is the one the story focuses on. The rest will have his or her back throughout.
On top of this absorbing quest is the ability to change the character's jobs (after around ten hours play, of course.) Six basic jobs are available early on, with another six becoming unlocked much later. Each job has a whopping hundred levels of ranking up, leaving the player with roughly 1,200 levels to try and earn. Couple this with the fact that the characters reset to level 1 when they change job, as well as the skill points you can attribute your part with are finite in number and you have a game that has both ever-changing tactics and the potential for a genuinely unique experience.