Dragon Quest IX-The Elusive Solo Run (2): Misconceptions

Here comes the second part of my Dragon Quest IX Solo Run feature. In this part, we aim for the dispelling of those hindering misconceptions and the clearance of the thorny patch of prejudice blocking the road to the Solo Run. I spotted five main misconceptions, which I will expose and mercilessly tear to pieces under your very eyes. Lo and behold!

Misconception #1: A Solo Run is impossible

This one takes the cake. It’s the most common misconception of them all, and one that will prevent many a player from trying a Solo Run in the first place, or even dare to consider the matter at all. It stems partly from the fact that when you arrive at Stornway and get introduced to the prospect of fighting the resident boss of the area, several NPCs advise you to recruit a party in order to take down that mighty foe. While this may rightfully be interpreted as a way to let you know that the game is becoming too difficult to tackle with a single character, and is indeed often interpreted so, I think that this is really nothing more than a cleverly disguised way of informing you that you now have the possibility to recruit a party if such is your desire, either by using the multiplayer option or by creating it from scratch. If these warnings from the townspeople were indeed a reliable indication that Dragon Quest IX cannot be played solo from the moment you reach Stornway, then the game would find a way to prevent you from going forward on your own, which it does not.

Another point that allows this misconception to arise is the fact that even with a party by your side, the game remains exigent. It often forces you into level grinding, usually before meeting bosses, and those boss fights are challenging in their own right, even with a conveniently leveled-up party. The perfectly logical reasoning here is that if the game is demanding even with the help of a party, then it has to be entirely impossible with a single character. And yet it is not so. How can that be, you may ask? Well, it all boils down to the leveling up system. In Dragon Quest IX, every fight you win will bring you a fixed number of experience points, which will then be divided and dispatched between your party members, and that number of points remains the same no matter how many characters are in your party. This basically means that when you are playing solo, your single character will reap all the experience points, and thus level up faster than they would with party members. This sped-up leveling process will compensate for the absence of a party, and allow you to play as comfortably as if you had party members by your side, if not more. I’ll come back to this later.

Misconception#2: A Solo Run is possible, but it can only take you so far

The idea here is that sooner or later, over the course of the game, you will encounter foes too powerful to be taken down by a single character. There may actually be a glimmer of truth in this statement; however, the point you can reach before being overpowered, if this indeed happens, is much, much further in the game than one would imagine at first.

My own Solo Run took me far beyond the confines of the main game. After having beaten the final boss to a pulp, I successfully took down all the bosses of the downloadable quests, nine of the twelve grotto bosses, and Baramos. After that, I stopped playing Dragon Quest IX and moved on to another game, so I have no idea if I could have progressed further on my own; but that is already an impressive enough journey, going actually much further than most Dragon Quest IX players even care to venture.  So, rest assured that there is actually plenty of time to enjoy on a Solo Run, and that you will clock a respectable number of playing hours before being stuck and stranded in a too-weak-to-go-on limbo, if this ever happens.

Misconception#3: A Solo Run is possible, but it makes the game so much harder

Once again, this stems from the notion that if the game is already a tough nut to crack with a full party, then it logically has to be even tougher with a single character. One can easily imagine that more grinding will be needed and that the boss battles will be much more challenging; in fact, I actually did so myself, before I learned better.I had the opportunity to compare the two situations, since my very first playthrough was a fairly classical one, in which I recruited three party members to support my main character. I took that playthrough quite far (up to the point when you’re about to return to your homeland after having recovered the seven Macguffins of the story, for those who've already played the game) and that gave me a pretty good notion of the amount of grinding required to progress in the game. When I engaged into my Solo Run, I virtually noticed no visible difference in that field; that definitely dissipated my fears of having a much harder ride as a lone ranger, and it should also dissipate yours, should you have any. As for the boss battles, they actually tend to be easier, if anything. This is mostly due to the fact that many of the bosses’ attacks are designed to hurt and wipe out the whole party, thus falling flat when dealing with a single character, and making you feel that most bosses are really nothing more than overpowered versions of the basic enemies you meet on the field.

