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I Can Count to Nine: A Journey through Dragon Quest - Part 8/9

If you're just coming across this, this is a repost of writeups I did when a friend and I played through the Dragon Quest games in 2010 and 2011. Here's my short treatment I did for the last two games in the series.

Week 30


Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)

A King, his daughter and their castle are cursed into other forms. With their best castle guard and others they meet along the way, they travel seeking a cure and revenge on the person who caused it. Such a pity it won't be that simple...

Boy, I can't believe we've made it here! This project felt insanely huge when we took it on, but we're almost there. VIII is another big game, though.

So, DQ8 is a big change for the series in many ways. Most noticeably, it's the first game in the series to be fully 3D, and brings the series forward in other ways, such as showing the characters during battle and allowing the player to pick which enemy to attack, not just which group. It introduces the alchemy pot, a clever way of acquiring new items that would return in 9.

It was also a big shift in localization. Squaresoft had just merged with Enix. The Warrior name was finally abandoned in favor of Quest. We finally got something above and beyond the Japanese original - the international version is fully voice acted. This was also the first game in the series to make it to Europe. A lot of people were introduced to the series with this game, and a lot of people were brought back - I was one of them. I loved the original on the NES as a kid, and the GBC remakes of I - III in middle school, but it was this game that made me take the plunge and become a diehard fan.

It's really a beautiful game with an impressive scale and some of the series's best villains in Dhoulmagus and Marcello (unfortunately, the final boss is another typical Big Boring Demon).

We managed in our first session to get just far enough to complete the full party, having both Jessica and Angelo join. If we make good time we might make it, optimistically, as far as Dhoulmagus next time. Here's hoping.

Week 31

OK, so I hadn't played this game since 2006, and my memory of it is all messed up. Dhoulmagus isn't until halfway through, and we're not even close. Still, we made good progress! We unlocked the Monster Arena and beat the first three ranks.

VIII is a beautiful and fun game that in many ways is a step forward for the series. However, its one downside is that the writing, while not bad, isn't up to the high level set by entries like IV, V and VII. Those games never would have settled for "typical RPG" scenarios, which this game does repeatedly. It can get a trifle dull at times. Some amusingly eccentric voice over performances help.

Let's talk a bit about the characters. This game does have a pretty interesting selection of them.

*Castle Guard Ocho - The protagonist is even more mysterious than usual. You don't learn his backstory until the bonus dungeon.

*Yangus - The lovable bandit. Yangus's good-natured cockney ruffianism is good for a lot of laughs. Cor Blimey!

*Jessica - Known mainly for the way her big boobs come almost entirely out of her improbably low-cut shirt, Jessica is unfortunately rather flat in terms of character development, a shame after excellent female characters in IV, V and VII. I actually really like her character design; it's just too bad there's not a lot beneath it. Her backstory about getting revenge for her brother's death is never adequately developed.

*Angelo - Angelo is so awesome. No matter what the situation he's always a cool customer. He always manages to look a gentleman no matter how much of a scoundrel he's actually being. He maintains a cool evaluation of everyone and takes nothing for granted. A Templar from Maella Abbey, the grudge held against him by his half-brother Marcello, Captain of the Templars, is the game's most compelling plotline.

*King Trode - A short, stout king turned into a short, stout green monster by a curse. His reactions of dignified outrage to just about everything are good for quite a few laughs, as is his constant verbal sparring with Yangus, who addresses him as "granddad."

*Dhoulmagus - The evil wizard jester. Okay, so he's a bit of a Kefka ripoff; he's still awesome. He wears a creepy smile while tutting and pronouncing "Such a pity... such a pity that human life is so fragile." Genuinely menacing and always several steps ahead of you, he's a compelling villain.

*Morrie - This flamboyant Italian runs the monster arena with GUSTO and PASSIONE! I friggin' dare you not to be amused by his bombastic enthusiasm. The monster arena is great all around, also featuring a really great announcer voice-over - "Let's get it on!"

Somebody on GameFAQs once observed that Morrie's dialogue is extra hilarious if you substitute the word "balls" wherever the word "pit" appears. This is true.

"The sights, sounds, and smells of... MORRIE'S MONSTROUS PIT!"

"You give my pit a good licking, ay, ragazzo?"

