With Final Fantasy XIII out the door, all of Square-Enix%26rsquo;s marketing muscle will be thrust onto the US launch of Dragon Quest IX, now slated for a July 11 release. The series has always been a monstrous success in Japan, but IX has shattered even its own lofty goals and sold more than four million copies since its 2009 debut. Square-Enix has always wanted DQ to carry its weight a bit more in the US, so between the continued sales of the DS and the overwhelming Japanese response, expect DQIX to receive a very powerful push.
Above: Charging up for a mighty premiere
The campaign multiplayer
I spent about 90 minutes with the US version earlier this month, and came away more interested than I expected. The last entry, Dragon Quest VIII, was a gorgeous sendoff to the PS2 days, and the idea of the series downgrading to DS felt like a misstep. After playing for a bit and getting a taste of the game%26rsquo;s primary feature %26ndash; 4-player co-op for the entire 50 hour campaign %26ndash; I can definitely see why this is causing such a ruckus.
Above: Team up with three friends and share strategies for tougher enemies
Obviously there%26rsquo;s a host player who invites the other three into his saved game. Once there, you all play through the host%26rsquo;s world, sharing experience points and generally progressing through the game as you normally would. When you%26rsquo;re done, you return to your world, retaining all the XP and items you collected. However, your storyline remains untouched, allowing you to play those areas again and finish your world solo.
The nuts and bolts are typical Dragon Quest, essentially unchanged for years. If you%26rsquo;ve played VIII or any of the recent DS remakes, you know exactly what%26rsquo;s in store. No FFXIII-style paradigm shifts, no Materia, no Espers, just classic JRPG slashing.
Above: Design your own hero, take him into other people%26rsquo;s Dragon Quest IX campaigns
Even though the gameplay is highly traditional, there%26rsquo;s still a great deal of customization and an emphasis on crafting specialized characters that will work great as a team (almost like a mini-WoW). There%26rsquo;s the typical cosmetic stuff (eyes, hair, face, gender and so on), but beyond that you%26rsquo;ll eventually open up different class types for your character. By eventually, I mean%26hellip; about 10 hours. Hey, this is as hardcore as RPGs get.
Above: You can get pretty damn creative with your appearance
Beginning as a minstrel, you%26rsquo;ll have the ability later to learn new spells and skills as a warrior, priest, thief, martial artist or mage. Spells are job-specific, so you%26rsquo;ll have to stick to that type to access %26lsquo;em, while skills stay on your character forever. The idea is to either specialize in one and become the best damn priest on the planet, or play the game for like 100 hours and have every skill of every job type %26ndash; including the six additional types that appear even later.
We ran around as a group of four through one of the game%26rsquo;s many randomized dungeons, attempting to claw our way to the bottom to fight the big bad boss (Equinox btw, if you%26rsquo;re a Dragon Quest fanatic). Even with all four of us, the trek down was quite a challenge, furthering the notion that DQIX is intentionally tougher than the previous entries %26ndash; which were already more demanding than your typical JRPG. All the more reason to link up with friends.
Next page: The Wi-Fi tag mode, more screens and closing thoughts