JRPGs, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Suikoden, Legend of Dragoon, Xenosaga, Persona 4… I could go on, but what’s the point?
I love JRPGs. I love the crazy outfits, the crazy item names, the progression curves, the exploration, the bad translations, the overly complex attack animations, the wildly stereotyped characters… I even love “not as much JRPGs” like Pokemon and other standard RPG grind type games.
Dragon Quest IX does some wicked awesome things and some absolutely terrible things.
I am an altoholic. I love playing different classes, different characters, with different abilities. One of the sad things with JRPGs is that there is generally a wide range of characters to pick from. (108 in Suikoden!!!) And the player is often limited to certain characters at certain points for story reason. This has always bothered me. I build a team and level them, gear them, and balance them around each other. So when the game suddenly shoves a 4th string unleveled, ungeared, noob into my group, I get annoyed.
DQ9 fixed this in a rather spectacular way. Your main character, and the 3 party characters you can recruit, can change your trade simply by going to a specific city and asking it to be changed. It retains the old trade’s skills, stats, and level, so you can switch back without losing any progress. How much do I love this? I cannot even begin to express it. Imagine, in WoW, going to a guy and paying 10k to switch classes. You have to start at level 1, but you retain all your gear, mounts, pets, achievements, reps, tabards, attunements, etc. You can re-do quests and zones. To be fair, there would need to be major changes, like a soul bound item bag for armor you can no longer equip, your mounts would grey out until you reached the level you could use them again, high level professions would grey out, etc etc. But what if you could have a character that was a single unit, but had every class leveled to 85 in it’s “class tree.” One character, every class. *mind.blown.*
When wandering around the world chasing down enemies I noticed these little sparkle spots. I ran up and activated one only to be rewarded with a crafting material. I didn’t think much about it, until I ran across another one, that was a different trade material. A very EXPENSIVE trade material. And there were SIX of them just laying on the ground. A quick trip to Gamefaqs confirmed my suspision. These things were everywhere and they respawn over time, making it easy to gather materials to craft items.
In WoW one of my favorite things to do after a stressful day of work is come home, pop open a beer, turn on something mindless on tv and gather herbs. Sometimes ore, but usually herbs as I have more herbing characters. And here I can do it on a ds? Solid gold win. Now if only I could herb for WoW on my ds…
It’s still recipe based, but DQIX crafting is a shining example of what crafting could be. New materials are added to old items to improve them. If a sleeping potion is combined with a weapon, the weapon now has a chance to put enemies to sleep. The recipes are found in bookshelves around the world. They are often items that are a few “steps” ahead of what the character can purchase at that point in the game.
The absolute best part is that crafting leads to gold. To make an ear cozy the materials cost 970g. The ear cozy sells for 1200g. Given sufficient time, the player has access to as much gold as they are willing to stand making ear cozys for. This, a million times this, is what games have always needed. It doesn’t need to be a huge amount of money. It doesn’t need to be easy. It does need to be obfuscated in the system. But buying materials, making an item, and having that item vendor for less than the vendor prices of the materials is just so backwards it’s absurd.
It took me a while to “get” what was going on with this. If the player connects their DS to Wi-Fi in the game, it connects them to a store. A store that has rare items from the game for purchase that changes every day. Genius idea. It brings people back every day (esp if there are holiday only items), keeps them connected, and gives them something awesome to spend their hard earned gold on.
Wi-Fi multiplayer. Crawling a dungeon with 3 of your friends and their main characters, and getting loot, experience, and enjoyment out of it. It was what convinced me to get the game in the first place. And what convinced me to get my husband to start playing it again.
Head bashingly hard with no clue as to where you are supposed to go next? Yep. An annoying sidekick that keeps track of everything EXCEPT what step of the main quest you are on? Yeah, that too. Any explanation as to any of the trades, skills, and weapons? Not in this game. Much of what I learned, I learned by accident.
In most JRPGs it is possible to game the system early to prevent “grinding”. When the game first starts up, I will run around and explore the first area as much as possible. Learn all the moves, test everything, and try anything. First this gives a good feel for the game and the characters you have. Second, this generally leads to a few excess levels. Early levels go faster, so by stacking a few extra levels up early, the next few sections are a bit easier, and I generally stay a level or two ahead of where I am supposed to be for the whole game.
DQIX appears to have anticipated this and nipped it in the bud. Not only is it possible to “dodge” random fights, but also the leveling curve spikes so early that when I tried to just power through the main story, I quickly hit a wall around level 26, where I was supposed to be around 34 to progress.
