Anyone who has heard of the Dragon Quest franchise will know that even a small mention will send the entire population of Japan into complete shutdown. With each new instalment comes a new craze for the Japanese, but we only got our first glimpse at this back in 2006 when Dragon Quest VIII; Journey of the Cursed King was released on the PS2, and it was definitely an experience I will never forget.
Since then we have seen a port of Dragon Quest IV and Dragon Quest V on the Nintendo DS, and this year we were finally blessed with the release of Dragon Quest IX; Sentinels of the Starry Skies, the first true sequel since DQ VIII.
I can’t talk about the storyline of Sentinels without giving too much away, but it is a little bit different from what you would normally expect. The game begins in a location called The Observatory, where guardians called Celestrians protect the Earth from a distance. You play as a brand new guardian, sent down to protect a small town from evil and disaster. In standard practice though, things go horribly wrong and you are sent plummeting down to earth losing all your powers in the process. Sinister forces are at work, and you must find a way to get home in order to help those that may have befallen a similar fate to yours, and also save not only your town, but the whole world from complete and utter disaster.
Dragon Quest is a series that sticks rigidly to tradition, and fans of old school JRPG’s will not be disappointed with Sentinels. I was more than overjoyed to find that all the towns were classic in the sense that I could talk to everyone, rummage around in their belongings and even steal things from their cabinets and book shelves without them noticing. People were even asking me for help and offering me quests after I had all but robbed them of their possessions. This to me is one of the best bits about RPG’s that seem to have been forgotten. Turn based battle systems and not so subtle thievery make this game pure RPG heaven for me.
Whilst sticking delightfully to tradition though, Sentinels does have something new to offer that we haven’t seen before in the series, and that is local multiplayer. I can’t confess to have actually played this as unfortunately I don’t know too many people who have a DS, would even consider buying Sentinels, or have the time to come round and play a little RPG co-op. Teaming up with a few friends to take down a mean boss sounds like damn good fun though, and looting around in caves with your buddies adds a really cool social aspect to RPG’s that hasn’t really been there before.
Multiplayer aside though the main story can be played without the aid of any other friends and is just as enjoyable, but you will have to create your own characters. Good for some, not so good for others, character creation is a key part and you will definitely spend a lot of time kitting out your characters in the best equipment their vocation will allow them to wear. My main character who is a Minstrel currently looks like a Hippy with a sharp fan, and my Mage looks like she’s walked straight out of a burlesque club. It’s great fun to kit them out in utterly ridiculous outfits to distract the enemies in the game, but when push comes to shove and you need to seriously pound that King Slime into the ground, then it is perhaps best to put your serious face on and give them some protection. If not you may be throwing your DS halfway across the room every time you get annihilated because you find the bunny suit far too amusing to take off.
That said, Sentinels is a very funny game. I was hoping this was going to be the case because Dragon Quest VIII had a wicked sense of humour without seeming cheesy. From monsters dancing to make your party giggle uncontrollably to the point that they can’t attack, to the names of some of the people you will come across (Jack of Alltrades Abby) there is a laugh to be had around every corner. It’s very refreshing to play an RPG that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride without being dragged down by character angst.
The only downside that people may be put off by is the lack of characterisation within the game. If you are playing on your own all of your characters will be custom made to your liking, but they will have no backgrounds or personality. This isn’t really a problem if characterisation takes a back seat for you or if you have a very good imagination and would just rather make it all up, but some may find the experience a little lonely. I find the game perfectly enjoyable to play on my own, and think that adding in personalities for my characters may take away from the charm of being able to create my own party.
Customisation is an addictive mechanic though, as there are so many different ways to kit out your characters, and with each different class comes a unique set of clothing, weapons and even skill sets to master. You can even set out to have your party master every single vocation, but you would need a lot of time on your hands.
If you like quirky, hilarious and traditional RPG’s then you need to get your hands on Sentinels. Even if you haven’t played a Dragon Quest game before, trust me, you will love this one.