Games for Lunch: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Posted by Kyle Orland (October 11, 2010)

Games for Lunch chronicles the first hour of a different game every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each hour ends with the answer to the only question that matters at that point: Do I want to keep playing? For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Developers: Level-5, Square Enix
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: July 11, 2010
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E10+

In a nutshell: Not all fallen angels are bad guys.

0:00 I've never actually touched a Dragon Quest game, save for a brief, frustrating stint with the original Dragon Warrior on the NES. An hour probably won't be nearly enough to get a true feel for this epic game, but will it be enough to make me want to play more?

0:01 In an anime cut scene, a boy runs into a cavern, towards a fire-breathing dragon . A woman casts a spell. Slimes bounce on a rocky plain. Pan over a town where a boy plays with a dog. A party talks in a tavern. A woman dances. They clink glasses. A blue spirit rises up. A castle in the clouds. An eagle flies over a field. Zoom up to the starry sky and show the title! Yup, it's a Japanese RPG opening, all right. The animation reminds me of Dragon Ball Z, which is understandable, since it's by the same animator.

0:03 The character creator makes it remarkably easy to make a character that looks exactly like Super Saiyan Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z, which I do. My newly created character gets a halo and angel wings and he flies off. Then... loading? In a DS game?

0:04 "Hello? Is anybody there? If you're there, say something. Show yourself. Thus do the voices of mortals plead, ever hopeful of our existence. For how long have we watched over their realm?" Here we go with the heavy-handed religious allegory...

0:05 Pan over a idyllic little farm village, rendered in blocky, heavily-outlined 3D. Neighbors wave to each other, a horse whinnies, a man fishes in a gentle stream. Two angels watch. One of them is my Vegeta. The other, Aquila, one is impressed with how I've watched over the village, Angel Falls.

0:06 A giant walking cucumber with a spear and two blue slimes jump out and attack a blue-haired girl and her stooped-over, white-haired grandfather as they come in to town. "It is time to fulfill our duty as Celestrians," says Aquila. Celestrians? Because "angels" was too controversial?

0:07 Itís a simple turn-based battle... I choose "attack" three times and "the enemy are defeated." I like the detailed battle animation and the camera, which pans around the 3D field in a wide circle. Nice, thrilling music too. I gain "some experience" and 13 gold coins.

0:08 Erinn, the blue-haired girl, gives thanks for our unseen protection. As she does, a glowing, green-blue blob of energy flies out of her chest. It's called "Benevolessence," and Aquila tells me we're supposed to offer it up to the great tree Yggdrasil. Man, what is with these ridiculous names?

0:10 We fly to a towering castle up above the clouds. It's silent like a monastery, except for a clanging bell. Aquila tells me to report to Apus Major, the head angel Celestrian in the Great Hall. I'm in full control.

0:11 Wandering around the castle, engaging in idle chatter with other angels Celestrians. Someone calls my memory a "veritable black hole" when I ask where the Great Hall is. At least they acknowledge that my character should know this stuff.

0:12 I'm getting the impression that the Celestrians look down on mortals a little bit. Complaints include humansí inability to see Celestrians, their tendency to get sick and die, and their ungratefulness. I'm a bit surprised by the depth of the theological subtext here.

0:13 Breaking pots and opening random treasure chests. When did this turn into a Zelda game?

0:15 One of my fellow angels asks for my Benevolessence as gift. I give it to him, but his master upbraids him. Heh.

0:18 When I talk to Apus Major, he asks if I'm ready to go it alone. I say yes and he sends me off to give it to Yggdrasil. Um, where is that again?

0:20 More wandering around the castle. I find a free healer and the "prayer room" where I can save by offering up confession. "Tell me of all that has taken place. Spare no detail." Um, creepy much?

0:22 A random Celestrian tells me Yggdrasil is on the top floor. Thanks, random guy.

0:23 I finally find my way up by going out the front door on the second floor. I'm impressed by the design of the outer tower... it's not quiet symmetrical, with lots of angled staircases and interesting vegetation to look at. The elegant, heavenly music helps the mood.

0:25 I go the long way around the outside of the tower to open some chests. I find holy water and 50 gold for my troubles. Nice!

0:26 Everyone seems to be looking forward to the day when Yggdrasil will bloom, heralding a time when they no longer have to watch humans. Man, for angelic beings, these Celestrians sure do come off as lazy.

0:27 I offer up my Benevolessence to the tree, and it gets all sparkly. Aquila comes and comments on the beauty, then sends me back to talk to Apus Major. Well that was anti-climactic.

0:28 This minutes spent walking all the way back down the tower to Apus Major. Lucky the music and scenery are nice enough to distract me from the otherwise boring chore.

