"You can't play Dragon Quest IX"
In the original Dragon Warrior, when the Dragon Lord asks Erdrick to join him, the player gets to decide what happens next. Players will get a different outcome depending on that choice, resulting in two different experiences. Despite being a fairly linear game, players had divergent experiences with Dragon Quest long before that penultimate decision. If Dragon Quest was your first RPG and you were seven, you just had a wild ride and spent countless hours trying different things, sometimes failing, but always making progress. If Dragon Warrior was your first game, you were armed with the map and guide that came with the game as part of the push to hook North America on RPGs.
There are so many ways to experience the original Dragon Quest and they are all effectively different games. If youíre coming off Dragon Quest XI, the Dragon Lordís choice is the culmination of a grindy, antiquated adventure that was as simple as it is short. If you played Dragon Warrior from the free Nintendo Power offer, you got a localization that lacked the humor and manga art that made the game unique Japanese. If youíre playing it on a Game Boy Color, you might finish it in an afternoon due to increased speed and rewards. If youíre playing it on iOS--well, sorry about that.
The first Dragon Quest isnít one game--itís many games, depending on who you are, how you played it, and when you played it. Despite how much retro game collectors try, you cannot have the experience of playing a game from your childhood again. Your first experience playing a game is a one-time event. You played a unique, one-of-a-kind game, and you are the only person that will ever get to play it.
This sounds like such an obvious thing to state, but we largely ignore it to review a game. We judge a game on the philosophy behind its design, its art, its music, its story as though every person will experience these the same way. Is it fun? Does it ďhold upĒ? Was multiplayer fun when you could actually get people to play it? We ask objective questions like these and just accept the inherent fallacy in them.
What else are we supposed to do?
Agency in a Linear Game
While the best RPGs are the ones that allow the player to make interesting choices, the Dragon Quest series as a whole feels devoid of choices, at least on the surface. Thereís the occasional big choice, like siding with the Dragon Lord in the first game or selecting your wife in Dragon Quest V, but by and large, Dragon Quest gives the player straight character build and story progression.
While other Dragon Quest games required the player to grow and become the hero of legend that they were destined to become, your avatar in Dragon Quest IX is an angelic being called a celestian, living in the heavens and helping mortals with their problems. Through the course of the opening, you are stripped of that divinity and cast down to the earth. Itís both a reversal of the typical hero growth found in the series and a setup for the narrativeís main themes of hierarchy, dependency, and corruption of relationships.
In the Dragon Quest tradition, the story is not about the destination but the vignettes and people you meet along the way. Shortly after your fall from grace, you are tasked with collecting the seven lost fyggs of the divine world tree, only to find that these fyggs have corrupted mortals that have attempted to utilize their power. These fyggs are often used with good intentions that lead down seven stories that subvert authority hierarchies like teacher-student and parent-child. The similarities to the Judeo-Christian concepts of the forbidden fruit and the nature of sin as corruption of virtue might not be subtle, but the premise is still effective in this world.
The ďWight KnightĒ (left) and Jona and the whale (right). Thanks, Dad. Looking forward to meeting Jack in the town of Alltrades.
The game encourages players to frequently return to the Questerís Rest inn by centralizing many important features there. It just so happens this is also were you utilize multiplayer features. Hmm...
Random encounters are replaced with wandering monsters, a change needed to make multiplayer work.
Combat looks dynamic and action-packed. Games journalists may have mistook ďactionĒ to mean something different in early previews.
Community review by dagoss (November 22, 2021)
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