9th Dawn III is a breath of fresh air. There's no daily events, no convoluted gear upgrading, no gacha mechanics, and no season pass. It's a throwback to an era of gaming that favored player choice over handholding and dopamine-inducing notifications. 9th Dawn III is the mobile RPG I've always wanted.
Valorware's game is a top-down RPG not unlike the original Legend of Zelda. You're given a brief tutorial, a slight overview of a main quest, then left to your own devices. While the setup is Zelda-esque, the gameplay is much more reminiscent of the Elder Scrolls series. Dozens of skills can be unlocked throughout your time in Cedaltia, and your abilities level up the more you use them. Want to be a battlemage? Cast plenty of spells and swing heavy swords. More interested in being a rogue? Equip your bow and sneak around as much as possible. Almost any build is viable in this game – the only limitation is your imagination.
Navigating menus for all these abilities can be a bit of a drag – instead of a one-screen skill tree you need to flip through dozens of pages in a virtual book – but there's enough unlockable content to keep you occupied for well over 50 hours. And that's just for combat skills, not to mention cooking, fishing, smelting, and smithing.
- 9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil, Valorware's latest dungeon-crawler, is available now for iOS and Android
Speaking of these non-combat skills, I was stunned at how elaborate these were. Learning how to smelt ore ended up being an hour-long endeavor, as my trainer required me to delve deep into a nearby dungeon and fetch an ancient artifact before he would even think about taking me on as a student. It's moments like the above that keep me coming back to 9th Dawn III. The freedom to explore and the elaborate side quest designs are unlike anything else I've seen in a mobile game in quite some time, and I never know what I'll encounter next. Honestly – how many developers would have you undertake such a massive quest before letting you smelt ore?
That's just the tip of the iceberg, too. Over 1,400 items, more than 300 weapons, and 550-plus pieces of armor means you'll be diving into dungeons across Cedaltia for a very, very long time.
But all that content would be nothing without the incredibly dynamic combat system. Action takes place in real-time, and you're given 16 different hotkeys that you can assign spells, attacks, or healing items for use in the heat of battle. Combat uses a twin stick system, where the left stick controls your movement and the right stick controls the direction of your primary attacks. It's a unique system, and one that feels right at home when playing with either a controller or default touchscreen controls. That being said, using all of your hotkeys can become difficult on a small screen, so it's highly recommended that you experience 9th Dawn III with a gamepad.
Combat isn't a walk in the park, either, as you're often up against dozens of vicious monsters at a time. I found myself completely overwhelmed within a half hour of playing, before the combat system finally clicked and I started to unlock power spells. Now, I'm stunning opponents who get too close, conjuring up a pool of poison at their feet, then rolling away from them while simultaneously casting my ranged fireball spell. If that isn't enough to take care of them, I'll pull out my trusty two-handed sword to finish them off. Combat is wildly empowering, and slaying hordes of beasts will never get old.
But adventuring solo can get lonely – that's why Valorware lets you tame pets to bring along on the journey. Monsters you encounter can be tamed using bait and a snare, although it's a bit expensive at the beginning of the game. I've only managed to get a few pets to follow me into combat but, the longer you play, the larger your army of animals will become. There are even a few unlockable companions – fully customizable characters that have their own skills, attributes, and inventories. They're playable, too, making it important to unlock as many of them as you possibly can to increase your party's viable during intense boss battles.
9th Dawn III is among the best mobile games of 2020. It feels very much like a 2D version of Skyrim, giving you a massive open-world to explore and hundreds of items to collect during your adventures. It's graphics aren't anything spectacular, but I've come to love their unique astethic during my time in Cedaltia. And, when things get too hectic and you need to unwind, you can always kick back with a game of Fyued, an original card game with over 180 different collectible cards, or head to the local waterways to reel in some fish. Not only is the amount of content in 9th Dawn III staggering, but all of it is worth exploring. It's menus might be a bit rough around the edges and its controls are best suited for a gamepad, but that's a small price to pay for one of the most engaging titles you'll ever see on a mobile device.