In an utterly baffling move, Dragon Quest X — the most recent game in the iconic RPG series — is not only import-only but also IP blocked, meaning the game will refuse to work for all legitimate users trying to play from outside Japan. Luckily, there are ways to get your foreign internet connection to disguise itself with a funny moustache and glasses and fool the servers, but they’re almost always either expensive or unreliable. Those times when the stars align — Square Enix doesn't ask you to change your password due to “suspicious activity” and you don’t find yourself disconnected when you sneeze — reveal tantalising glimpses of a game that really does deserve a worldwide release.
You start by picking a pair of siblings and customising them from a set of typical appearance options, then your adventure begins…offline. This initial section not only sets up the story but works as a handy tutorial area, allowing new players to get the hang of the controls and basic gameplay functions without hardcore players running around and slaughtering all the local wildlife before you've even seen your first Slime. The first sister or brother becomes your offline character, with the second used for online play.
Battles work surprisingly well – enemies are seen roaming around and will chase you if they’re aggressive, with battles starting proper once they make contact with you. Other enemies around you then become translucent and do not attack or engage unless you either win or run away, which is a nice way of giving you some personal battle space without whisking you away from everyone else. Fighting is semi-real time; much like Final Fantasy’s classic Active Time Battle system, if the ATB gauge was hidden from view. Your offline character is a jack-of-all-trades while your online character has to pick a specialisation from several RPG stereotypes – priests, thieves, warriors and so on.
Your online character also has a rather unique intro, too – no matter what course of action you take, the first thing they do in the exciting new world they find themselves in is die! Well, kinda die – what actually happens is that their human spirit finds itself in the body of someone who looks exactly like the exotic online character you create once you've completed the first part of the offline quest. The options here are very much the same as before, the main difference being that you need to choose a character from one of the five races in this new land: Ogre, Puklipo, Weddie, Elf and Dwarf. Each has their own natural preferences to fighting or magical arts, but there are no hard race/class restrictions.
The remarkable thing is that even in an MMO setting this is very much Dragon Quest as usual, and with the majority of players communicating using the pre-set chat list it could almost feel like the next regular outing if it wasn't for that pesky subscription fee.
There are often games that deserve translation that never receive it, and the reason is often down to the cost and effort required to localise the game versus the potential rewards. MMOs are even more expensive than these regular titles, requiring dedicated in-game moderators and a whole host of retained staff to do everything from server updates to bug fixes and new quest design…but this is Square Enix were talking about, the company that announced last year that Final Fantasy XI was its most profitable Final Fantasy ever. Keeping this game so aggressively Japan-only is frustrating, and we can only hope that common sense prevails in the future and the title makes the leap to the west in some form or another.