Which brings me to my first really big gripe with the game. Cheap Bosses. When I attempted to battle the boss that I should have been level 33+ to fight at level 25, every 4th turn he would attack one of my party members for a critical strike. I was doing pretty well, rezzing people, until he got my priest. Then it was within 12 turns of death. I failed. So I noted the amount of damage he did for each critical hit. About 150+ on my plate/mail wearers and 225+ on my clothies. I realized I was going to need to do some serious leveling. So I went out and leveled to 33, like the handy guide on Gamefaqs suggested and went in to fight the boss. I assumed I would fail because none of my characters had enough health to survive his criticals, despite being the level suggested. Only, as it turns out, he didn’t attack me with a single critical strike the entire fight.
Later I managed to be in the perfect position to test my new theory, which was that the game had a “minimum level” needed to fight the boss, and if the player had not reached that level, the boss would have a significantly higher critical chance. As far as I could tell, this was true.
Add to this, that when running with several high level characters and one or two low level characters, the high level characters get the brunt of the share, instead of everyone getting a percentage. I understand their logic, but if I am almost at the end and just wanted to switch because I just unlocked a new trade, I wouldn’t be punished for it.
My final big gripe with the leveling system is the fact that it is far more rewarding on the exp gain to just farm metal slimes, instead of going to the difficult content and killing standard mobs there. At the very least, make it semi worth it to fight something challenging as opposed to goofing off 20 levels below where I should be playing.
Don’t even get me started on the idiocy of a chain of command that doesn’t allow a subordinate to refuse a superior. But they give the player choices… and NONE of them are actually choices. Why even put it in the game? Why even take the time to code it? Just force the player to do it.
Very early in the game the main character that the player is assuming the role of loses their wings and halo. They are “mortal” and no longer Celestian. Only as it turns out, they are still Celestian, just stripped of all their powers. I assumed that the point was I was slowly earning my wings and halo back. I was working towards being a Celestian again. When the game offers me the chance to save the world if I become mortal, my response was, “well, sure, why not?” It’s not actually changing anything if I am mortal over being Celestian. Not to mention, it really isn’t a choice, it’s a “you have to do this, until you pick yes, and we aren’t letting you out of this screen” thing.
A a few select points the developers apparently decided they needed something a bit more powerful than a cutscene and so put in these long anime sequences. I get that it is a JRPG, but these just stick out like a sore thumb. They forced me to equip my character with a full set of gear (thus making them “match” the visual of the anime) and even then, the anime had a male not a female. What was the point? It didn’t feel heroic, it didn’t advance the story, it didn’t give a pay off.
On top of this were some very clear decisions made to force the game fit with the story that are just wildly frustrating. I spent half the game collecting those Fyggs. NO I am not going to hand them to you so you can claim all the credit for my hard work. No I don’t want to unchain the crazy guy mumbling about trying to kill the Celestians.
I shouldn’t have to explain why this is terrible. But designers keep doing it. DQIX likes to put the player in a combat battle, then when they make their choice the bad guy makes some snide remark, the game says something like “Ember freezes in fright!” and the bad guy one shots the player. Yes that was fun, wasting all that time to just have an outcome I couldn’t change. Could we have that in a cutscene next time? At least in Suikoden it WAS possible to change the outcome, if difficult.
DQIX allows the characters to roam around the battlefield, lining themselves up for shots, moving next to the person they are going to heal, etc. It looks neat, the first few times. After level 40, it’s just an annoying waste of time. Not to mention that the game has a formation system, that is completely nullified by this other roaming system.
Each trade has a skill set. These skill sets mesh fairly well with the tank/dps/heals idea from other RPGs. The problem is, DQIX doesn’t give the trades the skills needed to do their job well. All of the skills that would do things like, allow the tank to hold aggro, are underpowered and fail so often, it’s pointless to even use them. As are the buffs, debuffs, and status clears. It was easier to simply heal through the poison than waste the time to clear off the poison. The one fight I used buffs, the boss cleared them off instantly.
I don’t mind breaking from the standard roles, but this means that all of the trades need to have comparable health and armor. I despise the fact that more often than not my mage is tanking and the only character who needs heals.
I like Dragon Quest IX and I am still playing it. However it really just makes me long for RPGs that actually make sense. Oh and ones where I don’t just farm poor little metal slimes.