July 2010

Dragon Quest IX

July 20, 2010

Dragon Quest IX stays true to the standard Dragon Quest formula with a few new additions, multiplayer and wireless downloading of dungeons, which can greatly improve your enjoyment.

In Dragon Quest IX, you are a Celestrian, an angel who guards and protects the mortals of the ‘Protectorate,’ complete with wings and a halo. Your charge is to help and protect the inhabitants of a small village called Angel Falls. Unfortunately, shortly after you begin watching over Angel Falls, a catastrophe occurs and you fall from the Observatory into the world below, losing your halo and wings along the way. Now you have to explore the world and figure out what happened, and how to get back your Celestrian powers.

You create a custom hero, from your gender to your build to the color of your hair and eyes. When you reach the point where you can add new members to your party you can go through the same steps with each member, adding a personal flavor to your adventure. In addition to the standard character creation, Dragon Quest IX changes the appearance of each character based on what armor, weapons, and accessories each have equipped. With over 900 different pieces of equipment to find and choose from, there’s a huge amount of customization here.

The combat system is the same as it has always been for the Dragon Quest series, with you choosing the actions for each party member then watching the battle play out in real time. This is a great way of mixing real-time and turn-based elements into battles. Graphically, Dragon Quest IX looks simple, yet beautiful. The signature artwork of Akira Toriyama permeates the entirety of the game, and everything looks distinctively Dragon Quest in nature. The fact that the same artist has been used to create the artwork for each game lends a feeling of nostalgia and charm to each entry in the series. The soundtrack isn’t as distinctive and memorable as one would expect of a Square Enix RPG, but it does a good enough job of staying in the background that it doesn’t really add or detract from the game.

So far, this may seem like just another Dragon Quest game, and for the most part it is. But what about multiplayer? Yes, players can join up with three friends and venture across the game’s world completing quests and defeating bosses. Unfortunately only local wireless is supported, but it’s fun nonetheless. Everyone joins one player’s world, taking the place of that player’s party. They can venture on their own, but if players are in the same area, they battle together. (What’s more, everyone but the host gets boosted experience.)

The only real problem I had with Dragon Quest IX is a complaint many have had with the entire series- inventory management. DQIX continues the tradition of having one of the more obtuse inventory management systems in modern gaming. 

Dragon Quest IX does little to change or update the core Dragon Quest experience. If you have a problem with the previous games, there is little here to change your mind about the series. If, however, you want a charming, enjoyable, and long RPG, then this is one you can’t miss.

Managing Editor Graham Russell contributed to this review.

Pros: Long, enjoyable story; customization lends a personal aspect to your party

Cons: Inventory system is clunky and outdated


If you like the Monkey Island series but thought that the original’s special edition wasn’t quite special enough, then this enhanced edition of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is the adventure game update that you’ve been waiting for. The original characters, scenario, and humor are maintained while updated visuals, voice acting, and the ability to toggle voice acting and subtitle regardless of visual preference have been added.

For those that haven’t played it already, LeChuck’s Revenge opens with our hero dangling from a rope and holding a treasure chest. Then he starts narrating to clue you in as to how he wound up in this predicament. Along the way you’ll meet colorful characters like a woodworker who specializes in peg-legs and odd locales like the International House of Mojo. Monkey Island should not be your go-to game for a faithful interpretation of pirate life, but it’s a great place to find funny characters, odd situations, and puzzle solutions that (mostly) make sense once you start to frame your solutions to the game’s world. You may have to resort to trial and error once or twice, but all interactable objects can be highlighted with a single button-press so you’ll at least know what your options are. If you get really stuck, there’s a hint button to keep you from giving up altogether. 

Swapping visual styles can also be done with a single button press. At first I thought it was a waste of a button, but I found myself switching back and forth on just about every screen to see how the old classic had been reinvented in the new engine. It’s a small touch that enhances the experience quite a bit for fans who fondly remember the original game.

Monkey Island 2 is a classic, and the new coat of paint serves to enhance that instead of sweep it away. You’ll groan, you’ll laugh, and when you’re done you’ll want to play it all over again with the developer commentary. 

Pros: Easily swap from new to old visual style and back again, added voice acting

Cons: A couple of puzzles require intricate timing


When the original Sin and Punishment came out in Japan at the tail end of the Nintendo 64’s lifespan, many Nintendo fans living in North America and Europe clamored and hoped that it would be localized for their regions. Unfortunately, their cries were not heard and the game did not arrive on Western shores until 2007 via the Wii’s Virtual Console service, some seven years after its original Japanese release date. Luckily the sequel, Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, has not suffered the same fate. Star Successor is a rail shooter that is very similar to its predecessor, but it benefits greatly from the Wii’s pointer controls. The game is a non-stop, action-packed bullet hell shooter the likes of which only developer Treasure could conjure up.

Sin and Punishment: Star Successor is about a boy with a plasma pistol and his alien girlfriend. The couple must run, hover, dash, and fly their way through many enemy infested locations, and there is almost never a moment that won’t require players to pull the trigger and fire their guns. If I had to describe this game in one word, it would be relentless.  It just never lets up; sometimes you will even find yourself facing one boss right after another with nothing in between. Of course, there have been plenty of rail shooters like this in the past, but usually they take the form of 2D scrollers featuring futuristic spacecraft. Thanks to the Wii controller, Treasure is able to throw an unprecedented amount of enemy projectiles and obstacles your way, and it feels great. Using the remote and nunchuk, everything just feels very natural; dodging and dashing while firing at your targets can all happen simultaneously without a hitch.

