Dragon Quest VIII

"Dost thou love me?... But thou must!" -- Princess Gwaelin, from Dragon Warrior 1

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Dragon Quest VIII is the sort of game that will conjure memories of Saturday mornings spent hunched over a Nintendo controller, with burning, sleep-crusted eyes and a mouth rimmed with cereal crumbs. If you have no such memories, then this game will probably not appeal to you; the mechanics and plot line will seem hopelessly elementary, especially compared to newer titles like Final Fantasy X or Star Ocean 3. I suggest you go pop in GTA instead.

That's because you can only truly appreciate Dragon Quest VIII in the context of its predecessors, those frustrating, minimalist experiments like Wizardry and Final Fantasy, those games that drove you to hurl controllers, swear clumsily, and kick your little sister. If you remember those games, then you should already understand this one. Dragon Quest VIII is Dragon Warrior renovated, updated, and forced to play fair. It's like coming home, only to find home much nicer than you left it.

You, the hero, are a lowly grunt in the Royal Guard of Castle Trodain. Due to a curse from the evil jester Dhoulmagus, your hometown now lies in thorn-covered ruins, all its inhabitants comatose. Only three of you escaped: King Trode, transformed by the curse into a hobbling frog-monster; Princess Medea, also changed by the curse into a lovely white horse; and you--strangely enough, you suffered no ill effect. Together, the three of you search for Dhoulmagus, in the hopes that defeating him will end the curse and restore Trodain. Along the way, you recruit three party members: Yangus, a reformed bandit; Jessica, a sexy sorceress; and Angelo, a delightfully slimy Templar Knight. Insert adventures here.

The story isn't rocket science. It's simplistic, archetypical, and more than a little predictable. But I didn't care and neither will you, because, unlike most Japanese RPGs these days, Dragon Quest VIII is deliciously devoid of angst.

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The gameplay is just as simple as the plot. You beat up monsters, you level up, rinse, and repeat. Each of your party members has five Skills, and for every level you earn, you gain Skill Points, which you may distribute as you choose. You get 350 points for 99 levels, meaning you can max out three Skills. The end. Isn't that easy? (Of course, just because the game is simple doesn't make it hack-and-slash. If your sole strategy is to hit stuff until it dies, then you won't make it past the first dungeon.)

Like the Final Fantasy games, Dragon Quest VIII requires no knowledge of the previous seven titles. It's a good thing, too, since my experience with the series consists entirely of the free but achingly tedious Dragon Warrior, a.k.a. The Worst Game Ever Made. What's intriguing is that Dragon Quest VIII pulls so heavily from Dragon Warrior, only to succeed where the earlier game failed. Characters still require power-leveling. Equipment is still prohibitively expensive. Enemies, no matter how small and cute they are, can still kill you with a critical hit. But, whereas all these elements killed the original Dragon Warrior, they've now become strengths of Dragon Quest VIII.

I think this is due to certain concessions on the developers' part, which even the playing field. For instance: you spend most of your time in the game desperately impoverished, even up to the very end. To make up for this destitution, the developers added in an Alchemy Pot. Now if you can't buy the items you need, you simply can make them from scrap parts, leftovers, and hand-me-downs. This process takes time, effort, and resources, of course, but it's much better than hunting Gold Golems for hours on end. And without the Alchemy Pot, you'd be stuck in abject poverty and no way out but controller-throwing and sister-kicking.

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The game is exceptional in other areas besides gameplay. If nothing else, Dragon Quest VIII should be lauded for its artwork, music, and voice acting.

This game is one of the best looking PS2 games we will ever see; in my opinion, it even puts the accompanying FFXII demo to shame. The stunning environments and art direction combine Akira Toriyama's character design (yes, it's Dragon Ball, but it's good Dragon Ball) and Level 5's cel-shading (see Dark Cloud 2 for another example of their work). The game is painted in that bright, bold color palette currently out of fashion, the type of colors you'd see in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. You can easily lose yourself in the sprawling hills, rolling mountains, cramped forests, rocky tundras, and babbling streams. And the enemies--oh, they're so cute.

Equally excellent is the music. Fully orchestrated, this score pulls from previous themes in the series (particularly the opening credits and the battle songs), which work together to build a stirring, heroic swell. But it's never overpowering: the music supplements the action, rather than overshadowing it.

With one or two minor exceptions, the voice acting is a delight. (As any fan of RPGs knows, this is a rare compliment.) Dragon Quest VIII's main speaking characters--Yangus, Jessica, Angelo, Trode, and Medea--have pitch perfect tones, accents, and inflections. Trode really does sound like a king who's been turned into a frog monster, and Yangus's melodic Cockney accent truly sounds like the voice of a criminal. Only the voices of a few minor characters, like Kalderasha and Marta, grated on my nerves (but then again, you don't have to listen to them for long).

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Even with all of these successful ingredients, I'm not convinced that Dragon Quest VIII could addict a novice or a non-RPG gamer. It relies too heavily on a thick foundation of nostalgia. That's not to say this isn't a good game--because it is, it's brilliant, the best of its kind--but it isn't for everyone.

But if you are one of those people, those tired, poor, huddled RPG-loving masses, you better cancel your Friday dates and quit your day job, because once you pop this sucker into the Playstation, you'll be in love. (A word to the wise, however: this time, try not to throw your controller when a slime kicks your ass.)

[i]Dragon Quest VIII[/i]
Official Site
Release Date: November 2005
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Square-Enix

Comments

Some Crazy Person wrote:

Dragon Warrior, a.k.a. The Worst Game Ever Made.

I'm sorry... you lost me there.

COR BLIMEY! Great Review.

