Dragon Quest VIII is one of the most charming and visually rich RPGs to come out in years.
Ever since the first Dragon Quest was released in 1986, the series has always been one of the best-selling ones in the role-playing genre, but for some reason it has never had the same impact outside of Japan, where they simply worship the game. Square Enix certainly tried to change this fact with its eighth iteration, which includes some new content not only to appeal the Japanese market, but the American as well.
In the fantasy world of Dragon Quest VIII an evil jester called Dhoulmagus has broken the seal of a protected scepter, which apparently has terrible powers. As a consequence of his actions, Dhoulmagus has cursed an entire kingdom, consequently turning the king into a toad, the princess into a horse and everyone else into stone. The only one who has escaped the malevolent curse is you, a guard from the palace and silent hero of the adventure. This is everything you need to know before you start this epic quest and you’ll soon need to start talking with people from different cities to locate the malefic jester. The story is pretty simple, but really well told. At the same time, the plot shouldn’t be compared to any modern role-playing game as Dragon Quest VIII is really singular and has a very unique sense of humor.
Eventually, you’ll meet other important characters that’ll be members of your party. Yangus is a former bandit and your faithful friend, Jessica is a beautiful sorcerer who wants to avenge the death of his brother, and Angelo is Templar knight and a womanizer. Dragon Quest doesn’t have as many characters as other role-playing games, but the few who are included are really well developed, as each one is pretty distinctive from the rest. Something really interesting is that at almost any point in the game you can press start and talk to your party, if you do so, they’ll give you important information about the quest or they’ll point out where you should be heading next.
The combat is also an important feature that has been completely redesigned. The game uses random battles in a turn-based fashion. Fortunately, you’ll have time between battles, so they never become extremely tedious. Even though you don’t see the monsters you encounter randomly, there are some exclusive ones which you can recruit and capture to form a special team if you defeat them. You can have up to two teams of three monsters each, and there’s a reserve team that can hold up to six. Like in Pokémon, these monsters are used to fight in a special arena and each one has its own HP and powerful attacks. If you win a series of battles you can get some pretty unique items.
Additionally, besides the regular melee attacks you can also perform different spells and magic, you can defend, you can use items, flee, intimidate enemies and you can use a new command known as “Psyche Up”. If you “Psyche Up”, you basically raise your tension level to power up your attacks, if you raise it to the maximum your character will transform (in the similar way Saiyans transform in Dragon Ball Z) and next time you attack you’ll do massive damage. You can also equip specific sets to your characters, and this will be reflected on the character’s likeness. Even though this is mainly aesthetic, it’s really satisfying to know that most of the powerful weapons and armors will make you look different.
Aside from combat, character development is quite simple and engaging at the same time. The skill system lets you distribute certain number of points every time you gain a level, once you have these points, you may increase the level of certain attributes like sword, spear, boomerang, axe, humanity, and so on. It should be noted that even though some members of your party share some attributes, most of them have some specific ones. Also, you can equip certain items and weapons to your characters and each one can carry up to nine different items in total in their own bag and the game also includes a communal bag.
Something that really stands out in the series (and always has) is character and monster design. Dragon Quest VIII has the same enemies so proper of previous iterations like slimes, squids, cats, foxes and more. Eventually, though, you won’t pay much attention to these foes as the game becomes challenging really soon. Some monsters are extremely difficult to beat, like metal king slimes or certain bosses, and some others have a tendency to attack in groups of six or more. Some others creatures, like calling their friends or enjoy casting some annoying spells, curing their friends or summoning other creatures. The game also includes a day/night cycle. So if you decide to walk outside safe cities at night you should really be prepared, as there will be some fierce foes wandering the place. Something interesting is that certain unique events happen only at night and most shops will be closed.
If you die during the game (and believe me that at some point you will), you don’t necessarily have to restart the whole adventure. The game immediately sends you to your last save, but in exchange you’ll lose half your money. It may sound like a really punishing decision, but it keeps the game balanced and it’ll make you think twice before being imprudent or careless. Which can be pretty difficult, though, are some long dungeons and boss battles. Eventually, you’ll get a spell that lets you transport to any city that you’ve previously visited at least once, but until you get it you’ll have to go everywhere on foot so beating some dungeons could take you a few hours. Furthermore, you’ll eventually get a fast saber tooth, an old magical ship and a legendary bird to move from one point of the map to the other.
Visually, Dragon Quest VIII is simply breathtaking and the game has definitely passed the test of time in that regard. Everything you see onscreen can be explored: you can fly, navigate, run or ride your saber tooth and appreciate the details around you. It’s surprising that the graphics look so well, even when the game doesn’t include any fancy CGI sequences, everything you see is done by the in-game engine. There is a vast and rich world to explore, which by the way, has different continents and many islands where you can discover chests and secrets. Additionally, if you want to go from one place to another one that’s really far, you’ll have to cross rivers, valleys, high towers, hills go through various dungeons, visit cities, you’ll see mountains and more. Exploring the world is really gratifying, especially considering that in old Dragon Quest games there was a little icon which showed you how you were moving in a “big world”. Now you can climb high places and see where your next destination is, you’ll identify cities, towers, caverns, small chests and more. The game looks amazing and Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball’s creator) should also be praised for that, as he has been in charge of this unique style. Each character, monster and boss looks really peculiar and the use of cel-shading textures suits this style extremely well.
Technically, the game is really good too. This is the first Dragon Quest to incorporate three dimensional environments and the loading times are quite short. If we consider how huge most environments are, it’s quite surprising that developers were able to pull this off. Also, each city is extremely detailed and lifelike, full of locals that always have something interesting to say. Moreover, each village also has an inn where you can sleep to restore your health and mana, you can visit a church where you can save your progress or cure certain status ailments and there are also different shops where you can buy items, sets of armor and weapons. Most cities have a unique point of interest that will keep you coming back.
While the main adventure may take you between fifty and sixty hours to finish on the main playthrough, there are many other reasons to come back. For example, the alchemy pot allows you to mix certain items and you’ll be able to obtain some legendary weapons as well, the monster arena is another fun and engaging experience, there are casinos where you can obtain legendary items and a completely different ending. You’ll also find banks where you can deposit or withdraw money at will, making death a much less punishing experience. But if you want to experience everything, you should be willing to spend more than 100 hours with the game, as some of the latest side-quests and minigames are pretty challenging.
The music of the game is amazing too, as it includes many orchestral pieces, which are masterfully played. These pieces suit the action quite well, as they mix old classic pieces with some new ones. Overall this experience is a delight and the soundtrack is more than memorable. Additionally, voices were exclusively added to the American release of the game and the result is superb. Each character has a very distinctive accent or they use different dialects that make them stand out from the rest. Voice acting is one of the most welcome additions to the series and this gives more personality to the characters and adds a whole new dimension to the game.
In conclusion, Dragon Quest VIII is one of the best RPGs ever created. It has a very simple plot, which is really well told, the classic gameplay is good, it’s visually superb, it sounds amazing and it also has a rich world to explore. Overall this is an epic quest that every fan of the genre shouldn’t miss.