In 2009 I began working with Mrs B on her website www.femalegamers.co.uk reviewing the latest console games. Sadly, our other commitments meant the website couldn’t continue and we brought it to an end early in 2010. I’ll be using this blog to review all the games, recent and not so recent, that I encounter. With Mrs B’s kind permission, I’ll also be posting some of the reviews I previously worked on, so don’t panic if they refer to previous years and months.
Dragon Quest VIII: The Journey of the Cursed King (2004) – PS2
The Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series are hugely popular in Japan but it is the latter that has fared better in Europe and North America. Dragon Quest VIII: The Journey of the Cursed King is the first from the series I have encountered so I was curious to see how it would stand up to the RPG excellence of the Final Fantasy games.
Dragon Quest VIII focuses on a jester named Dhoulmagus who steals a magic sceptre from the King of Trodain’s palace and inflicts a terrible curse on the kingdom. Vines rise from the earth and damage the castle, King Trode is turned into a green troll/ogre, his daughter Princess Medea is transformed into a horse, yet amidst the devastation a nameless hero emerges unscathed. The hero leads the king, now drawn in a cart by his daughter (I kid you not!), on a quest to hunt down Dhoulmagus and end the curse. The trio are joined by a reformed bandit Yangus, a sorceress Jessica, and a Templar Knight Angelo. For each town and village they encounter the curse carried by Dhoulmagus in the powerful sceptre continues to impact on more families but the jester only has individual targets in mind whenever he comes to a new location, but why?
Dragon Quest VIII offers a vast world map to explore with your party restricted to travelling on foot initially but later acquiring a ship and also a bird that helps you fly anywhere you wish, but that’s much later, of course. The game offers plenty of variety with visits to towns and villages throwing little sub quests at you to resolve. Some may be as simple as delivering a message or item to someone elsewhere in the town but others require you to venture out into the world and deep into dungeons, mountains or forests where many battles and ultimately a testing boss battle will await. Each new town will give you the opportunity to utilise your equipment with item, armour and weapon shops plentiful. You can obtain funds through random battles, opening treasure chests or smashing barrels/urns you find in corridors or people’s houses. If money is still a bit tight you can always sell some of your equipment or items but be wary of leaving your characters without sufficient protection for their battles.
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Unlike the recent Final Fantasy games Dragon Quest VIII appears more like a Japanese anime, with characters and backgrounds welcomingly simple and colourful. The graphics are still fantastic despite this style and if anything it makes it easier to locate other characters and items when you are exploring. The characters themselves are a terrific bunch. The nameless hero (you get to give him a title) has no dialogue in the game but clearly speaks in some exchanges though we never hear his words. Yangus is a tough-talking and loyal ally in battle, having some amusing exchanges with King Trode particularly if the King pops up unexpectedly, leaving Yangus to recoil and shout “Cor blimey!” Jessica joins the group after Dhoulmagus kills her brother and she is a valuable support in battle with an extensive use of magic and even uses her femininity to dazzle the enemies you meet. Angelo is a lady’s man, smooth talking but a useful fighter, being adept with a sword or bow and joining the nameless hero in being able to heal the party. With all four characters having varying skills and access to magic you will find trial and error is the only way to progress in the early stages of the game as you find the best balance of combat for you.
There are some unfortunate gripes with Dragon Quest VIII but they are simply too important to overlook. When you want to save your game you can only do so in towns and villages at a church. The priest also offers revival and cures for various status ailments but he cannot restore HP/MP. If you want to do that you’ll have to go to an inn for the night! Final Fantasy games allow you to cure all ailments, restore HP/MP etc in one location, so this aspect is frustrating. Even worse is when you venture outside a town into a dungeon. Negotiating puzzles, endless corridors and chambers, random battles and eventually a boss battle is not a five minute job and the worse thing is you won’t be able to save until you get back to a town/village! Battles require you to input commands for each of your party at the start of each round but the order in which you and your enemies have your turns is inconsistent which makes for much annoyance. The final boss is particularly difficult for every turn you have in each round he has two consecutive ones and I did find on occasion he’d be the last to have his turns in one round, but in the next one he’d go first meaning my characters endured four consecutive attacks, which is hard to survive! There’s no avoiding battles in this game. To earn money for the best equipment and to level up your characters requires many random battles so brace yourselves. This is still an excellent RPG but what began as minor niggles stayed with me until the end of my 80+ hours of game play and by that point my patience was at breaking point!
Dragon Quest VIII is a solid and thoroughly engaging RPG with a great storyline and a terrific bunch of characters in the nameless hero, Yangus, Jessica and Angelo. As satisfying as it is the battle system is frustrating and the lack of save points in places is simply criminal. This is a highly recommended but at times difficult RPG to stick with.