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Posted on Sep 25th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (Disposed Hero)
Posted under Review, RPG, Dragon Quest, Square Enix, PS2, 3DS


Despite being a huge fan of JRPGs for most of my life, I had never played a Dragon Quest game until earlier this year, with that game being Dragon Quest V on the DS.  While I did enjoy that game, I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would based on all of the praise I had previously heard about it.  One thing that I can say about Dragon Quest V though, and I assume is true of every game in the series, is that it has a lot of charm, and that charm left me wanting to play more games in the series.  So with the recent release of an enhanced version of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the Nintendo 3DS, the time seemed right to jump into my next game in the series.





Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King was originally released for the Sony PlayStation 2 in Japan, North America, and Europe in 2004, 2005, and 2006 respectively.  Developed by Level-5 and published by Square Enix, Dragon Quest VIII was the first game in the series to be released in Europe, and it was the first game to go by the original Dragon Quest name instead of Dragon Warrior in North America.  It is often regarded as one of the best JRPGs of all time, and it is still to this day the highest selling PS2 game in Japan.  In early 2017, Dragon Quest VIII received an enhanced port for the Nintendo 3DS that included a variety of additions and upgrades, including new playable characters and a fast-forward setting to speed up battles.

The story of Dragon Quest VIII revolves around the king of Trodain, King Trode, and his daughter Medea, who have been turned into a troll and a horse respectively by the evil Dhoulmagus.  As the unnamed protagonist, a castle guard who was unaffected by Dhoulmagus' magic, you set out with the king and princess searching the world for Dhoulmagus so you can defeat him and break the spell.  Along the way, you meet some interesting characters who join your party and have their own motivations for traveling with you.  Overall, the story is lighthearted and interesting with a few twists and turns throughout, some fairly predictable and others less so.  The interactions between some of the main characters helps keep things amusing and fun.


Yangus is a fan favorite character.

Just like other games in the series, Dragon Quest VIII is very much a traditional JRPG, meaning much of your time will be spent exploring wilderness areas and various forms of caves or dungeons.  For the first time in the series, the overworld map is in full 3D.  Fortunately, the new 3DS release gets rid of the random encounters and instead places the enemies on the map.  This makes it easy to avoid battles when you're in a hurry or to target specific enemies when you're looking for EXP or certain item drops.  There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore in the environments where you can find treasure chests and other secrets, and no more random encounters helps tremendously in keeping exploration from becoming overly tedious.

Combat will be familiar to anyone who has played a turn-based RPG before.  At the beginning of each turn, you choose an action for each of your party members and watch the battle unfold.  Each character has access to a few different types of weapons, each with their own specific attributes.  For example, weapons like swords and axes tend to deal more damage but can only hit one enemy per turn, while boomerangs and whips deal less damage but hit multiple targets.  Each character also earns skill points that can be spent in that character's respective skill tree.  Skill points allow you to invest points in mastering certain types of weapons, allowing you to deal more damage and granting new abilities while wielding weapons of that type.


The combat system may be traditional, but that doesn't make it dull!

There are quite a few towns in the game where you can talk to townspeople, buy items and equipment, and participate in other activities such as gambling.  There are many barrels and pots scattered around that can be searched to obtain useful items, so it pays to be thorough while exploring the towns.  There is also a crafting element in the game in the form of the Alchemy Pot where two or three items can be mixed together to create a new item.  Many of the best items and equipment in the game can be crafted in this way, and crafting recipes can often be found within the books on the bookshelves in peoples' homes, further increasing the incentive of thoroughly exploring areas.

Dragon Quest VIII features a partially cel-shaded anime-inspired art style that has aged extremely well since its original PS2 release over ten years ago.  Creative enemy designs help keep combat and dungeons interesting, and the vibrant color scheme is pleasing to the eyes.  Since the 3DS has two screens, all of the action takes place on the top screen while the bottom screen is reserved for things like maps, stats, and inventory.  Having the second screen handy to easily reference these things is incredibly helpful and helps keep tedium to a minimum.  Oddly enough, the new 3DS release has no 3D support whatsoever at any point in the game, but this doesn't detract from the game's presentation at all.   Overall, the visual presentation of Dragon Quest VIII is great with no real flaws to speak of.


Having the map present on the bottom screen makes exploration much easier.

The sound design on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag, at least for me personally.  Much of the music in the game has a lighthearted and whimsical tone to it, and while it is all very well done, I personally tend to prefer more serious and melancholic soundtracks to accompany these types of games.  The music that is present does work well with the game's tone however, and much of it will be familiar to fans of the series.  The voice acting can be hit and miss at times.  Many of the characters have exaggerated accents which either work very well or fall flat. 

Much like with Dragon Quest V, I didn't enjoy Dragon Quest VIII quite as much as I thought I would based on the huge amount of praise it has received over the years, but I still think it is a great game that should be experienced by any fan of traditional turn-based JRPGs.  It's possible that I just have some mild preference against this series for some reason, possibly because of its lighthearted and less serious tone, but I can't deny that these games have an incredible amount of charm that always leaves me wanting more.  I'm sure the original PlayStation 2 version was and still is a treat to play, and while I haven't played that version myself, I can only imagine that the 3DS release is the definitive version to play due to the refinements and additions made to the game.  If you own a 3DS (or 2DS) and love traditional-style JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to pick up Dragon Quest VIII.


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Comments
 
Great article.  While I'm not a DW/DQ player of the old school (I didn't play any of them until 1994), a lot of the series appeal is in its nostalgia.  You'll have noticed playing DQ5 and DQ8 that many of the songs between titles are the same (even if they are played differently).  It really is a pretty big deal for people, enough to keep it selling like hotcakes in it's native country.  That, and the (usually) meandering storylines, often not focusing on grand-scale events, but rather the little people on the ground.  Great stuff.

Just out of curiosity, is the music MIDI or orchestration?  When my 3DS crapped out on me I kind of fell away from handheld gaming a bit, and thus ignored DQ8.
 
@bombatomba:  Yes, the 3DS version has a MIDI soundtrack instead of the PS2's orchestral soundtrack.

I didn't really consider nostalgia as being a large source of the praise that this game (and others in the series) has received over the years, but it makes sense.  I certainly didn't play these games as a kid, but I know a lot of people did, especially the original DW on the NES.  I also noticed many recurring themes and elements between DQ5 and DQ8, and I'm sure these themes are present in most, if not all, entries in the series and likely also contributes to the nostalgia people have for this series.

Thanks for reading and contributing your thoughts!
 
I can't really play through the 3DS remake of this game. The North American (specifically because of re-recording) PS2 soundtrack is one of the most beautiful game soundtracks ever recorded, and the optical disc quality of the release lets it shine even brighter. I'm somebody who's willing to sacrifice the extra content of a remake for a higher quality gaming experience, and the PS2's graphics and sound abilities are far beyond any dedicated Nintendo handheld.

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