Taken in the context of the series, "Dragon Quest IX" is a strange game. It's the first in the franchise to debut on a handheld, and it changes up the classic formula in some significant ways. In many cases, these changes push the genre in interesting directions, but they never go far enough. The end result is an enjoyable Japanese RPG with mere hints of greatness.

"Dragon Quest IX" is full of unique and potentially groundbreaking features with lackluster implementation. A class system opens up around 10 hours in, allowing you to change jobs at any time, but you have to start over at level one with each job, so there's not much incentive to switch. Luckily, the battle system is as fast and enjoyable as it's ever been.

Random encounters have been stripped from the game you now run into monsters on the map to engage them in battle. This wise change helps rid most of the short but well-designed dungeons of the grinding that the series has become so synonymous with. The game clings to a few outdated conventions (My resurrect spell can fail? Really?), but it's still more accessible than the series has ever been.

"Dragon Quest IX's" biggest thrills come from exploring its colorful world. Even when the core plot breaks down into JRPG cliches, I always found myself eager to discover the next locale and see what vignette would play out. The high point of the game's world design comes with Swinedimples Academy, a takeoff on "Harry Potter" that provides a clever change of pace and a self-contained story that had me smiling.

Where "DQ IX" falls particularly short is in the failed promise of its multiplayer offerings. In addition to pulling in up to three other players at any time during the main story, you can wirelessly exchange treasure maps that spawn randomly generated dungeons full of powerful bosses and loot. These features would have extended the game's life for me greatly if I could use them online, but they're only available via local wireless. The 50-hour-plus story and tons of side quests are good; it's just too bad about that icing on the cake.


  • 3 out of 4 stars
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • System: DS
  • Price: $35
  • Rating: Everyone 10+