Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King  (Sony PlayStation 2, 2005) Reviews
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Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (Sony PlayStation 2, 2005)

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Dragon Warrior meets Final Fantasy

Dec 31, 2005 (Updated May 1, 2006)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Beautiful visuals and sound, vast world, tons to do, nearly flawless

Cons:Casinos are somewhat boring, missing voice acting

The Bottom Line: Finally, something for fans to be excited about!

I'm going to spare you the longwinded history of the Dragon Quest (known to us as Dragon Warrior) series, which generally boils down to this: as an RPG franchise, it's overshadowed by Final Fantasy, at least in the U.S. But Dragon Quest 8 changes all that; in a nutshell, this is a Dragon Warrior game with a Final Fantasy level of polish. While the gameplay stays true to the roots of the series, the presentation has been brought up to the highest of current standards. The graphics are crisp and clean, the music is a phenomenal orchestral score, and a huge amount of text has been voice acted. This is the game that could get people interested in the series again, or for the first time.

The story is an excellent example. You'll realize that this isn't a game that takes itself too seriously when, in the opening scene, a creature that looks like a more annoying version of Yoda calls for the "princess" who we find out is a horse. Sly humor and wordplay is scattered throughout the game, keeping things lighthearted as the fairly average story develops. See, annoying Yoda here isn't schizophrenic; he and the princess are under a curse that nearly destroyed an entire kingdom -- except for you, the hero, who was miraculously untouched.

The story isn't something out of a Dostoyevsky novel, but the way it's presented is a welcome relief from those RPG's that feel more like a movie than a game. In Dragon Quest 8, the story serves to move the game along, instead of the other way around. Cut scenes are evenly spread throughout the main quest, and they're all thankfully short, keeping things moving and focusing the action on the gameplay. This is a good thing, since the gameplay is, in a word, brilliant.

This is traditional turn-based, menu-driven RPG goodness. Dragon Quest 8 has no gimmicks like active timed battles (that devolve into repetitive mashing of one button) or 3,000 playable characters (even though 2,996 of them are nigh-useless). But don't think the battles are boring. You're going to need to use your head and pay attention, because your strategy and tactics may change at a moment's notice depending on what happens in any given turn. Fighting has a kinetic feel thanks to some creative camera work and the superb animations for different weapons and attacks.

Speaking of visuals, this game is one of the best arguments around for the use of cel-shading. Since the series' inception, Akira Toriyama (better known as the creator of Dragonball Z) has done all of the character art, including the hundreds of monsters. The combination of cel-shading and Toriyama's artwork feels like a living, breathing cartoon. Moreover, it's hard to find a visual flaw anywhere; even when someone has multiple layers of clothing, weapons, bags, and armor on them, nothing "pokes" through from one layer to another. The 3-D world that these 2-D-looking characters are thrown into is vast and colorful, and every area has its own distinct look and feel, from the barren desert to the frigid northern wastes to the bright casino town.

So what do you, y'know, actually do? The main quest is actually a series of quests nested within each other, taking you from one area to the next and eventually opening several continents for exploration. The goal from the start is to find and destroy the evil being who placed the curse on your land, but of course it turns into a much larger struggle. As you travel on foot, by sea, and later on by air, across the countryside, you'll run into battles, both random and specifically placed, and improve your characters' abilities and equipment. Two key elements come into play here, skill points and the alchemy pot.

Each of your four characters has six combat skills, and as they level up they earn points which can be distributed any way you choose. For example, I chose fisticuffs for my hero early in the game, and he learned attacks using his hands and feet and gained bonuses to unarmed combat -- but only when he was unarmed. Raising other skills will give other bonuses, or special spells or attacks, and since there are so many choices two players can end up with two very different parties. The alchemy pot is a way to combine items you find or buy to create new, rare, and more powerful ones. Some of the most powerful equipment in the game can only be made this way, making it a valuable game mechanic.

There's plenty to do outside of the main quest, too. Aside from exploring the countryside and finding all of the hidden items and special wandering monsters, there are side quests like the monster arena or the casinos. The monster arena is great and takes hours upon hours in and of itself, since you actually have to scout out and recruit the monsters by finding and defeating them. It provides a tangible benefit to the main quest, too, since your arena monsters can be called in to fight for you. I'm not as impressed with the casinos in this game compared to previous ones, because the three games (slots, bingo, and roulette) are all passive. You just sit there and see if you won or not. Still, some of the best items in the game can be won there, and it makes an interesting diversion.

Rounding out Dragon Quest 8's appeal is the first-class audio treatment. The background music is excellent, all done by a symphony orchestra, even having some nostalgic touches for fans of the series. Most of the dialogue in the game is voiced too, though this is a give and take; almost all of the voices are done with an English accent, so many of the people you meet end up sounding like Harry Potter rejects. Also, much of the non-story dialogue is not voiced, which is a disappointment. The voices then are an individual thing; some people may not find them appealing, but I thought the presentation was well done.

A note for parents: there is some mildly adult content in this game. We're not talking Grand Theft Auto or Playboy Mansion, here, but some of the female characters are a bit overly sexualized. Young teens can probably handle it, but keep it in mind when deciding if it's right for your child.

Dragon Quest 8 is a game so well crafted, you'd be a fool not to buy if it you're an RPG fan (the playable Final Fantasy 12 demo that comes with it doesn't hurt, either). It even appeals to non-RPG nuts and non-gamers too, thanks to the colorful art and unpretentious story. With more than 60 hours in the main quest, and many more hours tucked away in other corners, there's more than enough here to keep you going for a long time. If you're a fan of the Dragon Quest series, you won't be disappointed; if you're not, there's no better time to start than now.

Other games in the Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior universe:
Dragon Warrior 1&2
Dragon Warrior 3
Dragon Warrior 7
Dragon Warrior Monsters
Torneko, the Last Hope

Recommend this product? Yes

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