It’s been many years since I first got this Dragon Quest title so it’s about time I finally cleared the game. It’s also the first game in the series that I’ve played so that’s also a big milestone. It’s definitely a great game and really nails all of the RPG elements that make the genre so much fun. The weak aspect of the game is the story which can feel really episodic the whole time instead of forming a big ongoing plot. That’s fairly unique for an RPG but I just like having the big story at the ready.
The game starts off by introducing you to the guardian angels. Each one watches over a part of the planet and collect the blessings and prayers from the people within. Effectively they provide protection and get energy in return. The main character who I named Terry is just finishing his time as a trainee when the game starts. He is now ready to guard the whole village on his own. Unfortunately the timing isn’t great as the holy realm is struck by some kind of comet/laser and Terry crashes back to Earth so hard that he loses his wings. He must now find a way back into the sky to see what is happening with his fellow angels but must live as a mortal in the meantime. His angel abilities are effectively locked. If he can capture the Frygg’s that fell to the planet then he can at least save the rest of the realm but each one is guarded by a fantastic creature.
The world in this game does not seem technologically advanced so if not for a magic train that shows up I think Terry would have been doomed. I do find it iffy that nobody went to look for him though. I know they were busy and some were getting kidnapped but at least send someone right? It’s hard to say how much time passes in the game but it must be at least a few days if not months since you have to travel a whole lot from town to town. Fortunately Terry keeps his a good amount of strength since he will need that here as the villains are going to keep moving forward until they’ve destroyed all of their enemies.
The combat is fairly straight forward here. It’s a turn based game where you use your attacks to take your opponents down. You have special moves and normal attacks so you will want to use them wisely as running out of magic meter is never a good thing. This is a game where you will definitely need to do some grinding though as the enemies get more powerful along with you. If you don’t watch your back then you’ll be stuck dying over and over again in a cave.
Fortunately the game has a lot of good features that make sure you never get truly stuck. Instead of having to rely on an item to escape a dungeon or fly to a town, you learn permanent skills to do so fairly early in the game. This was a really good decision since it can be annoying to have to be constantly buying items like this. It’s just a great quality of life update and a way for this game to stand out.
That means that navigating the world and going through the various areas is never painful and always goes over smoothly. Another good thing here is that it’s very easy to change your equipment and see how beneficial the next piece will be. The only thing that is misleading here is that the comparison sheet shows the best attribute so you may be tricked into picking something that will make your character faster at the expense of defense. Look at the small print carefully.
Another important gameplay aspect here is the class system. Each character can change their class at a specific town so you can go from being a warrior to a medic for example. While your skills don’t carry over, any character traits will. How this works is most of the time when you level up you are given skill points that you can put into an attribute. Each class has several attributes. Some are found in multiple classes while others are unique. You can choose to use these points or save them up and use a bunch in a different class. IF you pay some for a permanent upgrade like “Max Health +30” then this will transfer to all classes which is very handy.
It may sound complex but you’ll get the hang of it quickly. As mentioned before though, you will need to grind a whole lot in this game. It’s not an RPG I can picture anyone getting through without having to stop and power level at some point. The opponents are just way too powerful to beat otherwise. One thing to keep in mind though is that you can have a party of 4. The game never really mentions this so I was stuck on the first boss for a while as I was fighting him 1 on 1. What you have to do is go back to one of the first inns in the game and you can create 3 original characters to help you out. I recommend giving them all different classes and making sure at least one is a medic so you guys are fairly well balanced.
I know the medic came in handy for me on quite a few occasions. Without someone healing your party at all times you really end up being in quite the pickle. You should make sure you have a full party of 4 at all times because the game’s difficulty will jump straight up otherwise to the point of being nearly unplayable. Especially when the enemies gang rush you. Another thing to note is that the game has an anti grinding mechanic so if you bring in someone that is lower leveled than you out onto the field than he will get less EXP than your other fighters.
Personally I thought that was a bit of a low blow. I understand why a developer will do this but pretty much every other RPG I’ve played is cool with this so why would this game try and prevent this action? I think they should have just left it alone and that would have been great. Still, I’m a fan of the gameplay mechanics overall, it’s a large part of what makes the game great.
As I mentioned, the only weakness here is the story and characters. Well, you can take Terry out of the equation since by definition he has no character. He’s just the plot device you use to get through the game. You have the fairy who is always following you around. She’s not bad, there’s not a whole lot to her though beyond getting upset at everyone all the time. The conductor shows up near the end of the game and he seems like a nice guy but kind of out of nowhere.
The most interesting character is easily the final villain. There’s a bit of a twist about who he is, but the guy actually gets a good amount of screen time and even some development before the game ends. Now he felt like a true RPG villain and even had the crazy super form to boot. The story certainly does turn it up a bit by the end but if the game is around 25 hours in length, it felt like the actual story was only 3 hours or less. You could cut out every town in the middle and it wouldn’t affect the story which I do think is a bit of an issue.
Meanwhile the technical elements were definitely on point. The graphics are really impressive for a portable game. You’ve got full cutscenes here as well as a solid soundtrack. There are even fights within the cutscenes like the big dragon battle. It’s fitting that a dragon should get some of the cinematic moments here since the game is called Dragon Quest after all.
In terms of length the game is well over 20 hours so you’re getting a lot of value here. There is also a good amount of replay value between the post game content and leveling up your characters. You could easily be here for 40+ hours by the time you’re done with everything.
Overall, Dragon Quest IX is a great game. It’s known as one of the all time best RPG franchises and its easy to see why. The gameplay is very polished and there isn’t a lot to improve on that front. I imagine the story will be quite different in each of the games so we’ll see how that goes in the next adventure. As long as we continue getting those great cutscenes and big battles I’m sure there will be nothing to worry about. It may be a bit early to start comparing this to Final Fantasy or Tales Of but we’ll see how things go as the franchise continues.