Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Review by Psycho Penguin
"I know a lot of people have issues with it, but it's still one of the best games to come out in a long time for me."
Sometimes, reactions of people just surprise the hell out of me. One such instance happened to me a few weeks back, when I took a visit to the GameFAQs "RPG - Everything Else" board. With all the elitism and nitpicking that the regulars do, I should not have been THAT surprised to find classic comments like "Dragon Quest 8 is the most boring RPG to ever come out.", and "It may look pretty, but it's simple as hell and one of the worst games to come out in quite some time." I could not disagree more with these comments, and I sometimes wonder what people really want out of their games. It used to be that people complained about newer games being too simple and hand feeding, then when an old school game like this comes out, suddenly everyone has an issue with the "old school" games they used to love.
Well forget that, because I am here to tell you that Dragon Quest 8 is a terrific accomplishment and the best RPG since Tales of Symphonia. The game itself is charming and reminds me of a time when RPGs didn't rely on gimmicks and flashly battle graphics to sell. The storyline is simple and effective, the music and graphics are top notch and easily some of the best the PS2 console have ever seen, it's easy to figure out how to battle, and most importantly, the game is just completely simple and harmless fun. What more can a RPG fan ask for?
They usually ask for a strong storyline, and Dragon Quest 8 definitely delivers in that department, with a twisting and in depth storyline featuring a lovable oaf and a hero that have to find an evil magician dude who turned the king of their castle into a troll looking thing, and his daughter into a horse. But is the evil Dhoulmagus really the biggest of their problems? The story starts off kind of slow, but picks up quickly, and plenty of interesting characters pop in and out of the storyline. It's not an all time classic, but it's plenty good and definitely kept me interested enough.
I really, really enjoyed the battle system, if you couldn't tell yet. This was one of the game's strongest suits to me. The game follows the basic conventions of the series to a T. First off, when you engage a group of enemies (in a random battle), the enemies are shown in front of you. You have the basic menus which allow you to input a command to use during battle. The battle then proceeds based off the speed of everyone involved. Nothing original here, but like I said, it's a lot of fun and quite refreshing to play a game that remembers where its roots are and doesn't try anything overly complex or lame, like certain PSX sequels that shall remain nameless.
Some additions to the game include the ability to level up weapons when you level up. You get a certain amount of ability points, which you can then put towards one of five categories. Each person has four weapons they are able to wield, and the fifth category is the character's special category. The Hero has abilities that can help him learn new magic and become more heroic, while Jessica has special skills in battle. One particular memorable skill is the ability that can enable enemies to become charmed with her. After you put a certain amount of ability points into a category, you then gain anything from increased proficiency with the weapon, to a new skill that the character can use.
Unfortunately, this is not all good. As you can probably imagine, sometimes it's a pain in the ass to figure out exactly what skills you should be attempting to learn. Each character is really proficient in one or two weapons, not all four, and some of their special skills are useless. Most people end up consulting a message board or FAQ just to figure out if they are wasting their precious ability points, and for good reason. I am glad the game allowed for open endness when it comes to the abilities, but I feel as if the game probably could have done a slightly better job of making it clear what abilities you CAN learn, instead of just putting ability points into a weapon and finding out you learned a useless ability. Fortunately, abilities are optional and you can beat the game without unlocking most of them.
Another issue I had with this game was the alchemy pot, which was a good idea but like the previous complaint, it required a lot of guesswork and usually ended up with consulting a FAQ or message board. You can combine two and eventually three items together to create a different item, but the combinations were sometimes hard to figure out (You get clues along the way, but sometimes the clues are hard to decipher and you don't get clues for EVERY item you can make) and it felt like I was always in danger of losing an item that I wasn't entirely sure I would get again. A little bit more hand holding in this particular aspect of the game definitely would have been a plus.
Going back to the many strengths of the game, the game world is HUGE, with the largest overworld I have ever seen in a RPG, and I had a ton of fun exploring all over the place. Unlike most RPGs, the game leaves treasure chests and special "enemies" in the overworld for you to find, so you rarely feel like you're going from Point A to Point B and wasting time in the process. Once the whole ordeal starts to feel a little tedious, you get a panther-like creature to help you run faster, a ship to help you sail the seas, and an airship-like dragon which helps you fly across the world really quickly. The exploration aspect of the game was a huge factor in me enjoying this game as much as I did.
