9thdawnI remember when role-playing games emphasized discovery, and exploration, as much as the stories it was telling. You were instantly dropped into a world with nothing but your instincts to guide your way. Games like Valorware's latest iOS RPG, 9th Dawn [$2.99], remind me of the DOS games I grew up on, why I love and hate them, and why these days it's refreshing to return to games that don't hold the player's hand so much.

9th Dawn starts in a tiny village called Agaria, on the huge island continent of Montelorne, where after naming and selecting your character's class - Knight, Archer, or Mage - you equip your bearings and venture forth as your heart desires. To be fair, the enemies in the forests of Montelorne will do all they can to keep you from treading too far; they don't seem to scale to your character level - which is the way I like it. Expect tons of quest-giving NPCs to hand out a slew of fetch quests and such. There's tons of loot to be collected and sold for silver. And of course all kinds of hidden caves to explore on your adventure.

To my surprise, 9th Dawn uses a virtual dual-stick system to control your character and actions. Left-stick moves while the right is used to aim attacks, for all 3 classes. It's a system that I can stand by, relying on the player's capability to land attacks rather than traditional dice-rolls. Making matters tougher is a line-of-sight system which hides enemies on-screen that you realistically could not see otherwise. I'm happy to admit the controls are comfortable and rarely stumbled in moments of tension throughout the dozens of hours I've spent playing.

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9th Dawn is not intended to be a RPG for everyone, often expecting you to be familiar with the computer games of which it is molded. There's something endearing about having to go into your inventory and use the journal to actually read it; instead of simply pausing to a quest-log. Or realizing the game’s so dark because night fell and you have yet to light a torch. These charming examples eventually lose steam, though, becoming an extra step to a simple action. The realization and solution to it remains a gratifying "ah-ha" moment of common sense all along. Sure, it's a practice that many consider a step-backwards in UI innovations anywhere else, but specifically in 9th Dawn - a game channeling the likes of early '90s computer RPGs - it feels like a smirking call-back.

9th Dawn’s issues stem from everything it attempts to be. Its UI is cumbersome, often two-touches deeper than need be. Its lack of a quest-arrow often turns its back on the player’s free-time. Classes often feel a bit unbalanced, as well; especially noticeable when enemies are respawning at a looping-rate. And then there are the countless bugs/glitches, as we come to expect in such a huge open-world. As much as I appreciate the desire to keep 9th Dawn as true to its roots as possible, it also eventually becomes a reminder of why developers have turned to simplification of UI.

From its overwhelming amount of content and command prompt – yes, it totally has a command prompt which can be used for all kinds of excellent controls like resetting class attributes and resetting spawn points – to its engaging combat and line-of-sight system, I’ve found it hard not recommending Valorware’s latest to fans of RPGs. Yes: there are cool spells, hot-bars, 100 levels to grind a character-build through, etc. Trust me when I say there’s too much to write about when it comes to reviewing 9th Dawn – sorry guys, I totally had to pick and choose my talking-points to avoid blabbering-on about stuff.

On paper: 9th Dawn sounds like a generic retread through forests too old to hold endearing. To my surprise it was not entirely that; instead becoming a slightly-modernized, nostalgia-inducing explore-athon in a world with lots to do, see, and kill on the go. Valorware is also one of those breed of developers who listen to their fans, constantly updating the game to fit all desires; which means this game should only age better with time.

The TA forums seem to be enjoying 9th Dawn as much as I, and for good reason. There are plenty of RPGs to play on the app store, but none that capture, and reinvigorate, the authenticity of those computer games of yore. Give 9th Dawn your time and it can teach you: what role-playing games were once like, why we should respect how far the genre has come, how sometimes calling-back to systems of old can re-engage tired genres, and… how to have fun gripping an iOS device for hours upon hours.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Nycteris

    Much as this sounds great, the lack of a quest arrow almost breaks it for me. I deleted Ash due to that.

  • Drizzt79

    Sounds like a game right down my alley. Might have to pick this one up!

