-Console: Playstation 2
-ESRB Rating: Teen
-Genre: RPG (Role Playing Game)
-#Of Players: 1
-Difficulty: Above Average
-Published by: Square Enix
-Developed by: Level 5
-Memory card usage: 177 KB
-#Of Disks: 2 (Final Fantasy XII Demo included)
In Japan the Dragon Quest series is so popular, it is banned from being released on weekdays because of the threat of everyone skipping out on work and school to play it. It is that huge, even more popular than Square’s other RPG series, Final Fantasy. This is the first game in the series to finally make the jump to fully 3-d environments. Will it be able to catch the eye of RPG gamers around the world with its lengthy story and traditional game play?
While the storyline has elements that are cliché, it is always feels much better than the norm. Players are set in the role of the unnamed main character, an average guardsman who mysteriously survived a magical curse on his home kingdom of Trodain. He awakes to find the kingdom destroyed and enveloped in thorny vines, the king turned into a goblin-like creature and the lovely princess turned into a horse. So the three of them set out to find the evil jester Dhoulmagus, the one responsible for the destruction. Through out the story players will find a world with vibrant characters, and compelling storytelling. The allies that gamers will meet on their adventure are defined and memorable. One of the more enjoyable features was the ability to talk to the other party members in the storyline with the push of the start button. Pretty much anytime players are outside of a battle or a story segment, the allies can be spoken with. The game encourages players to do this often. Not only are they a useful way to get back on track after a long hiatus, they are simply fun to listen to. This detail goes a long way toward fleshing out everyone. By the time players reach the end of the story, they will really feel a bond with their allies. Every time the storyline seems to get a little stale at times, a new revelation in the story will give the adventure new life, which is great since completing the main quest takes a very long time.
The music in DQ VIII is well done. The orchestrated melodies perfectly capture the epic adventure theme. It manages to be relaxing but not intrusive into the overall experience. Though there isn’t enough variety. It would have been nice to hear different tunes in different areas, but most villages, dungeons, etc. fall victim to having the same 2 or 3 songs played over and over again.
The voice-overs are done very well too. Most of the characters in DQ VIII have European accents. In many games a mistake in misrepresenting the accents properly could have ruined the whole experience, this game makes it a refreshing change. All of the voiced dialogue has a natural, realistic feel, and easily keeps adventurers attentive to the events taking place. Though it does fall into the same trap as the music. It would have been nice if there were more of it. Especially since both sound and music are so well done.
One of the main stars of DQ VIII is the world itself. It is truly and enjoyable experience. DQ VIII takes the idea of exploration to a whole new level, and seeing what is just beyond the horizon becomes an obsession like no other. Walking around on the world map actually feels like walking around in a real environment. Traveling through a forest and finding wild horses and cattle grazing is a nice touch. Adventurers can wander quite a distance off of the beaten path to find all sorts of interesting treasures. Areas that are seen way off in the horizon can actually be reached. It is a wonderful feeling.
The people at Level 5 have finally perfected their cel-shading technique, bringing visuals that surpass Dark Cloud 2’s. They perfectly capture Akira Toriyama’s (creator of the popular Dragon Ball series) art style making players feel like they are journeying through their own medieval anime adventure. Everything is easy on the eyes.
Though, there are a few complaints, the game occasionally suffers from a bit of slowdown when felling many enemies at once, also there is a lengthy delay when players try to access the menu immediately after entering a location. Even if the monster designs are wonderfully done, it is sad to see the constant use of pallet swapping. It is a situation in which game developers reuse the same monster design, but switch the colors on the model to make a new character. I would have hoped that the genre had moved past that, or found a way to use it less by now. Also there are a few situations that weapons and clothing will pass through clothing as characters walk around.
The fighting in Dragon Quest is turn based. Players line up against a group of monsters and take turns bonking each other on the head until one group dies. Though it can sound boring, DQ VIII has fine-tuned the process to near perfection. The game is very easy to get into, and fans of the genre should feel right at home in the battle environment. A nice change with this system compared to others is the ability to switch out weapons on the fly during a battle. When a character levels up, they get skill points that they can use to strengthen their proficiency with certain weapons. The higher the weapon skill level gets, the more special moves and added abilities become available.
Higher random encounters can become a nuisance, especially since attacks by groups of 7 or more monsters are rather common. It makes solving the puzzles in the dungeons aggravating at times. Everything in the game is really expensive too. Enemies rarely drop any substantial amount of money, so equipping all of the characters with the latest equipment can become a long drawn out process. The Alchemy pot tires to remedy this with mixed results. Players can mix items and old equipment up to make new, better stuff. It also would have been nice if more information were placed in the help menu in the game. Constantly trekking back to the same city to see one person who can tell you when a skill is going to level up, or what the benefits of using that type of weapon is a hassle. With games like Dark Cloud 2 that nearly dissect the whole game in their menus, it would have been nice to see more effort in this area.
Much of the game’s longevity comes simply completing it. As mentioned earlier, it does take a very long time to complete it. Most of the side-quests can be done with relative ease. Though some will add an extra chunk of playtime in the long run. Combat can get stale while progressing through side quests, especially since there is little story to keep players motivated. Exploring the world map and finding all of the hidden treasures, or searching for monsters to add to a monster arena team can downright be obsessive at times.
Final Score: 9.5/10
Quite frankly, this game reminded me why I still love to play videogames. Dragon Quest VIII is truly epic in its scale. In almost every way it is clearly apparent that the folks behind this game did everything they could to make it a memorable experience. The flaws that were mentioned don’t ruin the overall experience. After playing this game, I know why this game isn’t released in Japan on a weekday. It is a classic experience, and fans of this genre shouldn’t miss out. It is not only one of the best RPGs in this console generation, but one of the best RPGs period. The FFXII demo disc is but icing on an already delicious cake. If you are able to buy this game and you haven’t please go and do so.
By Plumbum Sol