So, I found Dragon Quest IX on sale at Target on Black Friday, and even though I know that’s when you’re supposed to start buying gifts for other people, I couldn’t resist getting it for myself. I haven’t played that much of it, but I have to say I quite like it. Mind you, if you didn’t enjoy the other Dragon Quest/Warrior games, you probably won’t like this one either, because it’s very much along the same lines. A small group of characters wanders around the world, building up experience by fighting monsters in turn-based combat, gathering items, and performing side quests before finally having to defeat an evil demon lord. There’s a legendary hero and an epic battle between the forces of good and evil, and a lot of the same monsters and items show up in every game. I think the familiarity is part of what makes the series great, though. If you’ve ever played a DQ game, you can get into another one without a whole lot of adjustment, because with a few minor exceptions you know what you’re supposed to do. At the same time, however, there are enough differences in the characters and story to make exploring each new game fun and intriguing despite all the similarities. Also, as the series has progressed, there have been a lot of minor adjustments that really help to make things more fun. Even the decision to not make your characters use the “Stairs” command in the second game was a significant improvement. With DQ9, you’re back to designing characters yourself, rather than just playing the ones who are necessary to the story. Even the appearances are customizable. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view; I like to design my own characters, but I also think that video games often benefit from having set character traits, because characters who don’t often don’t show any personality. On the other hand, a video game where the characters and events are TOO rigidly defined gives less control to the player, and comes close to just being a movie with some minimal interaction during battles and such. Your main character in DQ9 is an angel that has fallen to Earth and lost its halo. I chose to have a female character named Villina, a name that was in my head because it’s the Russian name for the Good Witch of the North. Strangely, it turns out that the character has a companion named Stella, the Russian name for Glinda’s equivalent. I swear I didn’t plan it that way. For my other party members, though, I just used the default ones.
As far as graphics go, they look a bit primitive compared to what a lot of modern video game systems are capable of, but they’re distinctively DQ graphics. The series has never had the best graphics from a technical standpoint, yet there’s a recognizable look to them that I find quite appealing. And there are a few welcome adjustments, like animated battles and close-ups for important conversations.
I admit I’ve never played DQ8, so I don’t know how many of these improvements are holdovers from that game, but I do know that even as late as DQ7 you didn’t actually see your party members fight. I’m also quite interested in how the characters’ equipment is now actually shown. They sort of did that way back in the original DQ, which would show the hero with a sword and shield when he obtained these items, but that was the extent of it. In DQ9, if you change a character’s armor from leather to bronze, you’re going to see it.