And so on. But then, some of his quotes stand perfectly well on their own:

Week 32

Progress was slow here for some reason. We made it to Argonia, which isn't quite to Dhoulmagus, but stopped short of doing the quest there.

I really recommend Dragon Quest VIII. Although I do like 7, if you don't you should know that this game is almost nothing like it. Though almost as long it's brisker and does not contain 7's frustrating elements that seem designed to get you stuck (fane pieces).

Week 33/34

By now we have made it as far as Empyrea, the giant bird that turns out to be the same giant bird from III. Apparently it travels across dimensions.

Dhoulmagus was a tough fight, but not as tough as Empyrea. I have no CLUE how we managed to beat that bird.

Week 35

We beat Dragon Quest VIII after six weeks, the second longest of any installment so far. For comparison, VII took nine weeks. Next week we'll take on the bonus dungeon and the Dragovian King before refighting Rhapthorne for the alternate ending.

Regarding IX: Though we both owned this game, we had to buy extra copies to run through it again because it has only one save file.

Thank the Goddess for Marcello, a fantastic villain who saves VIII from predictability. While other antagonists are singular and blunt, Marcello thinks a few moves ahead and uses the selfishness of others to set himself up for a rise to power. The evil Rhapthorne, trapped in a staff, enslaves those who pick it up in sequence - Dhoulmagus, Jessica, the dog Sir Leopold. You can see the next event coming, but for once VIII surprises you with an awesome scene in which Marcello stabs himself in the wrist in order to shake off Rhapthorne's control. Then, he actually has a real motivation in coming to power - he wants to topple the kings of the world, gaining power through nothing more than inheritance. What have they ever done for us, he asks. While his methods are blatantly evil, you honestly have to admit that he has a point. This is compelling stuff!

While the actual boss fight with Marcello is a bit easy, there's another great scene afterward. Showing off what a cool character he is, Angelo saves Marcello's life just to piss him off. It does, too. When Marcello swears revenge, Angelo brushes him off with an awesome line - "You know, I really don't care. Do whatever you want, you can't hurt me anymore." ICE BURN.

We're almost there! This is exciting.

Week 36

VIII has one of the series's best developed bonus areas. You finally get some background on the hero as he turns out to be the child of the star-crossed relationship between a human and a member of a secluded race known as the Dragovians, who can change between human and dragon forms.

After we made the timbrel of tension, we used it to make pretty short work of the Lord of the Dragovians. (Honestly, Empyrea is the game's hardest boss for when you fight her.) After that we beat Rhapthorne again, which gives you a slightly different ending. It's not much and the first ending is honestly better, but it's nice to get something out of winning the bonus fight.

You can fight a series of harder dragons which really make you grind out the highest levels, but we decided that getting the second ending was good enough for this run, which we finished at level 41.

One more for the road - "The tension is building in my monstrous pit!" - Morrie

And now, at last...


Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky (DS)

Oh guardian, can you hear my voice? I shall keep asking You.

I told you! I told you I could count to nine. I didn't go to Kindergarten for nothing.

There's a feeling here of coming full circle. Around the time we started this project, we were attending official Dragon Quest IX events sponsored by Nintendo, to whose consoles the series has returned after a two-game stay with Sony. It wasn't so long ago, really...

DQIX is a story about the complicated relationship between guardian angels and the mortals who pray for their protection. Even pure altruism can be tainted. Anything good has cracks beneath the surface, like the beautiful white sheet covering a frozen lake. Also there's a flying golden train. CHOOO CHOOOOO

Notably, after all the time my companion and I have spent playing single-player games together, this game features actual multiplayer, allowing your hero to join the game of another and gallavant about with them. We are playing through the game in this manner.

Because IX is an easier game than the others we played to get here, we're sticking to a two-person party to make things interesting. We also decided to use only alchemy recipes found in game and to stay away from all DLC content. I'm Ni, a weird little bald dude, and my buddy is Ne, a cute pink-haired girl. It's kind of funny for a Monty Python fan going through the game as "Ni." It seems like an aside people add to the end of their dialogue, and when one character jumped out and shouted just "Ni!" I felt under attack!

In our first session, we learned some things about co-op play, which we'd done before but never this much.

*Some plot-relevant characters have special dialogue when talked to by a guest. "Oh, you're a member of Ni's party?" and things like that.

*You aren't allowed to use your host's alchemy pot if you haven't unlocked the pot on your own cart.
*You can't accept or complete quests while visiting another's game.

