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Role Playing (Games)

Review: Dragon Quest VIII 245

Posted by Zonk
from the here's-slime-in-your-eye dept.
Most modern single-player RPGs have changed quite a bit since the early days of the NES. Real-time combat and epic story arcs have allowed the traditionally hardcore RPG market to draw in new fans who may not otherwise want to invest 100+ hours on a single title. Square Enix, the company that founded the genre, spits in the eye of progress with Dragon Quest VIII. This traditional dungeon delve has an old-school heart with a beautiful current-generation exterior. Read on for my impressions of the latest chapter in the mind-numbingly popular Dragon Quest series.
  • Title: Dragon Quest VIII
  • Developer: Level 5
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • System:PS2
  • Score:9/10

Admittedly, your mind is only likely numb if you live in Japan. The U.S. first saw the series on the Nintendo Entertainment System as Dragon Warrior, and some of the most hardcore elements were dumbed down for our squishy American palates. Since those heady early days Dragon Quest has been largely absent from our shores. Dragon Quest VIII allows us to once again experience what can only be described as a Japanese cultural phenomenon.

Dragon Quest's focus is on entertaining and enjoyable gameplay, and so for the most part the game's plot can be forgiven for being fairly weak. The game's subtitle, "Journey of the Cursed King", is almost everything you need to know to understand what's going on. You, an unnamed heroic adventurer, are on the hunt for a power-hungry sorcerer. The spellcaster has stolen a potent magical artifact, and pair of royals present when the artifact was stolen are turned into a frog-demon thing and a horse. They hook up with you and your buddy Yangus (a burly fighter-type), in hopes of finding the spellcaster and reversing the magical effect that imprisons them. Along the way you encounter some typical RPG stereotypes (like the scantily clad mage Jessica), but for the most part that's the hook that drives the story. While this doesn't sound like much to go on, the NPC characterizations are so well-written and over-the-top that it's hard not to like them.

Really, it's surprisingly hard not to like everything about this game. Gameplay-wise, the latest installment of the Dragon Quest series is an unapologetic blast from the past. The game features menu-driven turn-based combat, endless hours of gameplay, a random encounter strewn overworld map, and plenty of slimes. You'd think this would tire a veteran RPG player, but the quality of the game's presentation and the obvious effort the designers put into the game's systems is inspiring. The overworld map, a tired warhorse in the gaming world, is a beautifully rendered naturescape. Beautiful glens, soaring caverns, and imposing ruins all lie hidden within the gameworld. The mini-map, a constant companion in most games, is blissfully absent. Without any easy-access artificial assistance, the temptation to explore is overwhelming, and can lead to some interesting hard-to-find creatures and treasures.

This sense of exploration is only broken by the occasional encounter with wandering monsters. The pace of encounters is well spaced out, to ensure that you won't have to fight through several encounters just to proceed a short way down a trail. The combat is a traditional RPG line-up, with enemies on one side and heroes on the other. Players navigate an intuitive menu to instruct their characters in who and how to fight, but attacks are far from the bland or ordinary. Both monsters and heroes have an array of visually interesting attacks and spells to take out opposing forces. Giant tongues seem to be a weapon of choice for the enemies, who have an array of quirky appearances and behaviors. Besides the title-identifying slimes, there are a bevy of beasts and monsters to face down. Some of the early beasts actually forgo their turns to calmly lick their fur. This variety of choice, animation, and behavior ensures that even the most jaded RPG fan is unlikely to get bored with combat. Trying to one-button push your way through combat, if you do start to glaze over, will teach you the error of your ways quickly. The challenge level here is high, and you can expect to wipe more than once at low levels. The tenacity exhibited by a gang of cute little kitty cats can easily end in tragedy.

That gang of cats, like everything else in the game, have distinct sensibilities conveyed by their unique visual design. The whole title has a beautiful cell-shaded look, and an anime quality that brings the personality of each beast and NPC to the fore. Dragon Ball Z designer Akira Toriyama helmed the look of this title, and the result is a naturalistic landscape and highly distinctive characters. The audio environment is stirring as well. Adventuring music takes center stage, with the occasional more thoughtful piece thrown in to highlight some of the game's quieter moments. Despite the tissue-paper plot, the voice acting is top-notch. The laughable whining and cowardice of the King and Yangus's thick brogue should set the standard for RPG cohorts in future titles. The dialogue's localization is also tremendous, with some jokes managing to be bitingly clever. It's hard not to appreciate the attention to detail spent here, as the inordinate amount of time you'll spend with these characters almost requires a sense of connection and empathy. While they may not make you cry, you'll definitely enjoy spending time with these likable non-people.

Dragon Quest VIII is not an evolution in the genre, nor is it likely to convert a dyed-in-the-wool anti-RPG nut. It's a challenging old-school game that appeals directly to traditional fans, and does so with personality, levity, and a lot of style. The hack and slash, turn-based combat system has never been so lovingly displayed as it is in this title. If you ever find yourself pining for those long-past grind sessions, gaining levels outside of Elfland by slaying ogres, this is a game you simply must play.

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Review: Dragon Quest VIII

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  • by Yocto Yotta (840665) * <catapults.music@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Friday December 16, 2005 @03:58PM (#14273908)
    "Despite the tissue-paper plot, the voice acting is top-notch. The laughable whining and cowardice of the King and Yangus's thick brogue should set the standard for RPG cohorts in future titles."

