If Japan was going to have an 'official national game', it would definitely be Dragon Quest. Dragon Quest is really, REALLY popular here. How popular, you ask? The Japanese Government at one time had to pass a law that said Dragon Quest games could only be released on the weekend. So many people were taking off from work and school whenever a new Dragon Quest game was released on a weekday, that there was actually a visible drop in the nation's productivity! Living in Japan these past few years, I have always wanted to play and experience the release of a new Dragon Quest game first-hand. Well, I finally got my chance, as Dragon Quest X: The Rise of the Five Tribes Online was just released earlier this month for the Nintendo Wii.
You may have noticed something odd in the title of the game; that's right, it says "Online". Square-Enix has gone the route of Final Fantasy XI and made the latest Dragon Quest game an MMO...after a fashion. Even though the game is an online game, it is very different from other MMOs; in fact, it actually contains a complete offline mode!
You begin Dragon Quest X in this offline mode, playing for a few hours through what would be called a tutorial of sorts. It sets up the game's story and allows you to already be familiar with the controls and battle system when you go online. You can also continue to play a small, separate part of the game's story (although using a different character) whenever you like in this offline mode. It's an interesting idea, one I definitely like, for an online MMO to have a separate offline mode campaign. After you have finished the offline tutorial you then choose which of the five races you want to be (Ogre, Elf, Dwarf, Puklipo, or Weddie) and then pick your job class (Warrior, Priest, Mage, Martial Artist, Thief, or Minstrel). After that you are off to explore the online world of Dragon Quest X.
You may be wondering how well the Dragon Quest formula translates to the world of MMOs? The answer is absolutely perfectly. All the monsters, weapons, items and characters are all here. While the famous "Alchemy Pot" is absent in the game, there are various guilds (Blacksmith, Woodworking, Alchemy, and Armor) you can choose to join in order to craft items. The items you craft can then either be equipped on your character or sold in the Bazaar, the game's auction house system. However, only items that have never been equipped can actually be sold in the Bazaar. So, any items you might have previously equipped will have to be sold to an NPC merchant. The leveling/skill system is very much like DQ9, with you being awarded skill points when you level up, which are then used to learn various new attacks for your weapons and job-based spells, abilities, and upgrades. The quest system also resembles DQ9, as well as many other MMOs, in that they tend to be 'go-fetch' quests or 'go kill this scary monster'.
Just like some other MMOs, most noticeably Final Fantasy XI, each quest you complete earns you fame points. The higher your fame level, the more difficult quests you gain access to. The game even manages to integrate the Dragon Quest Church system into the online setting as well; the churches still have the same functionality as other DQ games: saving, curing status effects and reviving dead party members. Speaking of dying, just like many other MMOs, if you happen to die in DQX you will lose 10% of your total gold. However, there is a banking system that allows you to deposit your money in increments of a 1000 gold, protecting it from any untimely deaths you may suffer. The game looks, feels, and plays exactly the same as any other Dragon Quest game, it's just that it happens to be played online. But, unlikeother MMOs, it doesn't necessarily have to be played with other people.
Let me re-iterate this: while Dragon Quest X is an online RPG, you do not have to play with other people. While you are always playing with other people in the sense that you can see other people and parties engaged in battles and running about the land, you do not actually have to play 'with' them. Unlike other MMOs, the game is completely solo-able...kinda. How is an MMO 'kinda' solo-able? Well, if you are having difficulty with an enemy, quest, or boss, and you don't have any friends online (or you simply don't want to play with other people), but still want to get past the trouble you are in, you can simply hireyourself a party.
Shortly after arriving in the main town of whatever race you pick, there is a short fetch quest located at the bar, which upon completion enables you to rent out other player's actual characters, while they are offline, and party up with them. You can then set the members of your "rent-a-party" to various play styles or let them do their own thing, depending on what you feel like. The rented party members get any gold and exp they may have earned while partying with you when they log back into the game. You can also choose to rent yourself out whenever you log-out of the game, making it a great way to continue your character's progression without devoting every waking second to the game. You also get the 'Happy Time' item for every 22 hours you are rented out, which when used gives you double exp, double gold, and an increased item drop ratio for a half hour. Also encouraging you to not spend every waking moment devoted to the level grind is the way the online subscription works. It's roughly $12 a month for an online subscription (after the 20 day free trial), but due to Dragon Quest's popularity in Japan and the high number of children that play, there are a couple hours set aside every day that people can play online for absolutely free, no subscription needed. Thanks to the rent a party system and all the other options available, it is entirely your choice if you want to play completely by yourself, by yourself with bots, together with friends, or together with strangers.
With about 20-odd hours of playtime so far, my character is a Level 22 Warrior, with level 4 Fame and level 5 Blacksmithing. The game's economy hasn't been too difficult for me so far, and the only time I've had any trouble with enemies is when I've ignored the "Danger! Dangerous Monsters Ahead" signs that are posted in certain areas and decided to wander off exploring, only to meet a bad end. All in all, I am really loving my time with Dragon Quest X, and although the game might have sold less than its offline counter-parts, if the number of players currently online is any indication, it looks like Square-Enix has the potential of having another FFXI on their hands. Considering that people are still playing FFXI ten years later, this can only be a good thing.
Dragon Quest X currently has no release date for the US, and unfortunately for those of you looking to import this title, the game uses IP blocking software that makes importing very difficult and troublesome. That being said, while I doubt we will see the Wii version released in the US, the already announced Wii U version of Dragon Quest X Online will more than likely make it States-side. Whenever it does come out, whether you like Dragon Quest or MMOs, I highly recommend that you give it a try. It's truly a different type of MMO, and it deserves to do well.