*For the most part the host gets all the loot from battles which both players participate (I mean items, not gold, which is split). However, some equipment drops (those from bosses, maybe) give the guest a copy as well.

*You CAN use the bank in your host's world and it will work as your own.

*If you have different day-night states and enter the same area, the game will sync to the host's state.

*You'll never lose gold for dying unless everybody dies at once. If you're fighting separately and you die, you can get resurrected in the church for free. Alternatively, you can wait around in your coffin for your companion to resurrect you with magic or a leaf.

Now, on to the run.

Obviously, play up to the arrival in Stornway was two totally ordinary games, since that's the first point at which you can enter another game.

The Wight Knight, whom I never really noticed as a challenge before, made extremely quick work of us with just two characters. Battle strategy is seriously limited by the small party size as well as the fact that at this point, we can only have minstrels. We ground up to level 12 before fighting him again and winning. After this, Morag was not a significant problem. The Ragin' Contagion, however, again handed us our asses, and we ground to over level 20 in order to put him down. It's a great grinding strategy to split up in the Quarantomb in order to increase the odds of finding a Metal Slime. When one of us found one, we'd confront it and wait for the other to arrive. Using metal slash, we made good exp here. After beating the Contagion, we wrapped things up in Coffinwell and called it a night.

Here's my battle records after one session:
Time: 5:30
Multiplayer Time: 4:03
Battle Victories: 127
Times Alchemy performed: 1
Accolades Earnt: 8
Quests Completed: 2
Defeated Monster List: 14%
Wardrobe: 2%
Item List: 14%
Alchenomicon: 1%

Week 37

This week, we learned that, like the alchemy pot, Alltrades Abbey will not allow visiting characters to change classes if they have not yet unlocked that ability in their own game. This is why my friend's been playing "catch-up" on his game, solo, between sessions. Also, as I've been corrected, battle drops do in fact go to everybody.

God is really a jerk in this game. And we thought he was bad in 7! At least there he tried to save the world. Here he was pretty gung-ho about destroying the mortals, and these heavenly fruit turn out to be nothing but trouble. I'm glad he got split up into a bunch of monsters that hang out in deep holes.

The major difference in our strategy so far has to do with herbs. A two-man party drastically reduces the amount of healing you have available, so we've gotten by by making loads of superior medicines to have available at all times. This won't hold up forever, so one of us may end up being a priest.

We got 5 Fyggs in this session, fighting Master of Nu'un, the Lleviathan, Garth Goyle, the Tyrantula, and Drak. We beat them all by attacking and healing conservatively, and didn't have many problems. Actually, some of the dungeons were a bit of a problem - encounters are a lot harder to avoid with two players.

I changed to Warrior at Alltrades and we did some grinding in the Quarantomb to catch me up before moving on. After beating Drak, I did the quest to unlock the Paladin class, then switched to Thief because I'm using swords and Paladins don't. We did more grinding in the Quarantomb and Bad Cave until my Swords skill was maxed, then I switched to Paladin and we did more grinding. Ne is now level 36.

We got some use out of the steel equipment, and I'm gearing for magic resistance, wearing magic armor, magic mittens, red tights and an enchanted shield. Ne went for a cloak of concealment and a flame shield.

Again, my battle records:

Time: 15:01
Multiplayer: 12:58
Victories: 275
Alchemy performed: 12
Accolades Earnt: 23
Quests Completed: 4
Defeated Monster List: 31%
Wardrobe: 5%
Item List: 28%
Alchenomicon: 2%

Week 38

We didn't beat Dragon Quest IX this week, but we did get very close.

At this point, Ni is a Paladin and Ne a Priest, which seems to work well. Sometimes I use Whipping Boy to protect Ne. Ni does most of the damage with UFB + Falcon slash (before getting the ultimate key, I was wielding a fire blade) while Ne keeps us alive with multiheal. When not healing, Ne uses Egg On, which tends to increase damage more than attacking would.

The moves Magic Mirror and Helm Splitter are big elements of our boss strategies. Some of the bosses in this stretch could do well over a hundred damage with magic, so protection is key. And it may be obvious, but having an Yggdrasil leaf in Ni's inventory saved us several times.