    • XvEsunavX

      What's a Drizzit? Lol.
      I have a feeling those of our Salvatore ilk would all love this title. I absolutely love the time I've had on my buddies device and am picking up my own copy right now since I'm on a two week break for gaming madness.

  • michael bluth

    This game blows. So much time spent having no idea what to do and having to guess. Going to the forums and seeing EVERYONE having to ask what to do, or where to go. The balance is absolutely awful. It's almost impossible to die as a mage making every single ability, every single item absolutely useless.

    • basil

      The balance is really messed, you're right. It is a very imbalanced game. Still, "this game blows" is not a very cool thing to say.

      • Qualitybeats

        I noted the unbalance in the review. That, though, didn't hurt much of my experience at all. Sure, I wish it was better in that regard. But still, as far as experience like this go on iOS, I was pleased. Issues and all.

    • Seniku Moonjewel

      It only blows if you are a kid and need to be 'hand-held' all the time like modern games. for proper gamers this is Ultima bliss!!

  • Jef Crisis

    im really enjoying it. Morrowind didnt have a quest arrow either. if you look in the quest journal and click the hint it pretty much tells you where to head and what to look for. awesome game.

    • Nycteris

      Are you sure? I loved that game too. I may give this a try either way (especially if mages are overpowered..).

      • Rymel

        But people forget that back in the old RPGs mages WERE stupidly overpowered. And they didn't need the way majority of items (hello fat coin purse)

      • Nycteris

        They are overpowered as a reward for keeping them alive long enough to achieve it!

  • MrSpud

    Great game, not sure why you would want an arrow when the game tells you where to go, and you can also use the hint option and it tells you exactly where to go in details. I guess if you hate exploring and open worlds then this is not the game for you.

    • Nycteris

      Ah, we'll if it does all that, that's plenty.

  • JRaynor

    after seen most comments i cant even belive some, no wonder we are full of crappy and easy games with no challenge on ios

    • Seniku Moonjewel

      Well said! Sick of lazy kiddie gamers who have to be handheld all the time.. pathetic. 9th Dawn is superb and I applaud the devs for making it!

  • Ben Norvell

    Oh yes because it's a pixelated dungeon game that reminds me of the good ole days lets give it a great review.

  • Qualitybeats

    I constantly emphasized old-school computer RPGs in this review, for a reason. It's a return to that era, with a twist of modernization. If you can't respect that, then let it be. Why comment on your distaste for what the game s trying to evoke, when you knew it wasn't your "bag" in the first place.

    If you know what 'Ultima' is, and enjoy it? This games for you.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • caaalrb

      Just a hint: this is the Internet and there will always be haters. For everything. And typically they thrive on drama and drivel, it's best just to ignore them and let 'em pointlessly hate everything that doesn't confer with their tastes.

      As for the game: bought it in release and I love it. Playing as the archer gives the combat a sort of Bastion feel, albeit less smooth.

      • MrAlbum

        Actually, engaging the haters on the subject they hate creates debate and discussion, which could be revealing. The trick is not to hate the haters for being haters; the trick is to engage in the subject of the hatred and see what can come about from that.

        For example: I like this game. However, this game seriously needs some work put into its difficulty curve. This is the kind of game where a player can grind to victory. Combine that with the open world and the invisibility of the narrative (the story is there, it's just hard to find and thus give a crap about) makes the game tortuously unfocused. There's barely a reason to do quests because you get the majority of one's XP, loot and silver just by grinding through the various dungeons.

        In contrast, traditional turn-based RPGs always made sure to give the characters well-defined goals in the world they inhabit. Plus, they lock story progression to specific events in the game world, thus forcing players to follow the story if they want to progress. This leads to higher story immersion and a more focused experience.

        So how can 9th Dawn focus the experience better? Well, it can do stuff in the above paragraph. Or, it could simply get rid of a main storyline entirely and make exploration the only focus. Or, and this is what Ultima 7 did, the story could be in every aspect of the game. Crawl through a dungeon? Pick up an item you'll need later in the story. Slaughter the pirates? Open up the shipping lanes for future content/expansions. Talk to NPCs? Start the adventure-gaming chestnut of "trade x item for y item" so you can get a companion that follows you through a particularly nasty monster lair.

