Mitch Ryder and the Detroit
I think that playing Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies was the first time I've ever really understood why little girls like to dress up their dolls. Whenever you get a new piece of equipment, you can put it on your character, and it changes the 3D model of them on the screen. It can give them an entirely different appearance, and is one of the many charming, simple elements of the game.
Let me give you some examples. Since the DS doesn't allow you to take screen captures, these were done the old fashioned way, with a digital camera, so you can see some screen lines. But they're still good illustrations. Here's the avatar I used as the main character in the game:
When you start, you choose your basic appearance. I chose a silver mohawk and large eyes for this character. You can see he looks pretty intimidating with his sword and shield and powerful armor. But I can also dress him up in a spear with bright red clothing and give him a crown and different type of shield and gloves:
Here's another example, how another of the characters I designed looks in two different outfits. Obviously in one she's wearing a skirt and breastplate, and in the other robes. While she has the same headband and shield, notice her footwear is different.
Seriously, this dress-up thing is addictive. For some time, I left my character in a Flamenco Shirt rather than slightly better armor, because how cool is it that someone would go out fighting dragons and mummies in a shirt normally worn on a dance floor? At another point, I found out that it would be possible to outfit my characters with cat ears, if I went searching for certain hard-to-find components to build them. I spent quite some time searching. My goal had been to outfit my martial artist with cat-ears to complement the cat-tail fan she was wielding, but it turned out they were a bad fit for her powers, so I gave them to the blue-haired priest shown above.
So, besides a fashion simulator, what is Dragon Quest IX? It's a computer roleplaying game on the DS. As the number implies, there have been eight previous ones, in Japan at least. Not all were released in North America, and this is the first one I've played. Now I'm debating whether to track others down.
DQIX, as I mentioned above, is made of a lot of simple components. If you've ever played a CRPG before, you know the formula: go on quests to help villagers, fight monsters, collect treasures, go up in levels, improve skills, and defeat the big bad monster that threatens the world. But it wraps this basic formula in a very, very polished shell:
- The music is simple and catchy. While there's much to be said for clever, elaborate scores in video games, I found myself humming the background tunes to DQIX several times over the last few weeks. Similarly, the graphics have a charming, cartoonish quality. Wikipedia and fan sites tell me that the same composer and animator have been in charge of the series since the beginning, and I can see there's a unity to it. The monsters are all in the same sill style.
- Someone put a lot of work into the translation. People in different towns talk with completely different mannerisms, sounding suspiciously like Australians, Cockneys, Welsh and a bunch of other different nationalities. The monsters' names are often bad puns: you might face a Meowgician (cat-sorcerer, obviously), Scarewolf, or Coolcumber (a vegetable with an attitude).
- The mechanics are pretty easy to follow. With one exception, there's no need to read the manual (though it may provide some helpful tips). And that exception -- the exact effect of different attributes -- is pretty self explanatory, though I wouldn't have figured out the difference between Agility and Deftness on my own. But everything else is pretty easy to follow. When you level up, the only choice you sometimes have to make is how to assign skill points, and it's done in a really straightforward manner. If you've played games with weird webs of special skills and abilities that are never properly explained, this is a pleasant relief. Similarly, the combat options are pretty straightforward -- do you attack, defend, cast a spell or use a special ability? Who is the target of your decision?
- The longest cut scenes last two, maybe three minutes. Many games are horrible with cut scenes. The worst example I've encountered -- and I am not making this up -- is Xenosaga. There, you'd play a level for about 15, 20 minutes, then it would ask if you wanted to save, then it would show you an hour long non-interactive cut scene. Then it would ask if you'd like to save again. Then you'd play five more minutes before getting yet another hour long cut scene. If I wanted to watch a movie, I'd get a movie.
Summary: If you're interested in an RPG for the DS, this is a good choice whether you're a hardcore fan of the genre or not (though since it's been available in the US for months, and was available as a Japanese import before then, you probably own it if you're a hardcore fan. It's also a great choice if you want a game where you get to choose your characters' outfits in detail, and don't mind killing monsters along the way.