The special monsters I mentioned in the previous paragraph are part of the game's biggest, yet unoriginal for the most part, side quest. The Monster Arena is a fun diversion, however, because you can control a team of up to three monsters in a battle at the arena. Also, finding all of the special monsters hidden throughout the world is a great time killer. There's over 80 different monsters spread out, and upon defeating them, you can enlist them onto your team at the monster arena. Forming groups that are similar in some ways makes them more dangerous, as they can unleash special attacks and have better statistics. This is a great way to make an otherwise interesting diversion into a strategic challenge.
Of course, the monster arena is but one of many creative and fun side quests you can participate in throughout the game. There's a casino, a secret items dealer who rewards you based off your skills in alchemy, and more. The main quest is long enough, but the side quests ensure that you will always have something to do in this game. I spent well over 20 hours in the arena and casinos alone, to show you how addictive they can be!
One of the most underappreciated, yet wonderful, additions was the menu that tells you how many battles you've fought in, how many steps you've taken, how many enemies you've killed, etc. It even pulls out to a list of items you've made using alchemy, and a detailed breakdown of every enemy you've killed! I am a big fan of this menu and wish more games would implement something along those lines.
The game is simply gorgeous, with some of the most breathtaking graphics I have ever seen on the Playstation 2. Everything has a simple, colorful look to it, but the attention to detail is truly astounding. The vast overworld is better simply because of how beautiful and massive everything looks. You can see FAR away in the overworld camera, and even looking at the back parts of the world, you can see incredible details like the sun sparkling on water. Battle graphics are amusing and pretty, moreso than any other RPG I've had the pleasure (or displeasure) of playing. You can see your characters attack the enemies, some enemies do cute attacks (or stupid taunts, like one enemy who does a wicked dance and shakes his booty!), and little attack damage bubbles pop over a character or enemy's head when attacked. It's the little things that makes this such a detailed and great looking game.
I was not totally impressed with the soundtrack of this game, as it is mostly a symphonic soundtrack and I am more for fast paced, hard toned music. Regardless, I have little to complain about when it comes to the QUALITY of the music, because it sounds really well done and professional. Unfortunately, little of the music is memorable and I would hardly qualify it as a classic soundtrack. The only three tunes I remember are the classic church theme, the overworld theme, and the battle theme. The three themes I remember sum up the music perfectly - decent, perfectly acceptable, yet unmemorable and just "there". Sound effects are pretty funny in battle, but the voices range from decent to terrible. I liked the King's voice, but Jessica's manly tone and accent got on my nerves quickly.
There's a lot to do in this long and massive game. The game can take you anywhere from 55 to 100 hours (or more), depending on how many side quests you complete, and how long you take perfecting the monster arena and casinos. I personally spent a lot of time on this game, and found it to be incredibly addictive AND fun. However, I don't think it will have the same replay value once it is completed. Think about it, you spend 100+ hours on a game, and then you have to go through it AGAIN, dealing with all the beginning useless stuff? I highly reccomend having a save file 5 hours or so in, that might help increase the replay value significantly.
As I mentioned before, this game really doesn't hold your hand at all, and it shows when it comes to the structure of the gameplay. Like the older games in the series, you can only save your game at a church, which usually only appear in towns and random buildings throughout the world. If you die in one of the game's many challenging, long dungeons, you appear back at the last church you saved at with half your gold. The dungeons are MASSIVE at times, with tons of tough enemies, and the lack of healing items makes it an even tougher trek. This is not one of the easier games out there. Bosses, unfortunately, range from super easy to a little difficult, although one or two notable bosses stand out for their harder than usual difficulty.
I can't say enough about this game. Enix has really pulled off something special here, after what I heard was a disappointing previous entry into the series. It has all the charm of the previous games in the series, with a fun battle system, decent storyline, great graphics, and long quest. Dragon Quest 8 is one of those rare gems that comes out, and years from now I think it will be somewhere on my top 10 of all time list. It's that good, folks, no matter what some elitist snobs on a message board tell you.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/01/06
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