0:29 Good god, I've now heard like six different people tell me about the importance of Yggdrasil and its blooming. Makes me wonder why I bother talking to every character I pass. Oh yeah... my obsessive compulsive disorder...

0:31 I descend to Angel Falls on my own for the first time, as instructed. There, a kid named Ivor is complaining about how no one else noticed the name on the guardian statue has changed from "Aquila" to "Vegeta." He calls Erinn "such a dumb, er... brunette." Heh, casual misogyny is funny.

0:32 Ivor, the mayor's son, insists Erinn is stupid. His friend thinks Ivor's in love. A little kid prays to me to teach Ivor a lesson. Lots of characterization packed into just a few lines of dialogue. I'm a fan.

0:33 When I talk to a dog, he shows me a keepsake ring sitting on the ground. Thanks, dog!

0:34 I find a pair of sandals in a chest at the bottom of a well. Yeah, that makes sense...

0:35 The granddad from before laments his dead son, and his inability to help his granddaughter Erinn. I feel for him...

0:36 Playing around with the face buttons, I discover tapping B brings up a menu that lets me do a pointless "air punch." The Y button recaps the story so far, such as it is. I can see that being useful for the inevitable six month gap that usually comes in the middle of my RPG playthroughs.

0:37 In church, a woman prays to find her husband's ring. I slip it in her coat pocket. She finds it and offers up some thanks/Benevolessence to me for my unseen help. Wow, I'm lucky no one in this town seems to believe in dumb luck or coincidence.

0:38 More wandering. Erinn wants meat for the stew. The mayor is worried about Ivor's childishness. Cheesy as it is, I kind of like the idea of the game being an angelic, good deed simulator.

0:40 I pick up five piles of horse manure in the barn. BECAUSE I CAN, THAT'S WHY? It ends up being important... the stable hand gives thanks for my helping clean the floor while he dozed. Boy, I can see why the Celestrians have such a low opinion of humans. I mean, they make us pick up their cow poop and all we get is some immaterial glowing stuff in return.

0:42 Night falls as I leave the barn, and the music slows down a bit. Aquila drops in to tell me I have to watch not only humans but ghosts as well. Look, there's one now, complete with cockney accent and horned helmet. He doesn't know he's dead, so I tell him. This is just the push he needs to ascend to his "final rest." He leaves behind some Benevolessence before he goes.

0:44 A golden train streaks across sky. It's called the Starflight Express, Aquila tells me. That pun is so bad I may be physically ill.

0:47 Up in the castle in the clouds, again. My fellow Celestrians are trading rumors about the great tree finally blooming. Aquila and Apus Major went up there, so I decide to follow. THE SUSPENSE!

0:49 In an anime cut scene, Aquila, Apus Major and I watch the tree finally bloom. The golden train streaks on by, comes to a stop right by the tree, then explodes in an electrical crackle. As the train cars hurtle down to Earth, they shoot up violent purple columns of energy into the sky. "Were we... deceived?" Apus Major asks.

0:51 I'm swept away by the purple energy and fall to earth as a shooting star. Credits continue on the bottom screen as townspeople watch the shooting star. I land with a mighty splash in a lake at the foot of a waterfall. The title appears yet again. Quite the prologue, I must say. I like the way the two screens were used to show two different camera angles during the cut scene.

0:53 "Hey, it's that Vegeta character who turned up just after the earthquake the other day," says Ivor. Wait, he can see me? Hey, I don't have a halo and wings anymore. So it's a fallen angel story now, eh?

0:55 Ivor is suspicious of my mysterious appearance, but Erinn has taken to me, apparently. Meanwhile, I overhear two old busybodies are blaming my appearance for the recent misfortune in town. When I call them on it, one of them says it's rude to eavesdrop. Um, it's also rude to talk behind people's backs. Too bad Vegeta isn't man enough to say such a thing. Or to say anything, actually.

0:57 I buy and equip a leather shield to raise my defense and some cotton gloves to improve my deftness. I'm kind of amazed at how little combat there has been in first hour. Iím also amazed at how engrossing the story has been. Usually these Japanese RPGs are heavy on the ridiculous mythology and light on the characterization, but this one has been the opposite so far.

0:59 After some more idle chatter with townsfolk, I save my game in the church and move on.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Interesting characters, focused storytelling and a tight, comprehensible plot make this a lot more immediately engrossing than most Japanese RPGs, in my experience. My only concern is where I'll find the time to slog through the whole thing.

This review was based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.

Check out hundreds of archived Games for Lunch reviews on the official Games for Lunch blog.

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