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Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King Review

Intro
We haven’t seen too many of the Dragon Quest games make their way over to the US since the original Dragon Quest game made its debut in 1989 as Dragon Warrior on the NES.  Thankfully, Square Enix made the excellent decision to bring this game stateside.  Square Enix even added voice acting, enhanced music, and a playable Final Fantasy 12 demo (will not be included with the EU release) to this release of Dragon Quest VIII.

The story...
The basic story of Dragon Quest VIII is a mysterious jester steals a scepter from the kingdom of Trodain and casts a curse upon the kingdom which leaves all its inhabitants transformed into thorny plants, except for the King and Princess, who were both transformed into monster and a horse, respectively.   The main character, you, is the only person who, somehow, escaped the curse.  Now, you venture out with the King and his daughter to find the jester that wreaked havoc on the Kingdom and stop him, so his curse can be reversed.

Of course, this is quite a big task for just you, the King and his daughter (both of whom aren’t playable), so as you progress though the game, you will meet three companions (Yangus, Jessica, and Angelo) that will help you with the quest.

The story in Dragon Quest VIII is actually pretty solid and really drew me in.  Something I like about the story is that it felt fresh and it didn’t feel like I had played it before in some other game.  It also contained the right amount of plot twists to make it fairly unpredictable.

However, I can’t say that the story is without flaws.  There are some times during the game where some events spawn quests that seem like they’re just there to give the player more to do.  Quests like you need X item to get further in the game and to get X item you need to complete a quest for someone.  However, once you complete the quest, you find that the X item you need has been stolen (or some other crazy reason for it not being there) from the person and it leads to another side quest.  Seriously, these quests are unneeded.  The game is already some 80-100 hours long (if you do everything) and it really slows down the pace of the game too much and makes it drag on at points.

There are also some events in the story that can be a bit unbelievable and leave you saying “how is that possible?”  I’d love to share these events with you, but they really are major points in the story and would be a real spoiler.

A beautiful world to explore
The release of Dragon Quest VIII marks the series’ first venture into a fully 3D world and Level-5, who also did the Dark Cloud series, pulls it off perfectly using cel-shading.

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of cel-shading, but I can say, without a doubt, that cel-shading is a perfect match for Dragon Quest VIII.  The use of cel-shading brings the world of Dragon Quest VIII, its characters and enemies to life.

Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball, Chrono Trigger, Tobal No. 1) did the character and monster designs which I found to be quite good.  Toriyama stayed true to the original enemy character designs when bringing back some of the classic enemies from the old Dragon Quest games.  Something to note, all of the enemies are now fully animated as they attack you during battle sequences…looks really good.

Plenty to do in Dragon Quest VIII
If you love long games, you will be thrilled to hear that DQ8 is a really long game.  Depending on your play style and how good you are at the game, it could probably be beaten in around 80 hours on the first play through.  However, if you accomplish everything there is to do, you are looking at a game that can take well over 100 hours to complete.

Something that adds to the length of the game is the difficulty.  Some of the battles, mainly boss battles, can be extremely hard and require a bit of leveling up characters before you will be able to beat them.  There were about two or three times in the game where I got to a boss enemy and I was just way too underpowered to even stand a chance.  Oddly enough, this happened with the very first boss of the game.  I don’t think I’ve ever had my ass handed to me this bad by a first boss in a RPG in all my years of gaming. Thanks Square Enix/Level-5!

If you aren’t a fan of leveling up characters, you might be put off by what I just said, but don’t be.  The game world is huge and there are tons of things to see all over the world and chests hidden in different places.  Chances are, if you are exploring the world like you should, you won’t get into too many situations where you need to spend an excessive amount of time leveling since you are fighting random encounters as you travel.

So not only do you have the main part of the game to complete, you’ll also have the optional extended game after you complete the main quest that helps complete the whole story for all the characters and get an even better ending to the game.

On top of that, you also have mini-medals to find in the world and by delivering them to Princess Minnie, a character you meet later in the game, she will give you new items that range from weapons, armor or things to use in the Alchemy Pot.

Alchemy pot?  Oh yeah, I haven’t talked about this little gem called the alchemy pot.  During the game you will find worthless items like cheese, molds, old weapons/armor and stuff that you just won’t use.  However, instead of throwing these items away or selling them, you will find recipes for the alchemy pot as you progress in the game.  You basically toss these items into the alchemy pot and let them cook as you play.  When they are finished cooking, you will have a better item than the worthless stuff you started off with.  The alchemy pot is also used for making some of the best weapons and armor in the game for all your characters.

And if all this wasn’t enough to do, you can also defeat certain enemies you find in the world and recruit them for your Monster Team and face off against other teams in the Monster Arena and win fantastic prizes and some new in-battle abilities.

How does it sound?
All of the music in Dragon Quest VIII (and all the other Dragon Quest games) was composed by Koichi Sugiyama and is fully orchestrated.  It’s all extremely well done and sounds wonderful.  Here’s the problem, they didn’t put enough music into the game and music constantly gets recycled during various events and new areas of the game.

Each town uses the same theme music.  The overworld music never changes, no matter what events are happening or where you travel to in the world.  Plus, on top of all this, there is only one generic battle theme for non-boss battles….and you fight a lot of battles in the course of this game.

Voice Acting
One of the things that makes all of the major characters in the game feel more “real” is the addition of voice acting in Dragon Quest VIII.  It makes all the characters come alive and have some added depth to them that you just don’t get from only reading text on a screen when they talk.   

The translation of the game is done in British English and, for most major characters; the voice actors are also British.  All of the voice acting is extremely well done and all of the voices seem to fit their characters perfectly.  Ricky Grover, who does the voice of Yangus, does an especially good job and has some great lines that are delivered so well to make him one of my favorite characters in the game.

Controls/Battle
As you wander the world of Dragon Quest VIII, you will fight random battles.  Battles are turn based, much like the other games in the Dragon Quest series. 

In combat, you pick all the actions for all the people in your party.  You can either use melee attacks, special attacks (which you gain from putting points into your skills), magic (offensive and defensive), psyche-up (which causes the character to skip a turn of combat to raise their tension level which will allow them to do an attack that does more damage than a standard attack on their next turn), or defend (which causes them to block any attacks that come their way so they take less damage).

When you level up your characters, you are allowed to put points into their skills.  The skills range from different weapon types to sex appeal (seriously) to courage which all depends on the character.  By putting points into skills, you will gain new abilities to use in battle or become more proficient with a weapon type and gain bonuses for using that weapon type in battle.

Final Thoughts
I hardly ever find myself playing a single player game for more than 50 hours.  Typically I get bored or have other things to do, but man, Dragon Quest VIII is just one of those games that sucks you in and makes you come home and just sit in front of the TV for hours and hours at a crack.

Dragon Quest VIII is one of the most enjoyable RPGs that I’ve played on the PlayStation 2 in quite a while and would recommend it to any RPG fan.

Reviewed: 03/07/2006 by Nathias
Game Stats
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Level-5
  • Genre: RPG
  • ESRB Rating: Teen
  • Price: $49.99
  • Platform: Playstation 2
  • Multiplayer Support: Number of Players: 1
Final Word
9.2
  • Concept: 9
  • A great RPG with a solid story and memorable characters.

  • Graphics: 9.5
  • Beautiful cel-shaded graphics.

  • Sound: 8.5
  • The music gets repetitive, but the voice acting is superb.

  • Playability: 9.5
  • Very easy to control and navigate menus.

  • Entertainment: 9.5
  • Highly entertaining with plenty to do.

  • Replay Value: High