... for a Dragon Quest game
That phrase is hard to escape when talking about the “new” aspects of Dragon Quest IX. So many features are fresh… for a Dragon Quest game. Seeing enemies on the map is so advanced… for a Dragon Quest game. The character creation is really deep… for a Dragon Quest game. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t great features regardless of what series they appear in, but DQ is getting to them a bit later than everyone else. And even with all the new elements, this is still a core Dragon Quest game through and through, which is its blessing and curse.
Despite originally planning the game to feature real-time battles, after public outcry from many Japanese fans, developer Square-Enix went back on that strategy and DQIX remains as committed to turn-based battles as it ever was. Aside from smaller things, like attack multipliers and earned battle skills, the combat system is nearly unchanged from when the four-person party system introduced in Dragon Quest III.
That isn’t really a knock against DQIX for one reasons. The battle formula has been so finely-tuned and perfected over the years that nobody does classic, simple-to-learn-but-surprisingly-deep turn-based battles better than this series does. These days nobody else does classic, turn-based battles period. Well that’s not completely true, but the niche titles that still hold on to what nearly all RPG giants have left behind don’t have a sliver of the budget or production values that DQIX has.
Another welcome classic returns in with the job system, called vocations this time around. Despite the name change, it’s similar to when it was introduced in DQIII, but includes some of the small but worthwhile changes that have come over time. You gain skill points almost every level, which can be applied to one of five skill types every time you level up in a certain job. It works great in specializing a character, which makes up for the fact that the characters level resets every time you switch vocations, which can be a real pain, but you get used to it, as the more advanced jobs are only available much later on.
That we’re reminded often of the third Dragon Quest, a game more than 20 years old, isn’t really a bad thing either, as that was a real high point for the series and a fan favorite. However, it gives you an idea of what you’re in for gameplay-wise, which is a mildly updated take on a formula that came together before many of our readers were born.
When an angel collects fruit
While we appreciate the refined retro quality of the gameplay, that same vibe isn’t as welcome in the story. You play as a formerly invisible angel (sorry, Celestrian) who once helped the unsuspecting people of Earth, but now has taken mortal form after some shenanigans up in heaven. To right this wrong, you’re tasked with collecting the seven lost Fyggs, which are pieces of divine fruit from that blossomed from the World Tree. Once you find them all, you might just to get to the bottom of why the Almighty seems to be pissed at you and your haloed ilk.
Yes, collecting seven of something by traveling the world and tracking down whatever new bad guy got their hands a mythic artifact isn’t particularly new, that’s for sure, but if it was too new then it wouldn’t be Dragon Quest, would it? And we do give props to the divine origins of the main character. Since the hero is driven to help people so he can collect their thanks as heavenly energy, at least the side quests and character motivations for constantly assisting people make more sense.
But the plot has two major enemies. Firstly, it’s that other than your hero, whose silence and overall blandness don’t make him/her all that interesting to begin with, no member of your party matters to the story. You basically purchase your other team members at an inn and have them join your team, which is exactly how it worked in DQIII. It allows for those characters to be designed by the player as much as the main character is, but that advantage is outweighed by the fact they have zero impact on the story.
The other thing holding the story back is the localization. When Nintendo announced they were publishing Dragon Quest IX in the US and UK, many wondered if they’d also handle the translation. Sadly that isn’t the case, as Square-Enix gave DQIX the same treatment the last few games in the series got: heavy accents. All regular folks in the game talk in faux-British slang, while others get even more extreme in their accents, such as the town of Scottish fishermen. Since there’s no spoken dialogue, you just read the increasingly ridiculous looking dialogue to yourself and hear the accents in your head. It can really take you out of the story.