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!