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Questing with friends in Dragon Quest IX

12:00 PM on 05.19.2010 // Hamza CTZ Aziz

The Dragon Quest series has been around since the 8-bit days with a formula that's remained largely unchanged, that is until Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky was released. Developer Level-5 brought the series exclusively to the DS and introduced a four-player co-op mode, both a first for the franchise.

It was a huge gamble, but one that's paid off significantly for Square Enix as Dragon Quest IX has sold over four million copies in Japan. Now the game is making its way to America this July, giving us a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Nintendo recently showed off the game and you can get a taste of the newest role-playing adventure after the break.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (DS)
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Nintendo
To be released: July 11, 2010

The main protagonist of Dragon Quest IX is a guardian angel tasked with protecting a small human village. The angel kingdom is attacked one day, knocking all the angels and the sacred fruits from a magical tree to the world below. The main hero is then tasked to stay in world and collect all of the fallen magical fruits before humans can get to them.

So who exactly is this hero? Why it's you! You'll be able to completely customize the main character and three party members -- everything from the face to the clothing -- all to your pleasing. Items can be found through stores, quests or created with Alchemy providing players with over 1,000 items to pick from.

The main character begins DQ IX with the minstrel job type. A special zone opens up after playing through the game for a bit though that lets you change the job type for your entire party any time you want. Six classes -- minstrel, warrior, mage, thief, priest and martial artist -- are available from the start and six more types can be unlocked later. Levels and abilities don't cross over, so you have to build up each job from scratch.

Being able to change jobs lets players experience all of the abilities offered as there are specific spells and weapons only certain classes can use. You can potentially have a total of 12 level 99 (or higher, there is no cap) job types just for the main character alone.

Gone are random battles as you can now see monsters in the world. There will be 180 monsters to fight including some legendary monsters from the past games. Monsters will run away or chase after you depending on how strong your team is.

As for the battle system, it's exactly what you would expect from an RPG. You will pick attacks, items and magic spells on the bottom screen and watch the action unfold through a dynamically shifting camera on the top screen.

The main draw -- and mostly why Dragon Quest IX has gone on to be the most successful of the franchise -- is the four-player co-op mode. The host player can invite three other players into their world to go on quests together. Guest players can go anywhere in the hosts world, limited to however far the host has explored the game.

Dragon Quest IX is pretty difficult from what I played, even with the help of others. Thankfully, there is no penalty for dying in the multiplayer (you lose half of your money in single-player) other than having to respawn outside of a dungeon. You can also wait to be resurrected by your teammates if they have the resurrection item.

Teammates will automatically be sucked into a fight when in proximity of someone that encounters a monster and players that are too far away can continue to do what they're doing. The host does have the ability to teleport allies into the fight if needed. XP will be given out each party member in a battle even if they do nothing, but the more involved a player is in the fight, the more XP they'll be given

The co-op mode is only limited to local play unfortunately, but you will be able to play with people that have the European version of DQ IX. There's a mode called "Tag Mode" where basic information can be shared with others in the vicinity while the DS is on sleep that's compatible with the Euro and Japanese versions too. DQ IX will also have a Wi-Fi shop, but Nintendo isn't elaborating on the mode at this time.

Dragon Quest IX should take you about 30 to 50 hours to beat if you ignore creating a ton of level 99 characters. Otherwise, you can expect to sink over 100 hours easily. There are a ton of collectibles, sidequests and so much more to keep you entertained for a long, long time.

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