Despite the religious inconsistency in the world, the underlying message, like the fairytales it apes, is coherent and unflinching: be kind, be generous, hope for thanks but don't bank on it, and do unto others as you would have them do to you. In the absence of one singular, focal point character of evil in the world, the demons that need exorcising here - disease, poverty and low self-esteem - give the game's message unusual profundity, especially in comparison to the villains and villainesses found in Final Fantasy.

Despite Square Enix's insistence that Dragon Quest IX has been designed with the foreigner in mind, this is an unmistakably Japanese creation whose wider features are relevant to that country alone. It's possible to set your console to Canvass mode, whereby you close the DS and place it in your bag while it sends out a beacon signal to those around you.

Should it find another DS in the same mode, then that person's character is added to a giant room in an inn, where you can check their character's name, level and experience and receive rare items and maps for your trouble. This innovation makes sense when sat in a carriage on Tokyo's Yamanote loop line, where you'll likely pick up 25 new characters each commute. But in a quiet, leafy village in Suffolk? Not so much.

In Japan, the release of a new Dragon Quest game is akin to a new Harry Potter novel: a cultural event that transcends both the genre and medium's fans. As such, the game's multiplayer mode, whereby you can open your game world for anyone to join and quest with you (with the incentive of increased experience gains for their trouble) is tailored to the Japanese playground, where every child is forgoing their bento box for an hour's questing and showing off their rare clothing to classmates. But again, it's more effort elsewhere.

Happily, that effort is well worth it, as Level-5 has integrated one of the finest and most seamless multiplayer modes in any handheld title, one that slips from single- to multiplayer with an ease and lack of fuss that puts many of its PC and console rivals to shame.

There are internal negatives. The fact that you never quite know in which order your party will attack an enemy makes strategy in the more demanding battles difficult and scuppers the feature whereby successive attacks increase a damage multiplier bonus until the chain is broken. Likewise, the slowdown that often hits the game when exploring with a full party in tow sometimes tips over the threshold of acceptability.

But these are minor niggles in a creation that enjoys a delightful, broad-sweep vision peppered with exquisite detail. Not only the bravest and best of its series, but also a multiplayer adventure game that betters anything yet seen on the DS, Dragon Quest IX takes its place at the pinnacle of orthodox JRPG gaming.

There's a childlike simplicity in its approach to story and systems that may put off older players who prefer complication and convolution. But Dragon Quest IX cleanses the palate with its straightforwardness, allowing the workmanship to shine, and its clutch of nested fairytales to inspire.

9 /10

Dragon Quest IX is released on 11th July in North America and on 23rd July in Europe.

About the author

Simon Parkin

Simon Parkin


Simon Parkin is an award-winning writer and journalist from England, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The Guardian and a variety of other publications.

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