Dragon Quest VIII Review

PlayStation 2

December 31, 1969 by

Dragon Quest VIII Image

Everyone was talking about it. “Dragon Quest VIII is going to be the best RPG of the year” and “Dragon Quest VIII is finally coming out. I can’t wait.” I was thinking “Awesome. What the hell is Dragon Quest?” Golems… slimes…? Ohhh. Right, right, right. Dragon Quest is Dragon Warrior—the old school NES, healmore hurtmore epic I played so many years ago. Nobody told me. If they had, I would have picked up the six I missed. Provided they played like this one.

Visually, Dragon Quest is incredibly unique. Cel-shading is extremely popular these days but anyone has yet to produce this kind of quality. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the characters. Everything about them, from their definition against the background to the tiny details in there clothing, is simply remarkable. The environments are amazing. The 3-D land seems boundless as it trails off into the horizon and I’ve never seen such beautiful sunsets and oceans, even in real life. Colors are explosive at times, serene at others. Dragon Quest is a living, moving work of art.

And it’s nice to play a Square Enix game that doesn’t take itself so seriously. Even I get tired of brooding heroes, dire situations and countdowns to doom. Thankfully, Quest has none of those. The comedic value is extremely high in this game. King Trodain pranced around, spoke proper English and carried himself like any member or royalty would, all while looking like a frog. The enemies were a riot, as well. When I reached Port Prospect, the townspeople warned me of a horrible creature terrorizing the ocean. When I sailed out, I found that “horrible” creature to be Khalamari, a giant squid vaguely resembling the Kraken from Shining Force 2, but he was far from terrifying. He put on a puppet show with his tentacles (one was named Mr. Bubbles I believe) to complain about my boat hitting him in the head before he attacked. It was pretty funny.

Then there was the jester and main villain, Dhoulmagus. Oddly, he was the only one I didn’t find amusing. I despised him, but that’s what made him so cool. Dhoulmagus isn’t like other villains. He doesn’t monologue and he doesn’t pop up at awkward times just to try and destroy you before he completes his master plan. For the most part, you rarely see him. You will, however, be able to see how vile he is. From town to town, Dhoulmagus leaves a trail of depravity. Sometimes it’s just striking fear into the hearts of locals, other times he murders a king or priest in cold blood. No matter how hard you try he always seems to be one step ahead. You may get close to stopping him, but you are always too late and all you can do is watch as he creates another victim. Dhoulmagus is the driving force behind the story. He’s sick, he’s crazy and I wanted him dead… no matter what it took.

The game has a simple plot, but all the mini-missions kept it from getting boring. With each new kingdom visited I found myself on a different quest. I had to raise a ship from a barren desert, retrieve my horse and cart after it had been wrongly sold and help a fat, obnoxious prince named Charmles pass a trial to make him worthy of the throne.

It’s a lot better than chasing the bad guy the entire game, but the downside is some of these missions tend to drag. Raising the boat, for example, seemed to take forever. I had to find the boat, then I had to return to the cursed kingdom to learn about the boat, then get my wish granted, find the wish master moon guy a new harp, get the harp back from the mole people blah blah blah. It was irritating. I just want the damn boat.

Thankfully, these moments are few and far between and the simple combat system made them easy to stomach. If you’re lazy like I am, a few clicks of the D-Pad and one button is all you need. In combat, you can choose the tactics of everyone but your Hero. You can tell your posse to follow orders—which means you direct them—have them focus on healing, show no mercy, not use any magic, fight wisely or get psyched up. They take a step up from usual A.I. in battles because your characters are actually smart. If you choose show no mercy, they will slam the enemies with spells and abilities, but if one enemy is left with only a few hit points they simply attack, sparing their MP for another round. Choose “focus on healing” and they won’t waste heal if everyone has full health, they may cast a stat boosting spell or, again, attack. It’s actually a pretty solid aspect, making what could have been lengthy and boring battles more than tolerable.

Quest has a neat little level up system to keep the battle system fresh as well. Your characters, upon gaining a level, grow in the usual way. HP, MP, attack, agility and so forth but you also get stat points for one of the four weapons each character can use, earning you more attack points or cool abilities. You can also choose to build an aspect of each character's personality—hero’s courage, Jessica’s sex-appeal, Angelo’s charm or Yangus’ humanity. Yes, the burly, rock hard thief has a soft side. Boosting this stat will allow him to learn heal and a few cool tricks, like whistling to start a monster fight or sniffing out treasure. It was entertaining building these stats up; I never knew what ability I would learn next.

I had fun with Dragon Quest VIII. It removed the emotional heroes, intricate battle systems and apocalyptic stories of other RPGs and replaced them with good, old-fashioned monster bashing. It’s gorgeous, nostalgic and downright amusing at times. Reminds me of why I fell in love with this genre. An old school style with groundbreaking graphics? No complaints here. It’s like having Betty Page’s mind in Adriana Lima’s body. Classic feel; beautiful modern day look.

Rating: 8/10

Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.

About the Author: Greg Knoll

May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.

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