Americans might think we love videogames, but we’re mere hobbyists compared to Japan and its unstoppable lust for the Dragon Quest series. The long-running RPG is so popular there that new entries are only released on weekends, to prevent loss of national productivity when everyone picks up a copy on the first day and gets to level-grinding. The games have never ignited anywhere near the same level of enthusiasm on these shores, and DQIX’s addition of wireless multiplayer and the online-enabled Tag Mode—where the game scans for other in-use copies to freely exchange cart-specific and randomly generated dungeons for additional shelf life—cast further doubt on whether DQIX could even be released here. The modes were so successful in Japan last year that some women’s nights out consisted solely of whipping out their DSes and playing DQIX together at a bar.
It remains to be seen whether those modes will fly in America—Nintendo says it’ll also make such maps available in solo play, and via weekly updates—but even without them, DQIX is a deep, thoroughly engrossing entry. Improbably for an RPG, the premise starts off intriguing, but quickly grows tiresome. Luckily, that’s when the first few wrinkles begin to emerge. You play as a completely customizable village guardian angel, and after an accident, you wind up marooned on earth, walking among the mortals, and having to do the usual bevy of good deeds befitting any RPG protagonist, with all the fetch-quests and town-saving helping you ultimately earn your wings. The main quest quickly grows monotonous: You’ll venture to a new town, talk to its highest-ranking official about whatever the local problem is, then set out to kill something and come back a hero. But that encourages you to delve deeper into tinkering under DQIX’s hood: You can concoct new items and weapons via alchemy, convert your character classes to finesse your party’s dynamic, or just explore the enormous overworld.
More than anything, the portable handheld format and open-ended structure ultimately encourages you to do whatever you see fit, whenever, which is infinitely more rewarding than the aforementioned, well-trod routine. Nothing here is filler, though: From the pervading sense of fun in the playful English translation to encountering goofy “intimidating” enemies like bags of laughter, DQIX’s cheerful aesthetics might be too much for some, but its depth can’t be denied.