Misconception#4: A Solo Run is possible, but it makes the game so much more boring

Once again, here is one that may contain a tiny weeny bit of truth, depending on what makes you tick. If your biggest source of joy and excitement in a game like Dragon Quest IX is to craft and micromanage a perfectly balanced party of characters with complementary abilities, then yes, you may indeed find the game more boring with a single character, since you can only don one given class at a time. However, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be found in a Solo Run, and the strange and sweet exhilaration of controlling an overpowered character capable of showing off so many different fighting styles and abilities and wielding so many different weapons should be enough to satiate most players. Oh, and let’s not mention the story, the sidequests, the epic fights, the thrill of being the Chosen One who will save the World, and all these other things that make RPG so great, whether they are played solo or with a party.

Misconception#5: A Solo Run is possible, but only with Class X or Y

The last one of my list, this is also the most minor and innocuous of the bunch. Yet, it is still a misconception that may rob potential soloists of a part of their rightly deserved enjoyment by inducing them to stick strictly to a given class, thus neglecting to discover the interesting possibilities offered by others. And that would be a pity, for one of the core joys of a Solo Run is to change classes on the fly and indulge into many different fighting styles. As a matter of fact, there is really no such thing as a mandatory class for a Solo Run in Dragon Quest IX; some classes may make your progression easier, depending on what you’re doing, but no class will make the Solo Run unplayable. It really all boils down to your goals at a given moment, and to the kind of fighting style you favor. I personally switched classes regularly during my Solo Run, either to tackle certain events or just for the sheer pleasure of trying something different. I actually spent a good amount of time as an Armamentalist, a class that possesses no healing spells and focuses mostly on buff and debuff; not the most obvious and clever choice for a Solo Run, obviously.  Yet, I did pretty fine and progressed without a hitch, taking down mighty bosses along the way.

Well, that’s all for the misconceptions! Hopefully any reservations about a Solo Run will now be cleared, making way for an eagerness to try the whole thing and see what it has in store. To continue this Dragon Quest feature about the Elusive Solo Run, I will next bring forward a number of good reasons to try out the lone way. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Dragon Quest IX-The Elusive Solo Run (1): Introduction

On with the show! In this first feature, I am going to tackle the very specific and little-known subject of the Solo Run in Dragon Quest IX. For the sake of clarity, it will contain several separate articles, on which I will expand on various matters. And first, let’s start with a nice, juicy introduction!

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, developped by Level-5 and Square-Enix and released in 2009(jp) and 2010(na, eu, aus) for the Nintendo DS exclusively, is one of the most well-known and praised RPG available on the system. It is the ninth installment of a venerable series of turn-based Japanese RPG that started way back in 1986 on the Famicom and enjoyed a huge popularity in its native country. The series came to American shores very sporadically in the 80’s and 90’s, with only a handful of games being released there under the name “Dragon Warrior”, while it avoided Europe entirely. Only with the worldwide release of the eighth game for the PS2 in 2005 and 2006 did the series’ recognition really pick up the pace in Europe and USA, where it became a new favourite amongst RPG lovers. The Dragon Quest series tend to be fairly old-school in its approach, harkening back to the old days of the RPG genre. It usually involves a team of typically specialized characters such as warriors, mages, healers and so on, fighting turn-based battles and exploring a vast world that they invariably have to save, all that wrapped in a rather bare and basic storyline and generously peppered with tons of grinding. It’s also highly recognizable, with features that reappear in every entry and give the player an immediate sense of familiarity, such as the main musical theme, the job system or the slime enemies.

Many western gamers, including myself, probably discovered the series with this ninth installment. An installment that is famous for its local multiplayer feature, a first in the series; and while this feature was hugely appreciated and made the most of in Japan, where everybody and their brother owns a DS and plays it virtually everywhere, it mostly failed to catch up in Europe and USA. Fortunately, you can also play the game on your own, and replace the enrollment of friends’ avatars through multiplayer by the recruitment of a team of customized mercenaries generated by the game, which is the option that most players choose. But, to quote Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, “there is another”. And that other option, young Padawan, is the Solo Run, which basically involves playing the whole game with only the main character, without recruiting a team. Yep, it is possible, and very much so; and it's a great experience to boot. But I'm getting ahead of myself here: let's first clear that murky matter a little bit.

