This review was originally posted on Nintendo Scene on 4th February 2017.
First review of 2017, and what a surprise, it’s another JRPG. After the incredible remaster of Dragon Quest VII on 3DS, which you can find my (overwhelmingly positive) review of here, now I have have the joy of playing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2004, Dragon Quest VIII is arguably considered to be one of the best in the franchise and now theme is playable on the move.
The story of VIII is wonderfully typical of the Dragon Quest games, so expect the typical great evil covering the world, single great hero rising up to take it on with the player controlling them. The delightful thing about Dragon Quest VIII is that, especially in comparison to the seventh and ninth main games, the story begins immediately and throws the player into the world and it’s characters from the outset. Therefore the game is lacking the “slow-burning” starts that most JRPGs have. The player character is a mercenary hired by the titular Cursed King to help him find the man that cursed him, and this is learned within the first few minutes. Needless to say that this is not all there is to the story, but I endeavour to avoid spoilers.
Mechanically, this game is business as usual for its genre. 3D exploration of various locales and dungeons with occasional turn-based battle thrown in for good measure. The battles are very familiar with the entire turn of the player being played out in advance, meaning that the player has to think ahead with certain strategies such as healing because once your turn is confirmed it will play out both your and the enemies moves before allowing another turn. Also, making its debut in VIII is the “Tension” system, which allows the player to skip a character’s turn to “Psyche Up”, making their next attack stronger. What’s more, this effect can be stacked over a series of turns to increase power even more.
I’ve often preferred the turn method of turn-based gameplay (perfected, in my opinion, in the Bravely series), and Dragon Quest VIII is a very solid example of it. One issue I do have with this title is that grinding battles to gain experience appears to be a necessity to continue, which weakens the overall package somewhat. I acknowledge that grinding is often required in the mid-end game of a lot of JRPGs (not that it should be) but this title requires grinding for the first boss, which is far too early to be expecting that kind of repetition. This could, for some players (like myself), instil a feeling of boredom in the early part of the game; a potentially fatal flaw for a game designed to last 40+ hours.
Outside of battles, the standard exploratory nature of the genre is found in abundance. Towns thriving with life and expressive characters to meet, the given stance in the genre of robbing every house you visit, a simply huge (but sadly mostly empty) world to explore, and intricately designed and unique dungeons throughout. Also, making it’s debut in this game is the Alchemy Pot, allowing the mixing of items to create new and stronger ones in their place. Furthermore, the player has access to a cute little critter called Munchie that can be used to explore certain areas of the game from a mouse-height view, making for some interesting puzzles as you try to work out how to traverse a world now far bigger than you.
Aesthetically, the eighth instalment truly outshines almost all of those that come before (and after) it. The change to fully-3D exploration perfectly suits the world that you are exploring. As opposed to some of the other titles, everything is designed to scale with the player-character, making the entire experience more immersive and cohesive. The visuals are of the same bright and colourful ilk that most would expect from the Dragon Quest series, and all of the adorable (and not-so-adorable) enemies return such as the Slimes and Sanguinis. Also, the addition of full voice acting to the game really fleshes out the characters and makes them far more believable and endearing, especially Yangus (you’ll see what I mean). Musically, the game (as Dragon Quest tends to be) is incredible. Every track perfectly sets the mood, and VIII’s main battle theme is one of my favourites in the whole series. Also, all the classic Dragon Quest themes return from the adorably twee main menu music, to the epic opening song. Dragon Quest VIII, in short, is a beautifully realised package.
So, should you play Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King? If you’re a fan of the series and haven’t played this title before, then my answer is an overwhelming yes. However, if you aren’t, I would give this title a wide berth and play Dragon Quest VII instead. I personally find DQVII a far better package overall; the characters and story are better, the mechanics are marginally simpler, plus it lacks the laborious opening segment of gameplay (although is traded off with a far slower start on the story). Sadly, I can’t fully recommend this game to most people, but it’s more than worth a play for fans.
Thank you to Nintendo for supplying a review copy of this title.