ValorWare’s new game 9th Dawn offers so much to love for fans of old RPGs. The world is huge and open. 9th Dawn provides a vast, contiguous world for your little adventurer to explore, quest, kill baddies and acquire riches.
Players choose from classic role-playing characters, such as a knight, an archer or a mage. The knight attacks enemies in melee. The archer has a quick ranged attack and the mage casts spells. Their strengths are so well-balanced that it’s hard to pick a favorite or even recommend one over the other. I might lean towards the archer. The up close hack-and-slash of the knight is not half bad. And the cool ranged fireball spells of the wizard are also good fun.
Classic RPG Gameplay
The game progresses along the classic RPG lines. Your little adventurer will kill baddies, take their awesome stuff, gain experience. Earning experience allows you to improve your character and kill bigger baddies. I love this classic RPG gameplay. I dig upgrading my armor bit by bit. And I love leveling and easily defeating an enemy who’d bested me before. Players can choose to follow quests or wander off and find dangerous things to fight.
Players begin in a rural village called Agraria, an immediate giggle for Latinists, and quickly meet a chatty fairy called Nevi, another giggle for fans of Legend of Zelda. Nevi immediately breaks the fourth wall with an hilarious gameplay tutorial. The gameplay continues with a good sense of humor, without becoming zany or losing the sense of mystery in exploring this kingdom.
I struggled a bit with the UI, retraining myself to use a retro directional thumbpad instead of tapping where I wanted to go. The left thumb is used to navigate, and the right thumb to attack and activate weapons. Whacking enemies with the knight’s sword means pointing your little adventurer at the target with the left-hand direction pad and swinging with the right hand. For a bow and arrow, you’ll need to draw back your right thumb, aim, and release to fire arrows. It was a difficult UI for me at first, but flinging arrows was satisfying enough that it was worth mastering it, and then I enjoyed the more realistic archery.
Better on a Tablet
After playing the game for a few hours, I enjoyed the world, but really wanted to play 9th Dawn on a larger, brighter screen. I wanted to see the retro pixelated world better and enjoy it more, especially in towns — 9th Dawn really gives each town a distinct flavor through cute blocky graphics. At other times, I found myself squinting at my Android screen, unsure what kind of enemy I’d just encountered. My adventurer was usually a bright(er) spot on a very dark map, I think to add mystery to the surrounding gameworld, but it didn’t help me with the squinting.
When I checked to see if I could play 9th Dawn on any of my devices with a larger screen, I came across Valorware’s dev Tumblr, which contains the very best kind of spoilers, references to missions and areas that I wasn’t even vaguely aware of, even after playing for a few hours. Just another reminder of how very, very big the world is in this little game.
An Open World of Yore
I’ve had trouble giving this review a beginning, middle and end, but I’m starting to think that might be a reflection of the open-endedness of this game. 9th Dawn is more of a world to explore than it is a game with a narrative arc. Sure, the combat difficulty gets harder as more of the world is explored, but there’s still a feeling of interacting with a fantasy world, meeting residents, battling creatures and acquiring wealth, rather than following directions through a planned story experience.
It’s quite a challenging task for a mobile game, which usually tend towards very short play sessions. Many mobile games are either appointment-style games (Think anything where you need to check back to harvest a crop, take your cupcakes out of the oven, or perform any other delayed action) or games with an energy mechanic (Think anything where you can harass your friends into giving you extra moves or lives), two gameplay styles that take advantage of the short play sessions.
9th Dawn is more suitable for a longer play mobile RPG session. The gameplay doesn’t force it with wait times or logout penalties, instead, players slip into 9th Dawn for a quick battle or two, and get caught up in the adventure. I kept playing for just one more battle, or just turning in this one mission, or just earning enough silver for this one upgrade, which is really the best way to feel in an adventure game.
But is it Hardcore?
If you can overlook the awkward D-pad and dark world maps, you will find a wealth of open fantasy world elements in this charming retro RPG.