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Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a complete throwback to classic sword-and-sorcery role-playing games such as Wizardry and Ultima. And it's delightful.

The essence of DQ IX is as old-school as it gets: You round up a posse of diverse characters - say, warrior, thief and priest - and venture into the wilderness. There are castles to explore, dungeons to loot and hundreds of monsters to slay.

The most old-fashioned element is the combat. Each time your party runs into a monster, the screen reverts to a series of menus through which you order each character to attack (physically or with magic), defend, heal or perform one of about a dozen other operations. While such "turn-based combat" has fallen out of fashion, we like the strategic emphasis.

The primary quest is suitably epic. Your character is a guardian angel who plummets to the mortal world after a cataclysm disrupts the heavens. Your assignment is to reclaim seven mystical "fyggs" that have fallen into human hands, creating all sorts of havoc. There's an absorbing variety to these seven missions, ranging from ghost story to detective drama to a nifty Harry Potter parody set at a boarding school called Swinedimples.

That droll sense of humor pervades DQ IX, from its quirky characters to its wittily designed monsters, like the cruelcumber, cyclown and shocktopus.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

RATING Everyone 10 and older

PLOT An old-school role player

DETAILS Nintendo DS, $35

BOTTOM LINE This Dragon soars.

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