The latest entry in Enix’s long running RPG series, Skies is Dragon Quest through and through. The game begins with you in the role of a guardian of a small village, tasked to defend the people from evil and help them solve their problems. The purpose of you and fellow Celestrians is to gather spiritual essence from your worshippers in the form of benevolessence. This is offered to the World Tree in ever-greater quantities, as a means of your race reaching the next stage of evolution. It’s an intriguing way to begin a game, but the inevitable plot twist happens and the game takes on a whole new reality, both for the player and your character themselves. I liked this twist even though I saw it coming. Think about it, you’re a demigod at the beginning of the game and you can’t directly interact with anyone. How long do you think that could possibly last?
DQ9's graphics are typical of Japanese RPG’s, with well-drawn and expressive anime characters, highly reminiscent of the work of Akira Toriyama. Characters manage to retain their charm despite their stock character design and motivations. The character creation system allows you to select from both male and female with a good amount of variety for body types and other features. While this system allows you to create a different looking hero from anyone else, it won’t help their personality as a silent protagonist. And this isn’t the same kind as the ones in the Chrono series. The main character is a blank slate through and through and it doesn’t mesh well at all with the opening storyline elements. A disappointment.
Monsters are fairly typical in design as well, but it is in their styling’s that makes them memorable, be it the dancing of the cruelcumber or the crazy gleam in the eye of the Bodkin Archer. These foes may be among the archetypes of fantasy foes, but they are not without their charm.
I don’t care for the look of the worlds in DQ9. While competently designed, they are normal as normal can be, with dungeons, forests, villages, rivers, and so on that function exactly as can be expected, offering little surprises. It’s not quite dull, but it is generic and uninspired, further giving the feeling that DQ9 is really just going through the motions. It makes sure to have what is expected for the series and little else.
Koichi Suyigama arrives for the latest game in the series that he has composed music for since the series’ inception. Most of the music is well done but does little to stand out among RPG tunes. Some may say that Dragon Quest has a musical style all its own, and that I should give it a fair shake before judging it. This is true, and I will check out the rest of the games in the series, but I must tell you that for a composer of legendary stature, I wasn’t impressed by the Suyigama’s compositions for DQ9.
DQ9 is your standard RPG through and through. You talk to people, find items, go on quests, encounter enemies, earn experience, and level up. The leveling and gameplay system are old school to the core, with physical attacks, magic, and special attacks to give some variety to the very basic combat. You also earn skill points that can be invested in various job-like archetypes. As you invest more points, you unlock new abilities, ranging from powerful special attacks to bonus damage to weapons you wield, be it swords, whips, and more.
The game picks up as your party expands to fill your roster with up to 3 more humans or NPC’s. While combat and the skill system remain the same, the micromanaging that the player can engage in to make each character different (one party member a healer, one a mage and so on) does a lot to make the game more interesting. You might be doing the same stuff over and over again like in any RPG, but it is the ability to experience it in different ways each time that makes the trip worthwhile. Mileage can vary depending on how much the game can suck you into its world.
Depending on your enjoyment of playing through a DQ game will affect your desire to replay the game. As for me, I enjoy it about as much as another type of DQ’s so far which isn’t very much. There simply isn’t enough ways to play this game for me to want to pick it up again, except for maybe once in a great while.
Dragon Quest IX - Sentinels of the Starry Skies is the kind of game that is technically sound, but does little to stand out from the pack. I understand its fans like it this way, but the series’ lack of interesting differences from most RPG’s isn’t going to create a new fan out of me. Just because your series is one of the first in the genre is no excuse to not innovate. I don’t care what the fans expect; you shouldn’t unnecessarily prolong a series just because it has loyal followers. Series should persist because they have something interesting to offer video games, even to this day, years after they were first created.
- Ugly Bob
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