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Played Out - Dragon Quest IX

I used to think the best video game ever would be a simple, 8-bit RPG that took advantage of modern hardware only for the purpose of making the game so long and epic that it truly lasted for years.

In other words, I used to be a lot more confident in my youth.
Remove the nostalgic 8-bit part, and World of Warcraft is, in many ways, the realization of this dream. It is a game whose success depends on providing its players with the incentive to spend as much time in its universe as possible, so that those sweet monthly fees keep on coming. It is also a game that I have absolutely no interest in playing. Did I change? Was my dream something I never really wanted? Or was I just too cheap and afraid to interact with other people over the internet?

Square Enix seemingly attempted to address confused consumers such as myself, as well as WoW addicts who needed something portable for those horrible times they had to leave their house, with the MMORPG-inspired Dragon Quest IX for Nintendo DS. The game was met with rave reviews from my most respected game journalists, including Jeremy Parish of 1up, and I got excited. Surely this -- a descendant of Dragon Warrior on NES aka the game I begged my friend to let me watch him play -- would be my dream realized.

Somehow, I'm still asleep.

After 60 hours of playtime, I can't get into it. I've simply had a lot of free time with which to waste my way towards impending death.

It feels like a massively-multiplayer game that I'm playing by myself, and that's not accidental. When I said Square Enix was attempting to address consumers such as myself, what I meant was that they weren't at all. The game was constructed primarily for Japanese urbanites who love hooking up with strangers of all ages on their daily transport to grind for gold and kill monsters (see Monster Hunter). In the United States, most people outside of middle school have to put serious effort into finding a group of friends who are willing to sit around and play DS together. I could try posting an ad on craigslist, but I'm pretty sure that would only get me people who want to play DS (Diaper Spank).

Fine. I want to play alone anyway, which leaves me with a party of my avatar plus 3 generic characters who, sure, I can name and choose classes and outfits for and such, but who have absolutely no personality at all. They just follow me around saying nothing, and their successes don't even qualify in unlocking the in-game achievements (sic accolades). I don't need a fully-fleshed out cast to have fun; I mean, Link is essentially a mute in green clothes in the Zelda series, but there's so much more flavor there for me to lick my imaginary lips at. The world of Dragon Quest IX strikes me bland.

The game offers so much ingenuity in parts that this proclamation of blandness seems insane. The whimsical, British-flavoured dialogue is all expertly translated, with cleverly-named towns, creatures, and items populating the world. Slimes are as cute as ever, with teeny sanguinis coming in a close second. And the battle theme is catchy as hell...

But the action... Oh god the action. The story is too banal to discuss, the environments are as standard as they come, and the battle system -- so essential to an RPG that wants you to spend hundreds of hours fighting its monsters -- is comatose. Outside of bosses, you almost never have to do anything but attack and heal. There are a number of apparently interesting abilities and spells that your party learns as it progresses, but there is hardly any reason to use them. Side quests often encourage you to try out different techniques, but even these are mired in unnecessary repetition reflective of online hour-eaters. Quest-givers will tell you to do such and such, and they'll tell you to do it 20 times! The only reason I can see them doing this is to teach some meta-lesson about the futility of putting time into the task. My involvement with this game largely consists of me finding an enemy, engaging in battle, looking away from the screen for 2 minutes while spamming the A button, and looking down to see if I lucked into the loot I needed.

In other words, I haven't learned my lesson.

And because of that, the only flavor I'm left with, after all these hours, is bitterness. Dragon Quest IX is a game I maybe used to want, but at the moment it really is the most visible reminder that the hobby I love so much is sometimes programmed for the purpose of empty aging.

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