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Dragon Quest IX DS is a detailed and interesting stride towards a more progressive role play experience. But although it's technically impressive on the DS the usually soulful Dragon Quest story feels strangely absent.
Every Dragon Quest game is unique. It's a fact that's lost behind the series' lack of success in the west. Like Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest is a Japanese phenomenon and each iteration offers a unique tale - while the play style remains the same.
Dragon Quest IX is all about the overarching role-play experience. The 40 hour story is impressive, but the real advance comes in the multiplayer and the post-game content that takes things beyond even 200 hours of game play.
These advances will be positive for most Dragon Quest players, but for me the game has lost it's primary focus in story. In fact, my most treasured experience comes from Dragon Quest V on the DS with its focus on family and life. In other games, like Dragon Quest IV, the narrative has been divided expertly up to give a varied experience from other viewpoints, or things are stretched out to show off the world and the colourful visuals the style allows, like Dragon Quest VIII on the PS2.
I'm trying to think of an anecdote or an instance that stands out amid the 40 hours that the story takes to conclude. And I can't.
These previous games really revel in the journey. Duly, Dragon Quest IX starts off in similar fashion. You play as a Celestrian - an Angelic Guardian of a small hamlet - helping protect the community and moving the dead on to the next life. Soon a great event occurs and you find yourself in the small town bereft of wings and powers.
But here the tale has you reclaiming your Celestrian status by performing good deeds and generally helping out everybody you come across. It's sweet and acting as the good Samaritan even when the consequences aren't always cheerful is heart warming. However, it isn't enough to give the story any real bite. I'm trying to think of an anecdote or an instance that stands out amid the 40 hours, and I can't. There's literally nothing in the story that really connected to anything deeper in me.
I wasn't curing a town of illness because my daughter or lover were affected. I was doing it just to earn Benevolessence and unlock the next location or quest chain.
The various quests and stories didn't feel particularly connected. I wasn't curing a town of illness because my daughter or lover were affected. I was doing it just to earn Benevolessence and unlock the next location or quest chain. It's still Dragon Quest - the quintessential dialects, naming conventions and alchemical pot all work as they should. The winged fairy that serves as your companion also has some wonderful colloquialisms that made me genuinely laugh.
But this care seems to have escape when it comes to characterisation and story. Due to its co-op nature you don't have story-specific characters tagging along just like all the previous Dragon Quest games. Instead, you have a service that means other players can enter your game or you create custom characters that you take along for the ride.
With no companions to frame the experience I felt alone and disinterested in what was going on.
It's neat but it undoes Dragon Quest's most endearing features - companions. With no comrades to frame the experience I felt alone and disinterested in what was going on. It's a far cry from the days of the SNES and PS2 versions with their believable characters. Making meaningless bots to bolster your attack felt like a betrayal of the Dragon Quest experience I was used to. And sadly it leaves the game feeling distinctly soulless.
I'm trying not to feel too hard done-by with Dragon Quest IX. It's a tremendous achievement for a Japanese role-playing game to have so much potential for multiplayer and post-game content. The ability to put your DS into sleep mode and have it discover other players and generate content via this passive connection is ingenious. It's just a shame that the western world doesn't have a user-base anywhere near the numbers required to make this a feasible feature.
Dragon Quest IX is one of the most technically competent and involving RPGs you could hope to play. However, it lives and dies by these advancements. What it gains in technical content it loses in heart and soul - the essential bread and butter of my previous Dragon Quest experiences. It might reward prolonged play with infinite quests and involving treasure hunts but it will never touch your heart the way a Dragon Quest game should.
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