Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
Square-Enix
Developer
Level-5
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Simulated Gambling, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes
 
Grade
The Good

• Wonderful polygonal environments
• Great capturing of Akira Toriyama's style
• Solid old school gameplay
• Nice voice acting

The Bad

• Music can be repetitive
• Old school turn-based gameplay may turn off some

 
Grade
A-

In terms of Japanese roleplaying games, there's Final Fantasy and then there's Dragon Quest (also known as Dragon Warrior). Everything else is secondary. When Square and Enix merged, it seemed that the two top RPG properties would have to compete for the company's attention. While Final Fantasy has always pushed the envelope in terms of visual presentation, Dragon Quest has been all about old school style. To remedy this inequality, Square-Enix brought in Level-5 (Dark Cloud 2) to work on the newest incarnation and bring the series into full polygonal glory.

The story begins with the nameless silent hero on the road with the cursed King Trode, who has been turned into a green goblin-like monster. Along with the princess-turned-horse Madea and ruffian Yangus, the group is on the hunt for the jester magician Dhoulmagus, who is the cause of the cursed king and princess. Along the way, the run into other people who have been harmed by the magician. As with previous titles in the series, the core of Dragon Quest VIII's story is more intimate. While there is an overarching story, a lot of the player's time will be spent in smaller vignettes as you move from town to town.

Even with the modern upgrade to the series, Dragon Quest's gameplay is old school at it's core. Players move their party through the gameworld, traveling from town to town, solving local problems to gain clues as to where they should travel next. In towns, players can purchase weapons, armor and items and can sleep at inns or save at the local churches. Churches also offer the ability to revive fallen allies or remove curses. Most locations will have cupboards and bookcases to explore, along with chests and pots to pick up and toss (breaking them sometimes reveals items).

Outside of towns, players will run into random encounters, where battle is played out in turn-based fashion. When combat begins, you can choose to attack, intimidate (scare of lower level enemies), flee from battle or set up your tactics, which can be used to let the computer control your allies if you don't want to do it yourself. One you initiate combat, turns play out as both sides attack, either using their equipped weapons, magic or items. You can also swap weapons depending on what each ally has in their bag. In the item menu, you'll find that each character has a small set it items and equipment they can carry, while rest goes into the group bag. This forces the player to think ahead in what they let their characters carry.

But, why would you want to keep more than one weapon on hand? Well, as you level up, you can assign earned skill points on multiple character-specific skill sets. The higher these skills gets, the more special attacks they learn. During the heat of battle, swapping in a weapon with a skill you have can work in your favor.

As an obvious nod to Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball series, characters can Psyche up, taking turns to power up their next attack. While this may initially seem like your swapping one turn for a double-strong attack on the next, where Psyching up works is when you take a couple turns and then using a weapon-based special attack to do some real damage.

Along with the main quest, players can find entertainment in the Casinos or by collecting Mini Medals for Minnie, Princess of Medals. As with many other RPGs, DQ8 also features item creation, where the player finds recipes in an Alchemy Pot. This proves to be a nice diversion, but once you realize some of the ingredients are equipment you may have sold off, you may find yourself holding on to everything. This brings up the issue that money is hard to come by. Previously, you may have had to fight a lot of monsters just to gain levels, but this time around, you're going to need it for the money to make sure you're decently equipped.

While aesthetically nice, the maps you find throughout the game tend to be only moderately useful. Since you can't scan the map, you may have a hard time figuring out where you should go next. In dungeons, though, the maps are useful in keep players from getting lost.

Visually, Dragon Quest VIII launches the series into modern standards. Stylistically, the game fuses Akira Toriyama's character designs with Level-5's location and menu designs. The overall gameworld feels like the perfect translation of the original old school games into current generation technologies. The color palette is bright and colorful and the enemy designs are unique and stylish. Cities vary in size and feature a nice level of detail, finding a nice balance between staying within the style and featuring enough depth to make exploration worth it. There's often more than a few NPCs moving about and the animation of the characters and monsters is nicely done. Visual effects add a nice touch to the game, offering that added touch to the colorful gameworld.

The audio package is a nice step up from the older games. Sound effects and music are brought into modern styles, though both seem to be a bit repetitive, especially considering how long most players will play this title. The real star of the audio is the voice work, which isn't overly dramatic but fits nicely with the way the script is written. Yangus and Trode in particular are well done and delivery a bit of light comedy throughout the length of the story. If I had any complaints with the voice acting, I would say that the pacing feels a little long as some lines seem a little drawn out. But, it's nothing that can't be skipped to progress the conversation.

Structurally, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is solid game with little wrong with it. Controls and the in-game camera are well executed and most of the decisions made by the development team are excellent for this title. Whether you like the game or not is based largely on how much you enjoy old school turn-based gameplay, because despite the visual facelift, the gameplay core hasn't changed much. If you have no problem with a lot of random battles, many of which will task you as enemies are no pushover, then this title is calling your name. If the idea of lots of battles just to afford decent equipment doesn't sound like your thing, you may find the whole experience tedious.

With all that said, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is a great modernization of the series. Level-5 has captured Akira Toriyama's style perfectly, making the 2D to 3D leap perfect. Few old school series get such a great modernization like this. Considering the game easily clocks in well over 50 hours, any RPG fan will get their money's worth.

- - Kinderfeld

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