It’s good to go back to your roots from time to time. 9th Dawn III, developed and published by Valorware, knows its origins and predecessors well; it borrows from great games, both new and old, to create something both fresh and familiar. With a sprawling open world, populated by a huge array of quests and activities, and its own card game as well, 9th Dawn III sometimes feels like The Witcher 3 in 16-bit form. There’s an uncountable number of beasts that players will face down in a variety of terrains, making for a rich and exciting world. However, don’t let the retro graphics fool you: this game has a punishing side. Be prepared to grind if you want to fully explore this massive RPG brimming with monsters and secrets.
Story – An epic tale, at your own pace
As with many RPGs, the tale of 9th Dawn III is one of dark forces and threats to whole continents. While this vast narrative is intriguing, its purpose is mostly to guide the player forward. The game’s world encourages open exploration, rather than making your way to the next quest, and the quests themselves reflect this. Often, you’ll be told to travel to in a direction to find the next part of your adventure; in this way, the story doesn’t force you to go anywhere, as it simply directs you towards interesting locations. Such a story plays to the strengths of 9th Dawn III, allowing players to stop and tackle dungeons or swamps without rushing on to the next bit of story.
The story of the world of Cedaltia extends beyond the main story, however. Almost every character you speak with has their own backstory to tell you, as well as offering you another questline to explore. These, like the main quest you pick up at the start, will encourage you to take on areas off the beaten path. Sometimes, you’ll simply need to fetch some supplies or ingredients. With other, more substantial quests, you’ll often find yourself exploring an entirely new area that you might have otherwise forgotten about. This is where the game really started to remind me of The Witcher 3; while it may not have the graphics, or budget, that the blockbuster game had, it tells its story in much the same way. Each town, and its people, offers something that makes the world richer. Put together, the smaller stories help the world come alive.
Some of the storytelling is also done like a Dark Souls game. In dungeons, taking a moment to read notes left around, or look at your surroundings, can tell the story of past events. A personal favourite was the Snake Pit dungeon early in the game; notes left in the dungeon tell of the madness of the leader of some warriors, who eventually became the snake boss you fight. The same goes for other dungeons, adding a layer of more subtle storytelling to the game.
Gameplay – Fighting, fishing, and Fyued
In a game full of monsters to fight, combat is crucial to how fun it is. Luckily, the simple but entertaining combat of 9th Dawn III means that fighting through swarms of enemies is addictive. The controls for fighting are simple enough: point the right stick towards your target to attack that way. For defence, your only real option is rolling (using square on PS4). However, these simple controls hide some nastiness in the game. Some random difficulty spikes can destroy you in seconds if you don’t flee or get over-levelled. And, many dungeons feature waves of enemies that, when attacking all at once, will be more than a match for you. Therefore, grinding and patience can become essential in getting through areas; step in against too many enemies at low level, and you’re toast.
The other part of the combat is like something out of Pokémon. Early in the game, you can learn to bait and capture monsters, allowing you to use them as companions. These can be very valuable allies once you improve their combat skills, giving you something extra for your battle plan. However, this addition doesn’t really fix the difficulty and balance issues the game has. Although sometimes you just need to grind out for levels, there are some enemies that consistently tear you to shreds. Oh, and spiders shoot energy balls at you. Go figure.
Skills, thrills and weapon kills
There are a whole bunch of ways to improve your character in 9th Dawn III; it is an RPG, after all. The attributes system is the same as most classic levelling systems: each time your level goes up, you get 5 points to spend on strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence and wisdom. Each statistic compliments a particular way of playing. Increasing strength boosts your attack power with swords, knives, axes and hammers. Endurance increases your health (always an important one). Wisdom improves the magic that you can use. Alongside these are abilities, which are specific skills that can be purchased using ability coins found in dungeons.
Getting both ability coins and attributes points isn’t easy; dying means you lose a bunch of experience, meaning grinding is often the best option, while ability coins are hidden behind loads of enemies in dungeons. This makes the quest to improve both challenging and rewarding, so depending on how patient you are, getting better can be either frustrating or satisfying (or maybe both).
The last way to get better is through the huge number of weapons in the game, and your skills for certain weapon types. Like a Diablo game, each dungeon has loot for you to collect that will keep you looking for new gear to use. This system encourages you to explore every inch of every dungeon, as you never know what a small cave can hold. And, using different weapons and armour gets you better at using them. Using a great sword increases your proficiency with great swords, and the same goes for all manner of items. Some great weapons are only usable once you get to a certain skill/proficiency level for that weapon type, so trying different weapon types can be key to using all the game’s best weapons.
Catching carp and collecting cards
And, it wouldn’t be an open world RPG without side activities to enjoy when you want to take a break from the action. Players can enjoy a game of Fyued – 9th Dawn III‘s card game of choice – almost anywhere. Most characters in the game can be challenged to play at any time. And, like Gwent in The Witcher 3, I found Fyued quickly sucking up more and more of my time. Trying to win a certain card off a townsperson, or even beating the secret Fyued champion, is addictive.
If cards isn’t your thing, there’s other activities to take part in. Fishing is another fun way to relax in the game, and there are even fishing-specific quests to tackle (excuse the pun). Or, you can choose to spend time cooking at campfires, using meat and vegetables from across the game’s world to make a meal. There’s something for everyone in the game’s world; finding what part of the game you enjoy can make it even better to play.
Graphics and Audio – Pixelated problems
The game’s graphics have to be evaluated against the style it aims for. The developers, Valorwave, were clearly inspired by the Ultima series, both in the content and visuals of the game. And, while the style works well for the most part, there are some issues. The map, without the aid of a zoom tool, is hard to interpret. Pixelated masses of green or brown struggle to show what’s actually in an area, or where the paths are between locations. However, this is a relatively minor problem, as most of the time you can explore without using the map at all. And, the graphics hold up well in combat: enemy attack animations and cool-looking bosses really help to up the excitement. On occasion, the pixelated style might detract from tension of combat, but this is mostly minor; I personally didn’t mind my fights with wolves being a little less tense.
And, where the tension is sometimes lacking with visuals, the music saves the day. The different tracks for exploring dungeons had me on the edge of my seat, as the music immediately kicked up a gear for boss fights, or went to a slow, haunting tune for sneaking around. The style of music nicely complements the game itself; it was never overly serious, but provided the right level of tension. This soundtrack was a welcome break from the chanting I’ve become use to hearing in some RPGs. It was simple yet effective, and I appreciated it for that.
9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil was reviewed on PS4, with a review key provided by Novy Unlimited.