Star Successor is a difficult game. I usually play through new games on “normal” mode unless I have extensive experience with the genre. However, in this game even “normal” is quite a challenge, and I found myself dying on numerous occasions as I played through the campaign. Luckily there are infinite continue credits, so dying won’t slow you down too much. There are two playable characters, Isa and Kachi, and they both feature distinct play styles. Both characters have the ability to hover and fly, but if your goal is to get as high a score as you can (which you can then upload to the online leaderboards), you will want to keep your feet on the ground for as long as possible, because that is the best way to increase your point multiplier. If you don’t care so much about the score, the game will probably feel a bit easier at times if you stick to the air. There is also a co-op mode that can makes things easier; it is very similar to the co-op found in Jet Force Gemini or Mario Galaxy 2—the second player cannot control a character on the screen, but they are able to aim and shoot with a second reticle.

Visually, the game isn’t all that great, save for the insane amount of stuff going on on-screen at any given moment. The backgrounds are fairly detailed, and there are moments here and there that come off as impressive, but overall this isn’t a game you want to experience for its graphical fidelity, and that is fine. It’s all about speed, precision, and colorful explosions.

After playing through Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, I wonder why there aren’t more games like this on the system; you couldn’t ask for a more perfect platform. Sin and Punishment really shines on the Wii, and while the game is only about six or seven hours long at most, that time is completely filled with nonstop action. Treasure has proven time and again that they are the king of shooters, and Star Successor is no exception. If you love shooters, or just find yourself wanting for a breakneck action title, do yourself a favor and pick this game up, you won’t be sorry you did. 

Pros: Unending barrage of action, perfect controls

Cons: Graphics aren’t too impressive

Plays like: the original Sin and Punishment, or Star Fox on speed


Back when I reviewed FITS, I mentioned that it took the “multiplayer Tetris” title away from Blokus. It later occurred to me that I haven’t covered Blokus in this column. Let me correct that oversight now.

Based on a design by Bernard Tavitian and published by various companies over its lifetime (currently in the hands of Mattel here in the States), Blokus is an award-winning abstract strategy game for up to four players featuring a 20 x 20 game board and four sets of 21 tiles ranging from a simple 1×1 cube to various pentominoes.

Each player takes one of the colors of tiles and begins by placing any tile they choose on the corner of the board nearest them. On each subsequent turn, you have to place one of your remaining tiles in such a way that it only touches your other pieces on corners (and it has to touch at least one) — no adjacent sides allowed. That restriction only applies to your own pieces, however; it’s perfectly legal — and often sound strategy — to place your pieces alongside those of your opponents. This is especially true if you can block off avenues of play by occupying key corners or making it impossible for certain pieces to be played in a given space. Everyone has the same assortment of tiles, so it’s important to keep track of what they have left to play.

If you have no legal plays, you are eliminated. Play continues until either everyone is eliminated or everyone left playing has played their 21st tile. Scoring works as follows: you lose one point for every square of your remaining tiles (5 points for every unplayed pentomino, 4 for every leftover tetromino, etc.). If you managed to play all of your tiles, you instead gain 15 points; playing your 1×1 tile (which is always legal somewhere on the board unless you were blocked off like crazy) last is worth an additional 5 points. Of course, if one player is able to place all of his tiles and nobody else can then the winner is sort of obvious. 

What makes Blokus such a solid offering is the quick yet strategic play. Even given the propensity for analysis paralysis early on when you have a wide array of options at your disposal, late game plays are often quite constrained. A typical game of Blokus should be finished in under half an hour. Blokus accommodates from two to four players, although the awkward mechanics for three players makes this less desirable than two or four; two players each have two colors of tiles and alternate between them as they place, with like-colored tiles still only touching at the corners but no restrictions on placing your two different colors adjacently. There are also variants for team and solo play.

Blokus really shines as a family game, as there is no reading and very little math required, so children as young as five should be able to play. As long as they’re old enough to not put the gem-like tiles in their mouths (since the smaller ones are choking hazards) they should be fine. You should be able to pick it up for less than $30 just about anywhere. 

Staff writer Andrew Passafiume shares his thoughts on five recent games you should play but probably missed. Do you agree with his selections? What are your under-the-radar favorites?

The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces (Wii)

This is a game that completely took me by surprise, and one that is relatively cheap now. Innocent Aces is the first and only game based on the Sky Crawlers anime, and it takes full advantage of the Wii’s motion controls, adding a new layer of depth to what could be just another flight combat game. 

Although you can use the Classic Controller, once you get accustomed to the motion controls, you will realize just how intuitive they can be. And with plenty of variety in the missions, lots to unlock, and a nice supporting cast of characters, this is one Wii game that is not worth missing. 

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon (Wii)

Fragile Dreams is an RPG at its core, but it is wrapped around in a post apocalyptic horror world full of ghouls and ghosts. Although Fragile Dreams is not a game for everyone, with a very bleak and sometimes incredibly depressing atmosphere and plenty of backtracking to be had, it has a lot going for it as well.  READ MORE