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Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies review: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

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The Dragon Quest monster stable is full of memorable foes with funny names, and you'll always be running into something interesting. The slimes are one thing with their unique blobby cuteness, but you'll also encounter imps riding battle tanks and centaurs that fuse tiger-men with horses. Meeting a pack of armored zombies is somehow better when you find out that they're called lesionnaires. Occasionally, you'll get a break during an intense fight where a monster gazes lovingly at one of your characters, or it decides it wants to just hang out instead of gnawing on your face. The designs, as well as the animations, all ooze personality, particularly if there's dancing involved. The game's cartoon look works really well overall, though the sharpness and detail suffer somewhat when the camera zooms in and out. The sounds almost entirely reprise the classic Dragon Quest effects, from the high-pitched trill when you attack to the heavy clumping of boots when you use stairs, and these effects continue to work really well.

At the very least, vegetables are highly suspicious. (Credit: Nintendo)

If there's one area of the game that feels unnecessarily archaic, it's the menu system, which still uses a basic six-item menu that has to do a lot of work to access the wealth of options you have available. It's somewhat cumbersome to sift through your bag of items and transfer healing medicine and other goodies to your individual characters by hand so they can be used in battle. Having to buy one item at a time in stores is a pain if you're trying to upgrade quickly &mdash though you can equip something right after buying it, which saves you from having to play menu Tetris later. There's also a nice equipment interface in the menu that lets you see a close-up of your character, so you can try on all sorts of gear combinations and examine them from every angle.

Aside from all the usual fare, Sentinels of the Starry Skies offers cooperative local multiplayer for two to four players. You'll get to keep your current level and all your items when you join a multiplayer game, but your warp spell will only be able to access locations that the host player has visited. What's nice is that each player has complete independent control and can wander wherever he or she likes. If a friend gets into a battle nearby, you'll join automatically, and, if you're too far away, you can run up to the ongoing fight and jump into the fray after the fact. The system works well and without that tacked-on feeling that can characterise some multiplayer options.

There's a hefty main narrative line to follow, of course, but even aside from the upward of 30 hours you can spend doing that, side quests lurk in just about every city and village, awaiting your attention. These range from simple item fetch quests to the search for a legendary belly-dancing instructor and can earn you some great rewards. If you want to access any of the extra professions like ranger or paladin, you'll first need to complete a challenging special quest that asks you to use specific abilities on specific foes. There's also an alchemy pot, which lets you concoct items, weapons, and armor, as well as the bonus dungeon maps you receive from certain quests. These extras provide a variety of worthwhile ways to spend your time.

Starry skies portend great adventure. (Credit: Nintendo)

Every town in Sentinels of the Starry Skies has its own little story and its own sense of place in a wide world teeming with crazy monsters, great loot, and plenty of dungeons to explore. This is a quintessential role-playing experience that balances hardcore monster smashing with a lighthearted spirit. The Dragon Quest series soars onward and upward.

Via GameSpot.

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