Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies super review

  • Provides traditional RPG feel like no other
  • One of the best looking DS games ever
  • Promises hundreds of hours of play
  • Multiplayer options occasionally hurt story
  • Too old school for some
  • Heavy accents steal focus from plot

Dragon Quest is the granddaddy of the JRPG, and in Japan it has been consistently one of the most popular series ever, with each new entry or remake selling in the millions. Meanwhile, its western fan base has been considerably smaller, though it’s no less dedicated. Perhaps it has to do with the series’ steadfast adherence to the same decades old gameplay, or maybe it’s too kiddy for some. With the international release of the first new entry in the series in five years, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, the series has another chance at catching on with a whole new audience. But after failing to catch on with the English-speaking masses before, can this one to do the trick?

A traditionalist with some new tricks

When comparing the two giants of Japanese RPGs, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, DQ has always been the more conservative of the two. While FF embraced new graphics, gameplay mechanics, and story-telling techniques, DQ had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future. DQIX, despite being on a portable, is a major step forward for the series in so many ways.

Though the core grinding and battle mechanics are incredibly familiar, DQ has caught up with its competitors by finally displaying the enemies on the world map. This may sound small or even expected, but it fixes one of the series biggest issues: the incredibly huge amount of random battles. Sure, the monsters might chase after you, but at last you aren’t damned to be continually fighting weak enemies when backtracking old areas, and you actually have a chance of escaping more powerful baddies you aren’t ready for.

Another biggie is incorporating the insane amount of customization you have with the characters in your party. Not only is there a deep class system with skill points to assign to differentiate your character from all the others out there, but every single item your character can wear or use actually appears on the model. Instead of equipment just being a bland set of numbers, your fashion choices actually contribute to the character’s, well, character. Instead of every mage or warrior looking exactly the same, each has their own look.

This game is pretty hard on obsessive collectors, thanks in no small part to the alchemy system. Hundreds of items you either buy, gain in battle, or find just sitting there in the overworld can be combined to create a multitude of other items, including new weapons and armor that can’t be found anywhere else. Since you find the recipes on bookshelves all over the world, it finally gives a reason to check every single bookcase you find, which previously gave story hints or a cute joke at best. Yes, this was in DQVIII so it isn’t entirely new, but the feature has only deepened since.

And unlike the recent Dragon Quest DS remakes, this one is out to push the system about as far as it can go graphically. Every monster, environment, character, everything is in full 3D, which makes the amount of customization and the insanely deep bestiary even more remarkable. Longtime Quest fans will be happy to see that even though the series took a technological step backwards from the eighth entry on the PS2, it’s still one of the most advanced in series history.

Square-Enix was smart to take the series to a handheld, and not just for business reasons. These days, the older DQ fans don’t really have as much time to sit in front of a TV to play 50 hours of one game. But on a handheld, not only do the short bursts of play fit the system nicely, staring at the DS screen for that long, especially on a commute, just doesn’t seem as taxing. And were this on an advanced console, we might be less forgiving of the game’s anachronisms.

More Info

Release date: Jul 11 2010 - DS (US)
Jul 23 2010 - DS (UK)
Available Platforms: DS
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Level-5
Franchise: Dragon Quest
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Language
PEGI Rating:


  • slashluke - August 7, 2010 9:44 p.m.

    That fishermen town is actually made up of welsh people.I always thought it was the strange that they spoke in British accents, but hey, it's definitely not a bad thing- American accents can get grating after a while.
  • Hydrohs - July 11, 2010 8:02 p.m.

    Nintendo's marketing must have worked. I've never touched any of the Dragon Quest games but now I intend to play them all from the beginning.
  • GameManiac - July 11, 2010 4:20 a.m.

    The only Dragon Quest game that I've played was a spin-off for the Nintendo DS: Dragon Quest: Rocket Slime. Despite the oddity of the game, I played it and liked it nevertheless, however I'm itching to see how a real DQ game is like, so I'll give this game a shot. Also, it's kind of difficult to compare DQ with Pokemon because they are a bit distant, despite the traditional-like roots and JRPG-ness. Perhaps that's just my opinion.
  • GR_HenryGilbert - July 10, 2010 3:53 p.m.

    Yeah, if you've never play Chrono, that should be your first choice. As good as DQIX is, it can't compare to CT.
  • shyfonzie - July 10, 2010 12:38 p.m.

    I might have to choose between this and chrono trigger. So Chrono would be the clear choice, right?
  • GR_HenryGilbert - July 9, 2010 11:49 p.m.

    Yeah it's better and much deeper than FFIII. Better than DQVIII? Well no, but it's much more likely you'll finish IX than VIII.
  • CatrParrot - July 9, 2010 11:36 p.m.

    I've been waiting years for a brand new Dragon Quest game, so of course this game is a must-buy for me. But, is it better than Dragon Quest 8? Because I loved 8...
  • EnragedTortoise1 - July 9, 2010 10:23 p.m.

    Gonna be my first DQ game, preordered it a few days ago. Can't wait for sunday! One more question.. is it better than Final Fantasy 3 for DS? 'Cause I loved that game. Lots.
  • garnsr - July 9, 2010 8:15 p.m.

    I got to the end of VII and never finished it, and never really played VIII. I played through I and III on NES in their day, then replayed the first three on Game Boy, and IV and V on DS, and have generally enjoyed them all, though I can never really say why. There's just something to Dragon Warrior (or Quest if you really have to say that now,) that has hold on American gamers from a certain time period, I guess. I'm not sure if I'll pick this up, though.
  • Cyberninja - July 9, 2010 8:12 p.m.

    i was going to get it anyway but i am glad to hear its good.
  • Schnipke - July 9, 2010 5:59 p.m.

    I can't wait to get this game, It'll be my third DQ game, and I like reading the accents
  • 8bitBaby - July 9, 2010 5:40 p.m.

    Awesome! You’re right, I’m an older DQ gamer and no, I don’t have that kinda time any more. so while I’m on the train I can play this. I don’t mind that all these elements are new to DQ while other games have been doing it for a while, it’s just good to see DQ make that step forward. I personally would have LOVED realtime battles (the pressure makes the game more interesting) It’s really too bad about the characters and story not really shining through. But maybe in the next game it will, now that they have these advances locked in place. I’m gonna play it, it looks and sounds like fun. Also looking forward to a US release of Ni no Kuni… later next year from the looks of it.
  • db1331 - July 9, 2010 5:15 p.m.

    I was just about to hijack another post and ask when this review was going up. An 8 is exactly what I thought it would get. I might wind up getting this as my first ever DQ game.

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