Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

The Dragon Quest VIII is a pretty old game, all things considered. It was released in the U.S. back in November 2005 for the Playstation 2. When it was released, it included a demo for Final Fantasy XII. So wow.. it’s about eight years old by the time I’m writing this. Eight years old for what’s probably the greatest Dragon Quest game of all time. But if there ever was one RPG out there that I would recommend people play, it would be this game. Dragon Quest VIII. It’s a really, really good game.

dragon quest 8

I’m hoping you had the pleasure of playing this masterpiece. You see, I’m a total Dragon Quest fanboy. I’ve played every single one. This one was the absolute best of the series, bar none. It took everything that’s great about the series and made it twenty times better! But, there’s a caviot with all of this. The Dragon Quest series is not for everyone. It has to do with the gameplay….

Gameplay

There’s a chance that you won’t care for the type of game Dragon Quest VIII is. All Dragon Quest games are, at heart, hack and slash. You fight and fight, level up enough to enter into the next area safely. Fight and fight to get enough gold to purchase more weapons and armor. Fight and fight to get purchase better items. Fight and fight to get certain item drops.

Dragon_quest_viii_battleAnd there’s not really much variety in the fights. You can press “attack” to use your weapon. Spells to cast a spell. Defend to take less damage. Items to use an item. Ability to use a spell-like ability (damage, healing, raise or lower stats, etc). Or you can pick Psyche Up for your next action to be far more effective (more damage, more HP healed, etc). Hundreds upon hundreds of battles, a lot of them using the same strategies. I know a lot of people who feel it gets repetitive. But, all Dragon Quest games have pretty much the same battle interface. You either love it or you hate it. I love it. But I get why others may not like it.

There are a couple of neat things in this game that’s a staple in most RPGs today and all MMOs. Item creation. You can mix certain items together, throw them in a pot, and wait to see what comes out. It’s the only way to get the best weapons and items in the game. Not to mention incredibly useful armor.

Jessica-avec-son-bustier-divinYes, that is armor for one of the characters. And yes, that is the best armor in the game for her. It gives her killer immunities and unbelievably high defense. This is one of the many armors that can be made. That character’s name is Jessica. More on her later on.

The other other thing to really point out about this game is the simplicity of the interface. Most of the overworld can be interacted with by pressing one button. To some, that may be something laughable, or something to be avoided…. as there are some great games out there with really unique ways of interacting with the environment. Dragon Quest VIII keeps it simple in order to keep the focus on the story. That way, all the player has to do is hit a button. If the door is unlocked, it opens. If there’s a pot there, the character will pick it up and break it (to check for items). If there’s a chest, it opens. If there’s a person, there will be a brief interaction. I like the simplicity.

Graphics

This was the first Dragon Quest that was in 3D. Dragon Quest I – VI was released in 2D. Dragon Quest VII was kinda in 3D.. in the same way that Final Fantasy Tactics was 3D.. meaning it was actually 2D, but the map was made all bumpy to give it that 3D look. This Dragon Quest looks like it is taking place in 3D. The castles have multiple levels. Like, when you climb up to the 2nd or 3rd level, it feels like you’re up higher. You can look down at the lower places easily. The environment in general feels a hell of a lot more immerse than any other Dragon Quest that came before it.  Take a look at the following video for a taste of that.

And in case you haven’t noticed, the art design was done by the great Akira Toriyama of Dragonball Z fame (yes, and Dragonball as well). It’s why the main character looks like Teen Gohan. I think it’s kind of cool, gives this game that extra oomph. Plus… you get to see a Super Saiyan in this… kinda. When you Psyche Up enough times, you can get this:

dragon_quest_viii_sc9

That’s the protagonist right there. I like the look. Maybe it’s because I dig DBZ Abridged (Team Four Star guys… check it out, seriously). But when I look at that picture, I see a guy who is about to do serious damage to the enemy.

I know the graphics will look a touch dated when compared to today’s games. This game is from two console generations ago! So it would be a huge disservice if I didn’t emphasize that. Don’t go in there and expect super high-definition stuff that you get these days. The pictures you see on this blog is what you’ll get in the game. To me… it looks like an anime that I can play as an RPG. Maybe you’ll see it the same way! I sure hope so!

