Originally released 12 years ago, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King has established itself as a fan favourite among the series die hard. The title enjoyed huge success upon its release, and so it’s not surprising that Square-Enix have opted to give the game another go-around on the Nintendo 3DS. The question is, does Dragon Quest VIII do enough to justify a purchase from 3DS owners?
The game was praised heavily upon its initial release 12 years ago. That hasn’t stopped Square-Enix from tinkering under the hood as this version of the game has undergone few changes, none for the worse, and still deserves praise today. In fact, on a technological level, Dragon Quest VIII steps out as one of the more impressive games for the system. Voice acting rarely appears on 3DS, let alone high quality voice acting found in all cutscenes. The transition to portable does wonders for Dragon Quest VIII – providing an incredibly meaty adventure for on-the-go gamers, even if the style shows its age.
Dragon Quest VIII released in the West on PlayStation 2 in 2005 to critical praise, the game drew critical and fan acclaim on the back of a series of huge strengths. This was in part thanks to its fun and interesting cast of characters, beautifully animated combat and vast world teeming with personality. Square Enix updated their grandiose adventure to fit on the 3DS. Updated voice acting and other tweaks to old features help modernise the classic Japanese role-playing game, but dated fundamentals made me question Dragon Quest VIII‘s place in today’s zeitgeist of RPGs.
Repetition is the name of Dragon Quest VIII‘s game in almost every way. The music never changes; every field hums with the exact same overworld theme and dungeons all come with an identical tune. Combat has some variation as the group levels up, but once I found my winning combination of techniques, I rarely strayed from them, unless someone needed healing. Combat lacks any meaningful amount of strategy and quickly devolves into button-mashing.
Even thematically, the narrative follows a lot of the same structures. Every town village has a small story of their own, comprising the overall narrative, but the plots lack variety. Each scenario often follows one of two structures: you are helping a village pick themselves up by the bootstraps after some tragic event, or holding up your end of a quid-pro-quo bargain. Either way, the vignettes rarely portray any sort of meaningful emotion, often fadig into obscurity as soon as the storyline concludes.
Thankfully, none of the repetition detracts from the game. In fact, Dragon Quest VIII gains strength from the repetition. The cheery tunes provide nice background music because they don’t overpower the general vibe of exploration. Beautiful visuals and character animations offset combat’s repetition, making the cornerstone mechanic exhilarating. Exhaustive stories of the villagers quickly became a moot point, as the colorful cast of characters who comprise the merry band of playable characters provide an entertaining, enthralling dynamic, accompanied by some very welcome deadpan humour.
If Dragon Quest VIII was an ice cream flavor at the parlour of RPG’s, it would certainly be vanilla. Just to be clear, I love vanilla. Vanilla, and Dragon Quest, don’t reinvent the wheel, instead doing what has been done extremely well. In the time of great breadth in RPG’s, what with branching dialogue trees and romance-able NPC’s, there is something cathartic about an old school experience that gives players a classic, linear tale of a hero’s journey. The updated aesthetics bring a level of polish to the 3DS port which provides enjoyment in the 60+ hour grind.
Overall, it must be said that returning to Dragon Quest VIII on the Nintendo 3DS is a real treat. While some of its original design decisions may stick in the throat of more modern purists, this is a strong Dragon Quest outing and well worth a visit if you’re in the market for a fun, action packed adventure that’s brimming with personality.