Dragon Quest 9 – Sentinels of the Boring Skies

I’ve been playing Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of the Starry Skies for a while, but after the example of Atelier Lina where I judged it too quickly, I decided to hold off on my opinion till I’d gotten a bit further. Well now I’m way further into it, in the last dungeon to be precise, and my judgment: BORING. (spoilers to follow)

The good things: Being able to control how your main character looks, being able to control skills and weapon growths, being able to change classes eventually, simple gameplay and controls, nice graphics for the Nintendo DS, seeing your equipment changes reflected on the field, nice sound track.

Everything else: I’m not finishing this game because I don’t care about the last boss. That’s because I didn’t care about the whole story. So you’re an angel who lost his powers, so bloody what? That’s the sad thing about having a silent protagonist: the other characters have to pick up the slack to make you care about the story and the game, and in this case they all failed miserably. First off, your other party members are generics so they never talk either. Everyone else is an NPC with minor roles to play in your quest-of-the-day, but nothing major to contribute. Sandy the fairy is a moron, so she’s out. The angels in “heaven” are bland so they’re out. And…nobody else counts.

And it’s not just that the story is plain (angels in this day and age? seriously) but that it plays out in a very traditional way with no unexpected twists or turns. If you’ve played more than a few RPGs, you’ll know from the start that making the tree bear fruit will only lead to disaster. After that you have to run around helping people (slay this monster, deliver this item, slay this other monster) in order to regain your angel powers. Then you have another series of fetchquests: find the 7 fruits. And then the last bit of the game is a bit interesting ‘cos first you get to ride on a dragon for a while, and then you get captured by the bad guys and have to break out of jail. That part was fun. And then after you defeat the ‘bad’ guy, ZOMG the real boss was an evil angel. Yeah, I saw that coming a while back as soon as you showed me Elgios in the flashback dudes, thanks a lot. So now you know.

Gameplay, as I said, is nice and simple, but when you have a boring story and weak characters, you need to ramp *something* up to make it worth playing, so this would have been their chance to pour some effort into the battles, or maybe the sidequests. But no, fight-defend-item-special, you just buff, attack, heal, buff, attack, etc. Bleh. And it’s not challenging either, because I avoided a lot of the field battles and still never had any trouble with the bosses except one or two. Well, I guess being able to see the enemies on the field was a nice touch though.

The less said about the sidequests the better, it’s just a series of fetch quests and unreasonable demands thrown at you: go fight enemy X wearing a pink hat and using only attack Y so I can give you this crappy item as your reward. Oh, and forget about getting any good classes unless you do our stupid quests. Zzz…

One thing I was hoping to get into, given my love of Atelier games, was the alchemy system. Unlike in DQ8, you don’t have to run around for hours to get the item, the alchemy is instantaneous. BUT! The problem was ingredients. To get good materials to grind with, you’ll have to do a bit of grinding, both by fighting and by scrounging around on the world map. And then it seems like you won’t get most of the good raw materials and recipes until after the game is over, because – get this – YOU CAN’T FLY UNTIL AFTER THE GAME! No way. No flying for you, man, you’d better get in that boat and go to the few places the game will allow you. And be grateful for it. So anyway, I was only able to create a few items through alchemy, some of which were useful, many of which were not, so forgive me if I wasn’t exactly enthused by that part of the game.

So you see, it’s not a bad game. I mean, it was enough for me to make it to the end, but it’s not a good game either. The howls and bad reviews from 2chan were definitely exaggerated, but it DEFINITELY  doesn’t deserve that 40/40 Famitsu gave it either. 20/40 (5/10) at most for being technically sound but completely lacking in charm and excitement. Square-Enix has been laying on the bribes thick at Famitsu lately, don’t you think? Anyway, that’s enough Dragon Quest for me, now to eagerly await the release of Tokimemo Girls’ Side 3 next month! Whee!

Lina no Atelier is awesome!

Yeah, I know I made a post a while back calling Lina no Atelier terrible, but that was long ago when I hadn’t played very far into it. Having played it some more and, in fact finished it 4 times for 4 different endings, I must say it’s far and away the best DS Atelier so far.

Let’s take my complaints again one at a time. First off, the money requirement isn’t as high this time as it was in Lise. Somehow I misread “hyakuman” as 100 million instead of 1 million, which is why I flew off the handle. And in fact I was more than halfway there when I realized my error.

More than halfway, you ask? You mean it’s that easy to earn 50 million cole in this game? Yup! Remember my second complaint that buying and selling is more important that alchemy in this game? Well it’s completely true if you want to make money, though you won’t need that much. The fastest way is to buy and sell weapons between Hengst and Felsen and Pesca, buying what isn’t sold in one town and selling it in another, back and forth. Weapons sell for most in summer, but you can spend spring, fall and winter buying and then sell in one swoop. Once you unlock the higher level weapons you can apparently make 500,000 in one trip! So yeah, you probably still need to spend one playthrough getting enough money and enough synthesis raw materials, and then you can spend the following runs getting a proper ending.

I also complained about the talking, didn’t I? Well it’s not half as bad in this one as in Atelier Annie. I think I was still traumatized by all the babbling there and ended up overreacting. There’s still a bit of talk, but apart from Ryuon your party members don’t waylay you inside your atelier – in fact they never show up there. Even when your friendship with them is at maximum they don’t talk too much, and they don’t bug you endlessly with requests like they did in Annie. Plus they’re really likeable too, each and every one of them. Even the storekeepers!

What else did I say? Oh yeah, I said something about alchemy taking forever to produce even simple items. Unfortunately that’s true, but only in the beginning when the level of your alchemy tools is low. Once you have the right tool for the job and have leveled it up enough, you can make massive quantities of items in very little time, some of which sell like crazy (but not as much as the right weapons). Also almost all drops are fairly easy to come by, which means you can make just about every item you have a recipe for instead of grinding for hours for an item with a 1 in 2000 chance of dropping. Cool, right?

Oh, oh, and they brought back the fairy hiring system from early Atelier games, though you’ll need to fix the forest a bit more before that option becomes available. In the beginning you can only hire incompetent black fairies (come on Gust, why is black still the worst?) but by the end of the game you’ll get fairies that are even better than you at alchemy. Sweet! They cost a pretty penny, but what’s a little money to a multimillionaire like me?

And even better, all six endings are quite easy to get, including the best one. I’ll do a post about how to get each ending if you’d like. But that’ll have to be later because right now I’ve got some SMT: Strange Journey (oh lawd it’s boring, but I just learned not to judge a game by the first 2 hours) to play. Yay!