Game Day: Dragon Quest IX

After 170 hours of game play over 8 years … I finally finished Dragon Quest IX’s main story.

I started playing the game because I’d been searching for a good portable RPG for my Nintendo DS. My friend Cory recommended it (a big Dragon Quest fan, he’d already played through much of the Japanese version) and I was intrigued by the then-new Streetpass-like functionality that let you exchange randomly discovered dungeon maps over wi-fi.

I’m not a big Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) guy. I played a few when I was writing reviews for Sci-Fi.com and found them to be very different from their American counterparts. They stress random encounters with monsters, quirky characters and weapons, and epic cut scenes that run for up to 45 minutes. I usually played them just long enough to write my review and then moved on to something else.

And then came Dragon Quest IX.

I bought the game in 2010 and played it on and off for eight years (more off than on after the first year or two). I found it to be a quirky but engaging game with an engaging main story, tons of amusing side quests, and an extensive crafting system that had me continually hunting for the next great weapon, shield, or accessory. It’s a punny game where monsters like “cruelcumbers”, “badboons”, “bewarewolves” live along side more traditional dragons, cyclopes, and stone golems. There are also the game’s signature slimes: cute little drippy monsters that range from insignificant to monstrously difficult. Equipment is just as quirky, with the “storm spear” and “holy lance” existing side by side with the “red-hot poker” and “batterfly knife”.

It all drew me in, and kept me there. I played it on vacations to Butler Island as well as on business trips, and for many years it was my go-to game for the DS. Then I went up against Corvus, the final boss in the main battle. With multiple forms and devastating attacks, the villain crushed my party mercilessly. I went off, leveled up my characters, and took another crack at him … only to fail again.

This pattern repeated over the years. I’d put down DQIX for a year or two, then come back to it, figure out where I’d left off, take another run at Corvus … and fail. The game became something of a white whale for me — the one game I really wanted to beat. In Fall 2017 I got serious — I started reading different strategy threads online, researched the best magic items I could make, and figured out how to find the random-ized dungeons known as grottos.

Properly prepared, I took another run at Corvus … and failed again. Rather than give up, I decided to double down on my strategy, finding ways to farm experience in the game and leveling up my characters to even greater heights. After I broke my ankle on December 30, I became a little obsessed with beating the game.

Hell, I was already up at 3 a.m. and unable to sleep because of the throbbing pain in my ankle … so why not play the hell out it? The long cycle of boss fight disappointment broke late at night on Saturday, January 20 when I finally beat Corvus.

It was immensely satisfying. It was also not the end. The crazy things about Dragon Quest IX is that the main story is only the beginning. It has a tremendous amount of post-game content, with many areas that are blocked from you until you beat Corvus. You hit these forbidden areas time and again when doing the main game quests, and after I beat the game I couldn’t help but be tempted to play even more. Perhaps some day I will … but for now I’m content to bask in the glow of finally completing a game I’ve been playing for nearly a decade.

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