The wait is finally over: Nintendo has officially launched the next game in the legendary Dragon Quest series, DQIX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies in North America for the Nintendo DS family of systems.
The game heralds many firsts for the long-standing RPG franchise including the first to be designed from the ground-up specifically for a handheld device, the first to have no random encounters, instead enemies can be seen on the game map and battles begin upon contact, the first to be designed first and foremost as a co-operative experience, and the first to be created primarily to appeal to North American and European markets.
DQIX has already blazed a trail in Japan, attracting more than 4.2 million players in Japan since its launch on July 11, 2009. So why a whole year delay in localizing the game for North American gamers? In speaking with Kotaku, Square Enix's Ryutaro Ichimura, who produced DQIX, explains:
"The reality is that we were not able to develop all versions of the game simultaneously, since making the Japanese version alone proved to be a huge challenge for us. From there, we had more than a million letters of Japanese text to translate, which explains the delay between the release of the various versions."
Unlike previous Dragon Quest games, DQIX gives players a great degree of character customization, both at the beginning of the game and over the course of the adventure. Custimizable features include your hero's gender, class, face, hair style and colour, body type, skin tone, and eye shape and colour. This customization continues into the main game with your equipment, including weapons and armour, that when equipped become visible during enemy encounters and while roaming the world map and towns. In total there are more than 1,000 items and pieces of equipment to be found in the game.
"There's no limit to the fun of Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies," said Ron Bertram, Nintendo of Canada's vice-president and general manager. "The ability to create your own characters and enjoy the game with friends makes every adventure as unique as players themselves."
As a multiplayer focused game, up to four players can band together using a local wireless connection to venture on quests, explore dungeons and duel with fearsome monsters while experiencing the thrill of adventure as a group.
A popular feature included in the Japanese version (which happened to win a Guinness World Record) that has successfully made the trip overseas is Tag Mode, which allows players to exchange data -- wirelessly and automatically -- when the game is loaded into a Nintendo DS and put on standby mode. Swappable information includes character information, customized greetings and treasure maps. Treasure Maps allow players to locate otherwise hidden dungeons (called Grottoes) that contain special boss monsters and extremely rare items.
With the last two iterations of the Dragon Quest series appearing on a Sony console, many had assumed that Dragon Quest IX would appear on the PlayStation 3. Square-Enix stunned fans in 2006 when they announced the next game would appear on the Nintendo DS, and then two years later shocked fans again with the announcement that the following entry in the series, Dragon Quest X, would migrate to the Nintendo Wii, leaving Sony consoles high and dry for a second time.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies official box art:
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