The Solo Run in Dragon Quest IX is a subject that tends to be inexplicably shrouded in mystery. An internet search on the matter only garners a handful of results, most of them being excerpts from fan forums, in which gamers do wonder and ponder if a Solo Run is really, indeed, an attainable feat. Despite the fact that nothing actually prevents the player from choosing to attempt a Solo Run in the course of the game, most gamers and reviewers alike seem to be entirely unaware of this option. In fact, many gamers and reviewers go as far as to claim that it is mandatory to recruit a team if one wants to progress in the game and clear it, which is entirely false. Even more baffling, the official Dragon Quest IX Strategy Guide from Bradygames itself does not refer to this way of playing a SINGLE time over the course of its nearly 450 pages. Clearly, random individuals may make false claims about something they didn’t experience first-hand; but a supposedly well-researched strategy guide ignoring the matter entirely? Now that’s something far more unexpected and puzzling, and that says a lot about the elusiveness of the whole Solo Run matter.

The very way I personally came upon experiencing the Solo Run fits perfectly into that picture, and speaks volumes about how ridiculously elusive it indeed is. I did not attempt a Solo Run because I was seeking challenge, nor because I was curious about the matter. In fact, that possibility didn’t even dawn on me a single second when I first played the game; instead, like virtually every Dragon Quest IX player, I went for the “classic” way by dutifully recruiting a team when the option was made available, a few hours into the game. And while I had deeply enjoyed these very first hours as a loner, everything started to fall apart from the moment of that fated recruitment. As time went on, I grew intensely bored with the constant toiling and cumbersome micro-management that I had to put into my team, and totally blasé by their lack of participation in the storyline; so much so that I finally gave up on the game, entirely disgusted. Shortly after that first aborted playthrough did the idea of trying out a Solo Run rise out of the blue, and it was solely motivated by a desperate desire to get rid of the chore of pampering that accursed team and rekindle the passion I had felt for the game in the early hours, when I was still roaming the world as a solitary hero. And so, with a great deal of trepidation and anticipation, I started the said Solo Run. What followed was one of the most thorough, fulfilling and exhilarating RPG playthrough I ever experienced in my whole gaming life, a playthrough that left me deeply sated and content, with a little bit more than 200 hours of intensely enjoyable gameplay under my belt.

So yes, a Solo Run in Dragon Quest IX is indeed an attainable feat, which I successfully attempted myself. And since the matter is so elusive and so deeply shrouded in mystery, it may be useful to dispel a few misconceptions about it that tends to be running rampant; and that will precisely be the subject of my next posts. (Here are part 2, part 3 and part 4.) Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


The journey starts

That Extra Level.

Any regular RPG player knows what I’m talking about. 

Let’s paint the picture. You have been sitting there for quite some time, playing your latest favourite RPG title. You do not know for how long exactly, since you kind of lost track of time in the process; but given the soreness in your thumbs, the burning in your eyes and the general tiredness that is starting to creep into your very soul, you would guess it has been a fairly long time. A quick glance to the nearest clock tells you that it is actually nearly 2. 2 AM, that is. Ouch. Someone’s gonna have a hard time getting up for work at 7 am.

You should stop playing now, and you know that. Your tortured thumbs, your stinging eyes and washed-out brain beg for a well-deserved relief, and somewhere in the very back of your head, the little voice of consciousness tries to pip that you should go to sleep before making the upcoming day a total hell of foggy, hazy sleepiness. But all that does not matter. All you want to do is achieve one last goal. Your whole mind is acutely, painfully set upon this: before you finally indulge into a well-deserved rest, you want to grind just a tad more, and gain one more level. 

Yep; that’s it. THAT extra level. That ever-elusive, ever-taunting extra level. Always more alluring than the last one you reached, keeping you playing more and more. That Extra Level.

You may have figured out now where I’m going from there. This blog is mostly going to cover the glorious realms of RPG, although I will also cover other genres every now and then. When I say RPG, I mean every single type of RPG under the sun: Strategy-RPG, Action-RPG, Turn-based RPG, J-RPG, Dungeon Crawler, you name it. When it comes to this favourite genre of mine, I just gladly take everything that comes my way.

 It may also be worth noting that I exclusively play on portable systems, aka handhelds; namely, the Nintendo 3DS, the Playstation Vita, the Nintendo DS, the PSP and the Gameboy Advance. I also enjoy the occasional trip down memory lane by picking up a 16-bits era RPG once in a while, and I may cover these too. 

That being said, on with the journey!