Nintendo and Square-Enix have been working hard to make the Dragon Quest series relevant on this side of the sea. And if Dragon Quest IX doesn't captivate an audience outside Japan, self-proclaimed RPG fans ought to turn in their swords and shields.
ESRB Rating: E10+
The Basics: Questing for Dragons
Much like the design process behind your main character, the party members you recruit must be named and shaped. Each party member (up to three, including your hero) can also choose a job, which determines how they attack and grow. Minstrels, for instance, are well-rounded and posses decent attack stats in addition to healing magic. Thieves move quickly and can rob enemies blind. Priests back up party members with support spells. And so on. Later into the game, characters can switch jobs and collect new skills that will help them take down enemies.
Gameplay is pretty standard as far as role-playing games go. Your party takes turns attacking monsters, who then step up and wail on you. Monsters are slain through physical weapon-based attacks, as well as learned skills and magic spells.
Dragon Quest IX includes some nifty features that involves taking the game online to buy exclusive items. Moreover, up to three players can control party members and quest alongside you, though this can only be done locally and not through a Wi-Fi connection.
The Graphics are Great - The Nintendo DS isn't a graphical powerhouse, and Dragon Quest IX admittedly doesn't look as good as Dragon Quest VIII for the Playstation 2. But Square-Enix still pulled off some amazing work when it converted the classic enemy roster into polygons. They animate well, and are as expressive as ever. Not only that, every piece of armor you don and every weapon you wield shows up on your character model. Very impressive.
The Story is Engaging - Your party is a blank slate that projects you, so your characters don't interact with one another. But the world they explore has more than enough emotion and intrigue to keep you going. There's a great deal of comedy as well as some drama, which is helped along by a fantastic translation and localization.
No More Random Battles - It's a Dragon Quest first: Dragon Quest IX got rid of those pesky random battles. Now you can see enemies clearly on the world map and in dungeons, and dodge them quite easily.
The Music is a Bit Dull - Dragon Quest has always boasted a riveting score, but the music in Dragon Quest IX is subdued. It is, however, far from being bad. The theme for the Quester's Rest Inn is particularly fun.
Some of the Quests are Baffling - There are a great deal of Quests to be completed in Dragon Quest IX, and some of them yield fruitful results, like the ability to switch to a coveted job. But some of these Quests are difficult, boring, repetitive, or just not explained very well and therefore frustrating. Definitely some brutal torture for completionists.