Review: Dragon Quest VIII
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Role-playing game
It’s no exaggeration to say that Dragon Quest VIII was one of the best RPGs of its time. It was a huge world, ripe for the exploring, filled with charming characters and exotic locales from top to bottom. The story may have been quite standard, but the wit with which it was told made the whole thing pop. More than anything, it was good: good to play, a good challenge, and a good time.
Twelve years have passed since then. Can even a classic like this still hold up in 2017?
Dragon Quest VIII starts as most stories do: with a princess turned into a horse and a king into a toad. These two royals and you, a palace guard, are the only ones to escape the attack of an evil jester named Dhoulmagus. He transformed Princess Medea and King Trode, petrified the rest of the castle residents, and disappeared into the night. Where we come in, you’re already on the road with new comrade Yangus, ready to find Dhoulmagus and break his sinister curse.
It’s as good a reason as any to traipse all over the beautiful, colourful world on offer. The roads you travel and the people you meet are really what make the story pop, the chase for Dhoulmagus serving as a vehicle to get you from locale to locale. In all areas, the game encourages explorations: roads spread off to the side in all directions with treasure chests secreted all over. The same goes for towns. A diligent hero will smash every pot, open every cupboard, and scour every bookshelf for all the extras hidden within. The balance struck is one that rewards taking your time and exploring without punishing you for not doing it – a difficult one to hit for sure.
What also helps the story along is the absolutely stellar voice acting throughout. Rather than the usual American stable, Dragon Quest VIII pulls from all the corners of Europe for their talent. While the story might nominally be serious, these voices and the jokes they tell give the thing a campy, goofy quality which always keeps it lighthearted. Whether it ‘s cockney, Russian, English or French, it all mixes.
I mean, at one point, you fight a giant octopus named Khalamari. He uses his tentacles as sock puppets and switches accents for every line of dialogue. They got jokes.
The gameplay is your standard turn-based RPG with a few neat twists. The most notable of these is, at every level, you gain a handful of skill points. These can be put into five categories for each character, four weapon types and one special skill. Picking your poison allows for some much-needed customisation. Since there are only ever four members of your party, you have much more time to make sure they work properly together rather than juggle a dozen members or more.
The other unique feature of this entry is the alchemy pot. Bookshelves all over the land hide recipes for this pot, allowing you to create powerful weapons and items by combining two or three items within. There’s something deeply satisfying about hunting down that one elusive ingredient which will gift you with the awesome thing you’ve been coveting. Being able to fill out that list is just icing on the completionist cake.
Much of the rest is the same as it was on the Playstation 2. This re-release has made some small tweaks, however. The most notable is a quicksave function which can be picked up at any time – an absolute godsend, considering you have to trudge all the way back to a church to save your game usually. Battle has also been given a speed-up function, making grinding go a lot faster. This especially is a great help, since Dragon Quest is much slower to give out levels than most RPGs.
There’s also a new alternate ending. I won’t spoil anything here, but suffice it to say that it’s exactly what most of us wanted the first time we beat this game.
As far as side content goes, there’s a decent smattering. For the collector, mini medals are scattered throughout the world. These are able to be turned in later for some of the better prizes in the game. More centrally are a casino (also bearing prizes) and an arena. This is perhaps the most exciting one, for it allows you to go out and capture monsters, then create a team to pit against other monsters. None of it’s necessary, but if you want some nice perks for retracing your steps, they’re well worth your time.
A new addition to this roster is photo challenges. After meeting Cameron Obscura (hur hur), the ability to take photos is unlocked. Snapping pictures of people, places and monsters for him nets further rewards. The photos you take can also be uploaded and shared. The choice to not allow photos in battle or cutscenes is strange, but not dealbreaking. The amount of stickers, poses and filters available should satisfy anyone with a taste for the photographic.
It might seem like I’m giving this game a prolonged, sloppy tongue-kiss of a review. That’s because I am. It’s basically perfect – which makes it all the more disappointing that for all this new content and portability, the game looks so jaggy and strange. Models which should have been smoother aren’t. Graphics pop in suddenly, far too late. Even the music is set blaringly loud at default, entirely drowning out the wonderful voice acting. All these things should have been attended to in a full re-release. It’s a disappointment that they weren’t. What are we paying for when we buy a remaster if not a shinier, prettier version?
Make no mistake: Dragon Quest VIII remains a timeless classic. Minor graphical flaws can’t take away from the charm, the wit, the sheer character which exudes from every corner. Pulling it from the PS2 annals and putting it on the 3DS is an RPG fan’s dream come true.
|A timeless RPG classic, now on the handheld with even more stuff to do. Dragon Quest VIII is a no-brainer buy for anyone who likes a bright, charming world to save.||4.4 4.4 ( on 5 rating)|