        9th Dawn tries a little of the above, but it just isn't enough. Too many NPCs are simply filler; too many dungeons are only for grinding; too much time is dedicated to doing whatever one wants instead of furthering the story. And it is a legitimate criticism of the game.

        If one had pooh-poohed the haters for being haters, this flaw would have been forgotten and overlooked in future discussions of the game. And that would have been a mistake.

      • caaalrb

        I was talking about people who complain simple for the sake of complaining, guess I wasn't clear. Valid criticism is always welcome.

        I agree with all of your points about the game. I pretty much gave up on the story after the third "main" quest and just started exploring and leveling up. It's definitely rough around the edges in parts, but I would love to see the developer either work to refine it or release similar, but more complete games in the future.

      • MrAlbum

        I brought up those points to make the point that those points would have most likely been ignored if the haters didn't bring them up (key words: MOST LIKELY). They may be complaining for the sake of complaining, but they can bring up good points. Hence, I usually have the stance of "listen to see if they make good points, and ignore the hatred and vitriol they are spewing." It can be a hard distinction to make, but it can be remarkably insightful.

        Then again, that's how I see things.

      • Valorware

        I want to thank you for this extremely well written criticism. We agree with you on everything you have written here and have taken all of it into account in the development of our next game, along with many many other complaints and shortcomings. Towards the end of the stretch, we ran out of time and money, and we got very sloppy with a lot of stuff and we just had to release it in a state that we weren't completely happy with at the time. I'm not too down about it, because it was our very first game ever, and we have learned greatly from the first iteration. We also have a larger creative team now with more resources, time, and money to make the next game superior in all ways. I promise that the sequel will make it look like child's play. In addition, we will also be remaking the original in our new game engine to help polish it up and fix many of the nagging UI and user friendliness bugs/faults.

        I think everyone should use you as a role model for providing constructive criticism.

        Cheers,
        Charles C

    • Bob S

      One thing I am wondering. You and other reviewers are always referencing Ultima with this game, and I can see why, but does the game have a story, like Ultima? The reason Ultima was fun was that it wasn't just random walking around, it all built to something very focused. You had to gather clues and follow a story as you fought and leveled up. Is this game like that?

  • oldgamer dude

    Good spot on review Jeff, I love RPGs that you have to explore and don't hold your hand and 9th dawn is one of those- which is rare these days. I love exploring and there's tons of that to do here and some really cool Easter eggs. I also love that these guys really listen and the game has has several updates. Valorware you rock hard! I'm counting the days till your next release :)

  • Morgan01

    I don't know about the tons of quests that the review states are in the game. I only came across a handful while trying to search every nook and cranny. Regardless, it is definitely a game worth playing. Once I started, I was so engaged, I couldn't put it down, foregoing even sleep.

    • Gustav

      There are no "quests" at all. Maybe like 5 fetching tasks which follow the main tale. This is an important fact. I hope no one buys this game because he is expecting a lot of side quests or anything like that, TA should remove "tons of quest" from their review.

      • Qualitybeats

        I consider anything tasked-to-do a quest, typically. And especially in RPGs like 9th Dawn.

        Go get my flask. Go get my armor. Go meet my ghost friend.

        I always consider those quests. Sorry for the misconception.

  • Zenfar

    Great fun playing this on the iPad and Ultima VII on my Mac, in old-school heaven.

  • Endscrypt

    I'm not sure exactly how many quests/sub-quests this game has but c'mon guys this is a top-notch go at a bit of old school style R.P.G. I really enjoyed 9th Dawn and god for what, a cpl of dollars makes it even more amazing in my head I really hope we get some updates or iap expansions! personally I'd be really happy to see this Dev team build on there great start.
    P.s everytime I checked wiki long after completing 9th Dawn there were items and loot that I had never found on my first run through, if ya like this type of game I'm sure most will play this at least 2-3 times fully through to get a hold of all the loot & artefacts in the 9th Dawn world.

9th Dawn Reviewed by Jeffrey deMelo on . Rating: 4.5