There are few franchises that cause me to clear my calendar of every other video game I’m playing than Dragon Quest. January was a very busy month for game releases (thanks, Sega), but I knew I had to have time to devote all my attention to Dragon Quest VIII, and I did. For good reason. The game is fantastic.
In the game you play as a nameless Hero (that you get to give a name) who is a member of the Royal Guard for King Trode. The King and his daughter have been cursed by a jester named Dhoulmagus and turned into a troll and a horse respectively. You accompany the king, along with a friend named Yangus, to discover the whereabouts of Dhoulmagus, defeat him and lift the curse on the king.
This game, for the 3DS, is a remake of the game that was originally released for the Playstation 2 back in 2004. It’s kept mostly intact for the port to the 3DS and it looks brilliant in the process. Yes, some of the visual details had to be scaled back, mostly in the environments, but that doesn’t keep the game from looking fantastic on the small screen. The characters are as vibrant as they were originally. The designs of Akira Toriyama are in full effect and look brilliant on the 3DS screen. All of the character in facial animations and voice acting is kept whole. I did notice that the voices sounded a little hollow, almost like you were listening to them through a cardboard tube at times. I don’t know if that’s a product of the 3DS itself or if I’m just not remembering what they sounded like on the PS2. There are some very quality voice performances in this game like Yangus and Red. Others like Ishmari feel like they could have been done much better.
There are some things about the game that feel like a step back from previous games in the series. Dragon Quest VI and Dragon Quest VII both had a class system that would let you mix and match characters in your party that you could change by visiting different abbies in the world. That’s gone replaced by a skill tree system that lets you manage skill points to various skills for each character. These are set and cannot be changed. You also have no way to redo any points you may have allocated and want to change. Once they’re applied you’re stuck with that decision for the rest of the game. This does give you some customization choice for your party, but it’s fairly limited when compared with the previous entries in the series.
One thing I really appreciated about Dragon Quest VIII over some of the previous games were how quickly you were able to get into the action and stay in the action. Within just a few minutes you’re fighting battles and earning experience. There are few moments where things are so heavily story driven that control is taken away from you. Other games in the series could take up to an hour before you’re really into the thick of things and fighting your first battle. Dragon Quest VIII is action from start to finish. In that respect it feels like some of the earliest games in the series, like the first one, where you are constantly working towards making your character better.
Of course, the game does continue to fall in line with most of the games in the series where you need to talk to EVERYONE you encounter. At various times you’ll finish one section of a game, be dropped into a city with no real direction as to what to do. At those points you have to talk to everyone you see to get an idea of where the next place you need to go is. Sometimes those directions can be the vaguest of hints as to what to do and you have to work your way around to all the different places you been to or resort to looking up where to go next online. It’s one of the things that I admire most about the series, but at the same time it can be frustrating to not know just what to do next. Dragon Quest has always stayed very true to its roots as a JRPG and is one of the few series to continue to do so.
Like the previous entries in the game and a feature that begin with the release of Dragon Quest IX on the DS battles are no longer random. You’ll see every enemy on the screen giving you the chance to decide whether you want to engage them in battle or skirt around them to try and progress the story much faster. You also have better chances of leveling up quicker in those times you feel like you need to grind out a couple levels because you can see the enemies on screen that you’ll be fighting. No more having to hope you run across some metal slimes. Now you can actively hunt them out. Enemies that see you will sometimes chase after you and weaker enemies will even flee from you upon spotting you out in the fields and forests of the world. It’s one change that I’m glad to see the series take and one I hope that they continue to use.
Battles follow the very traditional turn based aspects of the series. You choose commands from menus. You can have each member of your party follow your commands exactly or you can give them basic tactics like ‘Show No Mercy’, or ‘Focus on Healing’. I’ve found those tactics generally work really well and keeps you from having to babysit party members regularly. You can change those tactics in between battle rounds as well so if you find yourself needing party members to focus on something else you can do so quickly.
Another change to the battle system is the ability to psyche your character up. This is much like the Brave/Default system from Bravely Default, but not as involved. You can tell your character to psyche up as many as four times allowing you to save attacks for later to increase their potency. I didn’t use this often myself, but found that a few times it did come in handy against some of the more powerful foes in the game.
Fans of collecting and crafting can take advantage of the game’s alchemy system. This allows you to use items found after battles and in chests throughout the game to create more powerful items. Sometimes those items can be more powerful versions of weapons. Other times they can be used to create items that can be sold for large amounts of gold. It’s another system that’s not necessary for success, but people who take advantage of it can find it much easier to better equip your party as you get farther and farther into the game.
If you played the first game so many years ago on the PS2 you’ll find yourself falling in love with the world of Dragon Quest VIII all over again. If you’re new to the series it’s one of the best places to start. It’s easily one of the top two or three games in the series and makes the transition to a handheld system wonderfully. My only real “complaint” about the game would be that it would have been able to take advantage of a more powerful system like the Wii U or Switch to make the beautiful world come to life even more. It’s a fantastic game that will take you somewhere between 50-70 hours to complete depending on how much you get into collecting everything and exploring all the areas of the game’s vast world. On a system that’s already teeming with great RPGs to play this one easily heads near the top of the list of games you really should play.
Review copy of the game provided by Nintendo
Played through the entire campaign
Total Play Time: 64 hours