Review – Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

Information about Dragon Quest VIII:
Consoles Game is Available for: Playstation 2
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Developer/Publisher: Level 5/Square-Enix
US Release Date: November 2005

When Dragon Quest VIII was announced way-back-when, it’s an understatement to say I was excited for it.  I’m a huge fan of the series, and while VII disappointed me a little, it looked like this next game in the long-running series was shaping up to be something great.  Also, it was the first Dragon Quest game headed by Level 5, so no one knows how it was going to work out.  Well, did it meet MY expectations? Read on to find out.

Let’s start with the story.  You’re the Hero (that’s the placeholder name, you can call him whatever you like), and well… you’re on a journey with your cursed king to un-curse him.  Obviously, the story’s more complicated than that, but that about sums it up.  Anyway, the one that cursed the king of Trodain is running around the countryside, causing mischief and killing people, and you spend a good deal of the game chasing after him.  Of course, as one would expect from a modern-day RPG, not everything is as it seemed, and new facts and plot twists will be slowly brought to light.  And I mean slowly: the game’s main story clocks in at around 70 hours, which is a hefty chuck of Dragon Quest.  That’ not really a bad thing, though; while there are times where you get little story for the effort, or just have to walk through the overworld for a little too long, you typically get storyline equal to the amount of effort you had to put for that walking or fighting through that last dungeon.  Also worthy of note is the game’s overall light-hearted demeanor: combined with the colorful graphics, the wise-cracks and comic relief make the game seem happier, even though if you look past that the story to DQVIII is surprisingly dark.  Overall, the story isn’t going to change your view on videogame storytelling or whatnot, but it’s an acceptable story that keeps the game going.

As for gameplay, it’s mostly what you’d expect from a Dragon Quest game.  The battles are turn based affairs, and the game has skills and spells from earlier Dragon Quest games.  What’s different, though, id the skill point system.  At every level up, the characters get skill points, which you can put into any combination of four weapon classes, or a character-specific class.  It allows you to customize you characters a bit, though even if you don’t put points into a weapon class, you can still use that weapon, you just won’t have any weapon skills or increased attack for it.  The skill system’s pretty simplistic, but it’s effective.

As for out of battles, like the series itself, it’s a typical RPG affair.  Run around town, talk to people for your next objective, move on.  The only problem is, “moving on” can sometimes take a bit too long.  The game world is pretty big, but not all of it is filled with places to go and things to do.  Especially before you get faster transportation, sometimes you’ll find yourself wandering the world map for a long time.  Seeing as I liked to explore other routes, there’d be a lot of times I’d explore the map for over an hour with nothing to show for it.  It gets better when you get the Sabercat and other transportation and spells to keep monsters away, but that doesn’t stop the annoyance of walking down a long path to get nothing out of it…

Even if sometimes it drags, and even though it’s nothing new, the gameplay is still solid, and the tried-and-true Dragon Quest play style still prevails.  Of course, that’s a bit hit-or-miss with most people… if you liked older games in the series, you’ll still like VIII, but if you didn’t… well, it’s more up in the air.  It’s worth a shot, but your opinion of the series probably won’t change by playing DQVIII.

Onward to the graphics and music… which are both simply gorgeous.  DQVIII upgraded its graphics greatly from the series’ previous games, which usually looked a bit outdated.  The cel-shading is done very nicely, and the graphics never seem to hiccup or give rise to any ugliness.  The music is also wonderful, with both redone tracks from previous games and new tracks played wonderfully by an orchestra.  It never got old, even when I heard the same battle music 2,000 times before.  Unlike any of the previous games in the main Dragon Quest line, VIII’s presentation is top notch.

Of course, now comes the question… should you buy it?  Well, this game’s four years old now, and on a “last-gen” system, so it’s not like you’re plunking down $50 for it.  Also, it ended up being popular among RPG fans, so chances are you can find a friend who you can borrow it from.  So, while asking to buy it may be a vague question, I personally think you should TRY the game if you like RPGs.  If you don’t, I highly suggest against it, since DQVIII is pretty much the definition of the RPG genre through and through.