We got the last couple of Fyggs from Larstastnaras and the Dreadmaster without much trouble. After the non-fight with Aquila, we got up to Upover before having trouble against the Gittish soldiers there - we beat them, but barely, as their ice breath nearly did us in. Therefore, we did some grinding in the Bowhole (Is it just us or does this sound nasty?) until Ne learned Insulatle before continuing.

When you go to get the Dragon Warrior gear from Greygnarl and see the cutscene, you're required to close the Rapportal and stop playing with friends. However, before long you get the chance to leave the Goretress and get them back. In fact, only one battle occurs while you're required to be alone, an easy fight against an Aggrosculpture. Interestingly, back at the Goretress a visiting player, unlike a main player, can't walk through the shield panels. Maybe this is just because Ne didn't have the Gittish seal!

Of the three Gittish Knights, Hogg was easy, Hootingham gave us some trouble, and Purrvis tore us up, forcing another grinding session until Ne got to level 50 (Ni was 46). After that, we managed to get past, and Godwyn was not a major problem. In the Realm of the Mighty, however, you have to refight the knights, and Purrvis again blew us away. That upward slash move that stops you from acting is so unfair (it even gets right past Back Atcha), and it ruined our strategy. We're going to make sure to each get the shield scroll before next time, since Purrvis's stupidly common criticals were the biggest reason we lost.

Battle Records:

Time: 26:51
Multiplayer: 21:34
Victories: 453
Times Alchemy Performed: 19
Accolades Earnt: 37
Quests Completed: 7
Defeated Monster List: 58%
Wardrobe: 10%
Item List: 39%
Alchenomicon: 3%

Week 39

We saw the credits roll (interestingly, you can actually get the ending sequence while on somebody else's game), but we're not done yet.

Between sessions, we did a lot of preparation. We both got the shield scroll, and I got the Warrior and Gladiator scrolls and went through the Warrior, Gladiator, Paladin and Armamentalist skill trees for their stat bonuses. We also got our main classes up to level 60. There's a huge jump in difficulty from the main game to the post game, and we didn't want to get caught off guard.

Returning to our old nemesis Purrvis, he was now a blink-and-you'll-miss-it joke, which was satisfying. As for Corvus, I'm not sure he even ought to qualify as a final boss - what a wimp!

Before you can properly start the postgame, you have to complete a little quest that involves fighting a stronger version of the whale boss, Lleviathan. He's arguably tougher than Corvus, but gave us absolutely no trouble.

We're hardly intending to shoot for 100% here. Our goals are to beat all 12 Grotto Bosses and to beat all 13 Legacy Bosses. The legacy bosses will be level 1 or close to it. To facilitate this, we transferred maps for each boss from my main cart to my secondary cart by tagging, removing from the guestbook, and retagging. In this way, you can get as many maps as you want from the same other cart.

The grotto bosses are supposed to each represent a part of the split-up Zenus - Equinox is the legs, Nemean the head, Sir Sanguinus the blood. If that's true, then what part does Greygnarl rep... ewwwww, no.

The first three grotto bosses were extremely easy, but the fourth (Trauminator) gave us our first hint that they weren't all going to be pushovers, and the difficulty ramped up steeply from there. The grottoes themselves also got tough, and took quite a while to push through. At first we'd split up to save time, but later we resolved to stick together, as getting caught in battle alone could lead to a quick death. On the bright side, once we encountered two Metal King Slimes and took them both down, causing both characters to jump from level 64 to level 66!

Against the grotto bosses, I tended to use a Fource to boost damage, followed by Falcon slash while Ne used Helm Splitter to reduce their defense and healed when necessary. This got us through the first eight grotto bosses okay, but we really hit a wall with Fowleye. Fowleye loves to use Disruptive wave, making effective attack or defense difficult. Particularly, it's tough to defend against his powerful attack magic. We tried to keep Magic Mirror up, but it was futile. What really did us in was his sleep attack that never misses. He used it twice in a row, and there was nothing we could do but watch as he killed us. Obviously, we're going to have to do even more preparation for next week. We did have a grinding session at the end, but bad luck kept us from getting much of anywhere, and we only made it to level 71.

Battle Records:

Time: 48:24
Multiplayer: 28:44
Victories: 751
Times Alchemy Performed: 40
Accolades Earnt: 94
Quests Completed: 25
Grottoes Completed: 9
Guests Canvassed: 24 (lol retagging. This doesn't count toward building the inn.)
Defeated Monster List: 73%
Wardrobe: 13%
Item List: 46%
Alchenomicon: 6%

My completion Accolade was "Socialite," for "saving the world in the constant company of friends and allies." So the game does recognize co-op runs, in a way.

