Even though it is the great grandfather of all console RPGs, Dragon Quest never managed to strike a chord with gamers in the US. Chalk it up an absence of Super NES releases, during the “golden age” or RPGs or to minor steps in evolution. Either way Dragon Quest is huge in Japan and not in America. Now that Square and Enix are one happy family they sought to change the US’s views on Dragon Quest.
Square-Enix couldn’t pick a better Dragon Quest game to sell the series to the US. DQVII didn’t look impressive when it was released on the Playstation and while Dragon Quest V has the best story it relies to heavily on series nostalgia. Dragon Quest VIII is beautiful to look at. Unlike other gritty sci-fi RPGs Dragon Quest VIII is bright. Take the hero, he’s wearing a red bandanna and a yellow tunic. Then look around at the outside world, it’s rich with trees, grass and furry critters running about. The cel-shaded style brings Akria Toriyama’s artwork to a new level. The developers, Level 5, managed to recreate feeling to the living cartoon similar to the Wind Waker.
Like the rest of the world the monsters are cheerful rather than ferocious looking. You wouldn’t think fighting a Fencing Fox as a dangerous foe or a Candy Cat as a regular enemy. Watch out because like a seemingly innocent Metal Slime, these foes will put up a good fight. The combat system in DQVIII is extremely similar to DQVII, which is just like DQVI, which is like… well you get the idea it’s the same old menu based combat. You start off by selecting fight, magic, or one of your skills and then watch the battle play out. Often times you’re forced to choose the basic fight command because MP is scarce and best used to heal your party as you travel long distances. Because of this battles can be come repetitive, fast and the only saving grace to make combat quicker is setting AI for your party. You can choose how each character attacks with a couple of different settings like “fight wisely” for balanced attacks or “focus on healing” to make a party member automatically a healer. Dragon Quest VIII does offer something new to the series, the ability to get psyched up. By using this option you’ll charge up your physical attack so you can do more damage in the next round.
In between where you are and the next dungeon are tons of monster fights. It’s understood that it is necessary to face all these small fries in combat. The precious EXP and gold is required for you to press through the quest. With each level up you’ll get attribute bonuses like strength + 3 on top of skill points. Skill points can be spent in one of five character attributes. After putting so many points into the Hero’s sword skill he will get a +5 bonus when he equips a sword. Or you can opt to put in points towards his Courage skill so he can learn a teleport ability. Although, you aren’t given a clue when and what abilities you’ll learn unless you have a FAQ handy. Because of this you will only have a glimpse of how you want to mold each member. Then again maybe it’s not that important because you can’t customize your party with different classes. Jessica will always be a magic user and Yangus is always going to be a heavy hitting fighter.
Early on you’ll have to spend sometime leveling up just so you can get basic healing magic so you can tackle a dungeon. DQVIII does add in a couple options for rapid leveling. If you want to face stronger enemies wait until nightfall and instead of running in circles you can use Yangus’ whistle skill to bring enemies to you. If you’re ever defeated in a rough fight, the game won’t be over. Instead you’ll be teleported to the last save area, with half your gold coins gone. It’s still a harsh penalty, but it is much better than a game over screen. This is DQVIII’s way of balancing out the world since you can only save at churches. Without mid dungeon save points expect to sit and play Dragon Quest VIII for a couple hours to complete a dungeon.
One thing we haven’t mentioned too much about is the game’s story. You play as the lone survivor of a kingdom that was cursed by the Jester Dhoulmagus. He turned the King, Trode, into a goblin-like hobbit. Trode travels with the nameless hero and his buddy Yangus who was previously a bandit. Along the way you’ll meet a sassy tomboy sorceress, Jessica who wants to avenge the death of her brother and Angelo a knight who’s more interested in gambling than the church he seeks to protect. While the characters look great they’re cut out of RPG clichés, like the rest of the story. On the other hand many fans would cite that the Dragon Quest series has never been about the story, it’s about exploration and tackling all of the side quests. It’s more about finding a hidden magical shield than rushing to the next chapter of the story. You can easily spend fifty hours exploring the main game, even more if you spend time at the casino and take on side quests like finding hidden mini medals.
By now it should be lucid what Dragon Quest VIII really is: a classic RPG with a fresh coat of paint. While the gameplay may have aged two systems ago, the series remains strong because there are enough gamers who like traditional RPGs. Strangely so many RPGs have focused on evolving, a classic, light hearted, medieval RPG seems refreshing. To truly enjoy the game expect to pour hours into powering your characters, have patience when trekking through long dungeons and remember Final Fantasy XII this is not.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 0
Square Enix’s US localization team brings us the game in English, with voiceovers from the UK.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King was released on 11.15.2005.
+ Pros: Exploring the lush world in search of treasure and secrets.
– Cons: The countless hours of fighting slimes and the feeling that Dragon Quest VIII is essentially the same as Dragon Quest IV.
Overall: Dragon Quest VIII is bound to polarize RPG gamers. Veterans will appreciate Dragon Quest VIII’s challenge, excellent localization and emphasis on exploration. However, compared to most modern RPGs the story is a mere skeleton and the battle system is primitive.
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