Story

There are many, many story threads that run through this game, all tied together flawlessly. The main storyline deals with the cursed king. The protagonist was a castle guard (you can name him whatever you want). The castle was attacked by a strange man called Dhoulmagus. Dhoulmagus cursed everyone, turning most of the inhabitants into strange plant-like beings. The king was turned into a frog-troll-thinggy… and Princess Medea was turned into a horse. The only one not effected by the curse was the hero. The first part of the game was all about tracking Dhoulmagus down.

Dhoulmagus

Creepy guy up there? That’s Dhoulmagus. A very powerful sorcerer who poses as a court jester. On the trip to track him down, you find out that he’s systematically killing specific people. You don’t learn why in the beginning, but you do try to stop him. On the way, you meet several people. You meet Yangus, a former thief/pirate who is loyal to the hero (calls him ‘Gov) because the hero spared his life. You learn Yangus was a man without a purpose, having lost the woman of his dreams. He becomes a better person because of the hero and eventually becomes worthy of his love’s attention. You meet Jessica, the token hot chick of this game. She’s… not what you’d expect. She’s a down to earth woman who wants to avenge her brother’s death… yes, he was killed by Dhoulmagus as well. And finally, you meet Angelo. Angelo was a monk at a local monastery. And the Abbot was killed by Dhoulmagus. So everyone comes together for their own reasons….

Left to right: Angelo, Jessica, Hero, Yangus

Left to right: Angelo, Jessica, Hero, Yangus

What gets me about this game is the sheer scope of it. Most Dragon Quest games were pretty straight forward.. maybe only one or two twists. This… this had more. There are a lot of unexpected plot twists and turns, leaving me guessing every step of the way. And not in a bad way, like twists were there for the sake of being there (like the TV show Alias). The unexpected was there mainly because the player couldn’t tell the future. We didn’t know what NPCs were thinking or what was behind the next corner. Political assassinations and plain old murders were an incredible touch. I know I’ve said before that some video games are hard to summarize. This is one of them. Every character is complex, each with their own motivation and storyarc. Plus, each town and area has its own stories with difficulties for the hero to help resolve. For example, one kingdom the group comes across is stuck in perpetual mourning because the king’s wife died. In order to help the king deal with his grief (important for getting a much needed item that the king possesses), you have to quest to meet with an other-worldly being that can reawaken dreams and memories. The king was able to see his wife one more time, remembering the strength that she gave him.

Ishmahri2One of the stories that went through this entire game, that I loved to no end, was the relationship between the hero and Medea. Medea was supposed to marry a Prince… and the Prince she was supposed to marry was a total tool. He was a crybaby who hid from all his responsibilities. He whined and mopped around, doing everything he could to cheat and take the easy path in life. When the hero agreed to help the Prince on his coming of age mission (getting a gem… the king asked the hero for help with it), the Prince actually beat on Medea, calling her a stupid horse. I wanted to have the hero run a sword through that prick’s head so badly…

But after that, the hero and Medea grew closer and closer. They couldn’t marry. Heck, because of the curse, Medea couldn’t have any relationship at all. What was the hero going to do? Have sex with a horse?

th

…..

Okay, that image is burnt into my mind forever. Damn Japanese sickos. Anywho, the hero learns that his father was actually the son of a Prince. The king (the one whose son you helped) learned of this and agreed to let the hero marry Medea rather than his no-good son. This was part of the “awesome” ending if you complete everything in the game including the optional boss at the end. It was a satisfying ending in every way, one that was building since the beginning of the game when you learned what happened to the Princess.

LLdq8-Medea05So I’m a romantic at heart. So sue me. I like stories where the hero gets the girl and love conquers all. And that’s one of the many stories with in this masterpiece of a game.

Concluding Thoughts

Look, I can go on and on about this game. The soundtrack is majestic while paying homage to the Dragon Quest games that came before it. The graphics are superb for their time. The story will draw you in within minutes, easily. Everything about the game is intuitive. The world is sizable, giving a lot of fun places to explore.

You really, really need to check this game out. Pick it up used from Amazon for like $15, or pay $30 to get it new. It’s well worth the investment.

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