I am still LOVING this game. It's easily in my top 10 of all time, although my feelings might change by the end. I am about 46 hours in and I haven't yet made it to the Dark Ruins (for the 2nd time), which seems to be roughly the 1/2-way point. I am a bit of a "collector" and have backtracked to all the the chests, have done a bit of power leveling for the Ruins and messed around with the "Arena" a little bit, but I don't feel like I have been wasting time or that the game is dragging.

I totally agree with the comments on the graphics. They seem simple at first, but the colors are so rich and consistant that I find myself stopping to look around in the first person view quite frequently. The voice acting is really good, but I am puzzled as to why everyone sounds British. My only complaint so far is Morrie, who sounds like he learned Italian from an Olive Garden menu.

I suggest you go pop in GTA instead.

I haven't read past this yet, but I love it!

Even with all of these successful ingredients, I'm not convinced that Dragon Quest VIII could addict a novice or a non-RPG gamer. It relies too heavily on a thick foundation of nostalgia.

You could cite me as evidence that this is true. I completely bypassed Final Fantasy and all related games as a youth, and though I can appreciate a good turn-based JRPG, the genre doesn't usually light my fire. I loved this one for about twelve hours, and that was enough. I can easily see how a longtime enthusiast would absolutely adore this game, though.

Warlock wrote:
Some Crazy Person wrote:

Dragon Warrior, a.k.a. The Worst Game Ever Made.

I'm sorry... you lost me there.

That had me scratching my head a bit as well, but it's understandable. The original was rather unforgiving.

All in all, a spot-on review, Katerin. I haven't made it all the way through yet, but I'm suprised how much fun I'm having just wandering around.

Great review.

I don't agree that novices can get into it but the rest is very spot on.

I wanted to review this, but I'm just not as good a writer as our premiere article-writers. That makes me a sad panda!

And yes, loving this game! 55 hours in, only a bit past the 2nd visit to the Dark Ruins (avoid spoilers here), and this is easily one of the best game purchases I made in 2005. I name it my Game of the Year. And that's with stiff competition from the likes of Resident Evil 4, Civilization 4, and Advance Wars DS!

Spot on, Katerin! I had offered to write a review, but I think you've done a far better job than I would have!

*applause*

And yes, it's a fabulous game. Highly recommended!

KaterinLHC wrote:

Only the voices of a few minor characters, like Kalderasha and Marta, grated on my nerves (but then again, you don't have to listen to them for long).

Kalderasha and Marta didn't bother me too much. Cash and Carrie (who I just now encountered), however, are making my ears bleed.

Other than that, I couldn't agree more with your excellent review; so far, my experiences with this game pretty much line up with yours.

Dragon Quest VIII has been one of the best things to happen to my gaming world in a long time - Not just the great nostalgia of the series, but the great non-gimmicky battle system.

I'm currently trying to suffer my way through Magna Carta: Tears of Blood. I'm still playing it, but the voice acting is atrocious and the battle system a sad little flag waving that says 'If I only I'd been turn-based, what could have been!' - I'm still trudging along because it's keeping my interest and I know that getting back to Dragon Quest VIII awaits me when I'm done.

Dragon Warrior I... eh, I loved it, and still do. I started through it a few months ago and was hooked when I heard the overland music for the first time in over ten years... dooo doo do.. bum du duuu duu du du bo doo doo... yes, that's exactly what it sounds like. I tend to forgive a lot of trespasses when a game maintains true turn based status without gimmicky timers. I guess the power of Nostalgia is too strong to make me feel anything but fondness for Dragon Warrior I, even with having to select 'stairs' from a menu to use the stairs.

As far as Dragon Warrior being the worst game ever, I imagine that is to be taken with a grain of salt. There is truth there. Do not let nostalgia gloss over the simple fact that a lot of older games were just plain bad. As much as I loved Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, RPGs and games in general have come a long way as far as being player friendly.

Let's be honest, a lot of games on the NES were just plain too hard. Sure I beat FF and DW, but goddamn were those things a huge pain. If you lost to the end bosses, oh boy, time to traverse the ENTIRE FREAKING END DUNGEONS AGAIN! Joy. Thank goodness for quick saves and save points.

Shakespearette wrote:

deliciously devoid of angst

Kat, your wonderful writing tickled my fancy yet again. No desire to play this game, but that didn't stop me from reading every word.

Dragon Warrior, a.k.a. The Worst Game Ever Made.

This statement is simply mind-boggling.

Hey, I'm stuck at the dark ruins, I got the sun mirror and everything but how do i defeat the bss, What level should I be?

rinais_dragonquestmad wrote:

Hey, I'm stuck at the dark ruins, I got the sun mirror and everything but how do i defeat the bss, What level should I be?

www.gamefaqs.com

Defeat the first boss, doesn't matter if you die on the second, you need full health anyhow, you need (you) to be at level 30 at least, yangus 29 at least, angelo and jessica at 28 at least. if you die you don't need to fight the first again if you die on the 2nd boss.
Call monster team if you have a decent one.
You and angelo healing
yangus use abilities
jessica use boom

I finally sat down recently and gave this game some real play time and I am glad I did. This is one of the best RPGs I have played in years, second only to Dragon Age. The "older" style game play is just what I needed. Between this game and the Dragon Age games, I may never get around to Final Fantasy 13.

Kudos to Square Enix for injecting a much needed does of sexy into the series in the form of Jessica. Boy, she just threw those puppies right out there, didn't she? I suppose we can put her in the same RPG Hotties category as Tifa, Lulu and Morrigan.

Now I am wondering if we will see a DQ game for the PS3/360. I hope so.

Thanks for the review!