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Nintendo Dragon Quest IX Event: Play By Play Impressions

As I'm assuming some of you Dragon Quest-aholics know, Nintendo decided to throw a pre-launch party for Dragon Quest IX today. The event featured a day early purchasing opportunity for the game, a chance to sample it with some other event-goers, and for the first thirty people, autographed copies of the game by Yuji Horii, the creator of the Dragon Quest series (and supervisor for Crono Trigger). While I can't say I am an avid DQ fan (probably preferring Dairy Queen to the series itself), I am a fan of free videogame related paraphernalia, and time wasters on a Saturday when I have nothing else planned. So I decided to check it out and see just what Nintendo had to offer at its prelaunch event. Below is a list of all the crazy and unexpected shenanigans that happened to me over the course of several hours at the event.

I arrived at the Nintendo store a little before ten. While I wasn't particularly hopeful I'd be one of the first thirty people on line, I figured my chances would be significantly improved by arriving earlier than the one o'clock start time. At the very least, I would be assuring myself a copy of the game, which is what ended up happening. When I finally found the place I was surprised by the degree to which the crowd of people lived up to the gamer stereotype. About eighty-five percent of the line was composed of men in their thirties, and for a long while the only two woman aside from the event staff was some girl with a Pokemon themed backpack and her grandmother. It wasn't until much later that the "Ohhh, what's going on here crowd" joined the line and helped improve the gender and age ratio a bit. Despite this, not living up to the stereotype was the amount of people playing their DS systems. Most of the people in line where busy socializing with complete strangers about RPGs, MMOs, FPS, and general videogame awesomeness. Sure there were a few people reading or playing games and generally keeping to themselves, but the vast majority of gamers were showing off that they can indeed socialize with other people. Even I couldn't help getting wrapped into a discussion about the Shin Megami Tensei Series, which ended up concluding with an interruption by a Nintendo Store photographer to "whip out" (his words not mine) our DS systems so he could take pictures. Yes, Nintendo actually had to ask us to look more like gamers for their photos.

By ten-thirty the line started to fill up even more. The famed Dragon Quest IXice-cream truck pulled up and Nintendo started to give out wristbands for the games and free shirts. Aside from the ice cream truck it wasn't too exciting an hour. In fact, when it eventually came time to sample the ice cream after the event had ended, it was more of a disappointment than anything else. Instead of the expected slime shaped Jello or themed character bar (with gumball eyes and an oddly shaped smile), the truck gave out blue Sno-cones carelessly sloshed into a cup. It seemed like a cheap and unneeded add-on for what was otherwise a quality Nintendo event.

By far some of the most exciting line waiting I have ever done in my life. By now the people in line where starting to get a bit antsy. There was a lot of questioning of the event coordinators, and additional barricades were put up as the line grew ever larger. Two people held up NES copies of the original Dragon Warrior and the event coordinators attempted to get people to cheer, as film crews for the Nintendo Wii channel began filming the people waiting for the game. This ended up backfiring, as people began to shout, "Sonic 4" and "Final Fantasy" instead the expected "Dragon Quest IX". I'm not sure who the joker was near the front of the line that got people to follow suit, but whoever he or she is, I tip my hat to them. Nothing was funnier than watching the Nintendo film crew nervously scramble to cut the feed to its cameras.

At some point Yuji Horii must have snuck into the Nintendo building. While I didn't see him enter, I did see him from the second floor window of the Nintendo store, filming people down below. He kept popping near and away from the window, and between that and the glint of the pane separating him, it made taking a picture really hard to do. Luckily, I was able to snag a photo of his hand before he departed from the window one last time. In that moment, I knew many an Art Director had been bitch-slapped by that hand, all for betterment of the game and its art style. I was a bit disappointed he did not sign anything for people who came latter than the first thirty, but I'm sure that hand still had much more bitch-slappin' to do before the day was done. The next Dragon Quest for the Wii isn't out yet.

Nintendo started letting people in for the event. I was the last person of a small group of five allowed to go in after a much larger second group. Immediately everyone flocked to the checkout counter to get their copy of the Dragon Quest IX, but I wasn't exactly sold on the idea yet. Truth be told I haven't played an actual Dragon Quest game since Dragon Warrior III for the Gameboy Color, and my reasons for coming to the event were as much about trying as buying (and killing time, lots of killing time). So instead, I decided go to a try out table where Nintendo store staffers and some toddlers were engaging in a rigorous trial of the game (WTF! I don't remember toddlers on the line...). The game played like a traditional turned based RPG of yesteryear, and graphically it appeared nearly identical to the remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV for the DS. While I preferred the beautiful hand drawn designs of Dragon Warrior III, and more recently something like Bowser's Inside Story, the uniqueness of character equipment differentiated it from the Final Fantasy titles the game takes its graphical cues from. Every piece of player equipment, from your sword to your sandals changes the appearance of your in game persona when equipped. It was a nice touch, that gave a certain life to the characters. Though I knew nothing story-wise about the people in my party, aside from the fact they had Japanese sounding names (like Enix and Nintendo), I still got the sense my character was unique. That the weapons and armor I had were not just a random assortment of the high stat gear or some preassembled garb that looked nice in a concept drawing, but rather an intrinsic part of who my character is.

Another pervasive element of the gameplay was its multiplayer. I was surprised how effortlessly one can join and exit a battle. All players are given their own character to move about the dungeon wherever and however they please. When an onscreen enemy touches a character, it and all other players around that character get sucked into battle. At any point in time your character can leave the battle, and go off further exploring the dungeon or battling another enemy. Just like with leaving, a character can also enter a battle at any time by pressing a button when near a monster engaging another player(s) in battle. The game handles this so fluidly that most of the time, I didn't even notice other party members coming in to assist me in battle.

I finally stopped playing the game and went outside to where the non-technical portion of the event was being held. Supposedly, upstairs there was a photo booth area where you could take pictures of yourself with various Dragon Quest related backgrounds, but the thought of schlepping my pretty, though sweaty little self all the way upstairs to take photos I would be embarrassed to hang on my wall, was enough to make me skip it. Outside was a giant inflated slime and a booth giving out free tee-shirts to those with the Nintendo wristbands from earlier. I got my tee-shirt and after some salutations with the people I met on line earlier in the day, I left the event for a late lunch.

Surprisingly enough, I ended up not buying the game today. I opted instead to treat myself to a hearty lunch instead after the event. Ultimately, it was not the game itself that turned me away from buying it, but rather the fact I couldn't justify taking a chance to get the game away from someone who waited on line just as I had, and would play it far more frequently and voraciously than I would in its opening days. I still have Final Fantasy III, Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, Persona 3: FES (when I eventually get around to purchasing it) and a host of other games asking for me to beat them before I move on to Dragon Quest IX. The thought of having it sit alongside my other unfinished games while some person is at home sad and gameless, was enough to get me to rethink my purchasing decision.
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About chaos oracleone of us since 3:15 PM on 11.05.2009