Week 40

Our odyssey through the main Dragon Quest series is COMPLETE!

The normally hated Shimmering dress, which reflects back spells, came in handy on a few bosses, particularly Fowleye. I mean, it's not like Ni was casting spells on Ne.

In preparation for this session, I covered all the relevant skill trees and leveled up to 99, which went shockingly fast without party members.

Our strategy against the game's strongest bosses involved the following moves:

Falcon Slash
Dragon Slash (Greygnarl, Dragonlord)
Feel the Burn (this was a major component!)

Healing (Moreheal, Fullheal, Multiheal, Omniheal)
Helm Splitter
Egg On
Disrupting Wave
Wave of Relief

The hardest part of this stretch was getting through the high-level grottos. Vanish helped. After getting wiped out several times we realized we had to split up so when one of us inevitably died, the other could revive them. We also learned something obscure about multiplayer when I got to Greygnarl while Kux was disconnected. He connected and I called him to me, but all of the blue chests I'd opened were still empty for him. You have to be consistently connected for the blue chests to offer each player an item.

Fowleye, Excalipurr and Tyrannosaurus Wrecks were not a big deal, but Greygnarl was the hardest boss we faced. He's a real tough one with three powerful attacks and disruptive wave, and it took us two tries to win.

We went through the legacy bosses in the order they appeared in the series, reminiscing about those parts of our run. By putting Ni in front and using feel the burn, damage output got fierce and was over 4000 on a few occasions. Helm splitter also moved things along, though against the tougher bosses Ne had to stick to purely healing. We didn't lose to any boss, though Nokturnus gave us a seriously close call, killing Ne at one point with Ni at pretty low health. Mortamor was also a real pain, taking us an aggravating 23 turns to beat. The easiest boss was surprisingly Dhoulmagus, who went down in 3 utterly effortless turns.

Thanks to everybody who bothered to read these. I recommend playing DQ9 this way; it's great to share these games with a good friend.

Final Battle Records for Ni:
Time spent: 60:50
Multiplayer: 35:25
Victories: 854
Alchemy: 44
Accolades: 122
Quests Completed: 34
Grottoes Completed: 28
Defeated Monster List: 83%
Wardrobe: 21%
Item List: 51%
Alchenomicon: 7%

Final equipment for Ni:
Weapon: über falcon blade
Shield: Metal slime shield
Head: Metal slime helm
Torso: Pallium Regale
Arms: Ethereal Gloves
Legs: Dragon Warrior Trousers
Feet: Elevating Shoes
Accessory: Elfin charm

Final Battle Records for Ne:
Time spent: 80:52
Multiplayer: 35:26
Victories: 1549
Alchemy: 238
Accolades: 102
Quests Completed: 32
Grottoes Completed: 32
Defeated Monster List: 87%
Wardrobe: 30%
Item List: 53%
Alchenomicon: 20%

Final equipment for Ne:
Weapon: Bad Axe
Shield: Silver Shield
Head: Spellward Circlet
Torso: Xenlon Robe
Arms: Heavy Handwear
Legs: Transparent Tights
Feet: Pixie Boots
Accessory: Meteorite Bracer

Playing through the Dragon Quest games with a friend was an experience I'll never forget - all the laughs, excitement, and emotion. Sadly, extending this run will never be possible due to Squeenix betraying us with a "Dragon Quest X" that's actually an MMO.
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About tim333one of us since 5:53 PM on 12.11.2007

Regarding my 1001games project: There's only one deadline. I haven't hit it yet!

I'm a 90s gamer and Sega kid for life. I like platformers, adventure games and JRPGs. I'm not that into first-person shooters or sports games.

I spend more of my time playing older games than new ones. I do have a PS3 now, though, and I like buying games on PSN. I like the Wii and have a ton of games for it. I'm encouraged by some of the stuff out on Wiiware - to me, games like Bit.Trip Beat are more appealing than the "triple-A" titles coming out on the HD consoles.

Some of my all-time favorite games are Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Dragon Quest III, Heroes of Might and Magic III, The Curse of Monkey Island, and Dance Dance Revolution.