Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a lengthy but easy role-playing game with a focus on local area network multiplayer play (not online). As with most games of its ilk, it dabbles in grownup themes, but the violence is tame, the language mild, and the sexuality limited to a few female characters with somewhat revealing tops. Strong religious overtones (not related to any real-world spiritual denomination, though similar in character to Christianity) lend presumed moral justification to the actions of our customizable hero, an angel accidentally stripped of wings and halo.
What's it about?
One of the most popular games ever released in Japan, DRAGON QUEST IX: SENTINELS OF THE STARRY SKIES comes to the West more or less unchanged. A traditional and accessible role-playing game, the story centers on a Celestrian -- essentially an angel -- who has lost his wings and halo and now walks among the mortals he once protected. Familiar turn-based battles are initiated by walking into enemies wandering the wilds. As they gain experience, the players’ characters gradually level up, learn more skills, and can be decked out in over 1,000 different pieces of armor and equipment. A robust cooperative multiplayer mode -- a first for the franchise -- lets players join with up to three other players over a local area network, with one player acting as the host and others entering his game world. Note: that while the game was clearly designed from the ground up to support the multiplayer experience, it’s still possible to play it as a single-player adventure.
Is it any good?
Robust multiplayer features aside, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a little low on innovation. However, it nails the traditional Japanese RPG experience so perfectly and so entertainingly that it’s easy to overlook its lack of originality.
The writing is terrific. Filled with drama, jokes, and clever, eloquent turns of phrase, reading through the frequently appearing text boxes is more often than not a joy. The character customization and development system is fun, too. And robust. It’s unlikely any two players will find themselves with characters that look alike or have identical abilities. And the quick battles, in which you take on an ever increasing roster of imaginatively rendered monsters, are filled with satisfyingly strategy without ever becoming too complex. In fact, our only beef is that it’s perhaps a bit too easy for older, more experienced players. Still, we always prefer games to be too accessible as opposed to too abstruse. If your kids like handheld RPGs, you probably won’t find a better one this year.
Online interaction: This game can be played co-operatively over a wireless network, but only locally, not online. Other players will be close by -- likely friends in the same room -- rather than unseen strangers.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the notion of including religion, fictional or otherwise, in games. Does framing the narrative of an action/adventure game in spiritual terms make its violence somehow more justified or legitimate? Does it change your opinion of the characters?
Families can also discuss Dragon Quest IX’s local multiplayer play. Many role-playing games are solo adventures. How does the experience change when you add your friends to the mix? Does socializing somehow enhance play? Is the game less fun once your friends leave and you go back to solo exploration?