    Just a fair warning: The voice acting is very over the top in a cartoonish way. If "top-notch voice acting" means realistic and dramatic to you, you'll be sorely disappointed with the voice acting in DQVIII. The accents and the content of the dialog is so silly and uninteresting, that I ended up skipping story sequences (a major RPG sin in my opinion) after a dozen hours of the same crap. You've been warned.

    Great game otherwise.
  • Re:Weird graphics (Score:4, Informative)

    by ivan256 (17499) * on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:03PM (#14273945)
    The graphics engine for this game is based on the Dark Cloud series of games. They were known for their highly stylized graphics, and they are a little old at this point. The first one is from 2001. You're seeing a combination of those things. Plus, it looks better when stuff is moving. It wasn't really designed for stills.

    If you ask me, they could have used 8-bit sprites, as long as the gameplay was good.
  • Re:Good! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:07PM (#14273972)
    You mean like Kung Fu Chess? http://www.kungfuchess.com/ [kungfuchess.com]
  • I love this game. (Score:4, Informative)

    by millennial (830897) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:13PM (#14274023) Journal
    I bought DQVIII the day it came out, and have never regretted doing so. The graphics are beautiful, the plotline is engrossing, the characters are lovable, and the environment is believable. The only complaint I have is that some of the songs sound like they were recorded in an echo chamber. Apart from that, I love it.
  • by solios (53048) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:14PM (#14274033) Homepage
    Dragon Ball Z designer Akira Toriyama helmed the look of this title, and the result is a naturalistic landscape and highly distinctive characters.


    If memory serves, Toriyama's done the design on all of the DQ titles... which was vastly more palatable back in the 8-bit days, when you couldn't tell how atrocious his "distinctive" character design was. He's also responsible for the aesthetic of Chrono Trigger - a game that plays great but in my opinion looks absolutely horrible: his grotesque "anatomy" and facial design seriously hampered my enjoyment of the title.

    The lesson here is that a "distinctive" look and feel can alienate gamers as well as attract them - I won't play or watch anything modern that Toriyama's involved with simply because I just can't stand to look at it.
  • Not quite (Score:2, Informative)

    by armanox (826486) <asherewindknight@yahoo.com> on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:14PM (#14274040) Homepage Journal
    The puff-puff girl can be found in Dragon Warrior I & II for GBC
  • Re:Characters (Score:2, Informative)

    by millennial (830897) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:18PM (#14274063) Journal
    If you RTFA, you'd see that "Dragon Ball Z designer Akira Toriyama helmed the look of this title, and the result is a naturalistic landscape and highly distinctive characters."
  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:23PM (#14274100)
    "The U.S. first saw the series on the Nintendo Entertainment System as Dragon Warrior, and some of the most hardcore elements were dumbed down for our squishy American palates."

    You seem to be confusing this with the Final Fantasy series. The only changes made to the first Dragon Warrior was an improvement in graphics to make it look as pretty as Dragon Quest II ("ZOMG, I can face in four directions! Look, a shoreline!"). Later games had you dragging along ghosts instead of coffins when somebody died, but Enix didn't pull any of that EasyType crap on us like Squaresoft.

    Which is why it didn't sell. Dragon Quest never apologized for being Dragon Quest.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:30PM (#14274139)
    I thought so too. Luckily you can turn the volume of the voices all the way down and just read what they have to say, unlike some other modern RPGs which feature annoying voice actors (Tidus from FFX anyone?).

    I say it's a cardinal sin if a game doesn't have to option to turn off the voice acting and let you just read the lines instead... That and unskippable cutscenes in action games are the worst examples of poor game design IMHO.
  • by American AC in Paris (230456) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:38PM (#14274229) Homepage
    The lesson here is that a "distinctive" look and feel can alienate gamers as well as attract them - I won't play or watch anything modern that Toriyama's involved with simply because I just can't stand to look at it.

    There's nothing remotely new or surprising about this--edgy art has always appealed to a smaller audience than "mainstream" art.

    Frankly, I'd rather "suffer" through the occasional bizzare-looking game than have designers bend their vision for the sake of mass appeal. Take, for example, Hieronymus Bosch. Bosch made plenty of "regular" art, but he is best remembered for his utterly mind-bending depictions of demons, Hell, and Judgement. Had he abandoned his artistic direction and not composed some of the most truly exotic, horrifying pre-modern art ever created, he'd be remembered as a talented--but only marginally significant--artist, and our society would be missing out on some geuninely unique and amazing art.

    Art doesn't always appeal, but it's almost always more valuable than uninspired works designed for mass comsumption. There's a seemingly endless supply of well-painted, arrow-riddled St. Sebastians out there--but there's nothing else quite like the Garden of Earthly Delights...

  • You can turn it off (Score:3, Informative)

    by neostorm (462848) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:38PM (#14274234)
    You can turn the voice acting off. The Japanese version had no voice acting at all, and was a bit better off because of that. Just turn the Voice setting to 0 in the menu and you'll not miss out on anything else. The only difference is that the prerendered cutscenes have voice encoded into them, but there are only a handful in the game anyhow.

  • by _KiTA_ (241027) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:47PM (#14274350) Homepage
    Akira Toriyama has done the character design and artwork for every Dragon Quest game in the series.

    Yuji Horii has done the storyline and scenarios for every game in the series.

    Koichi Sugiyama has done the music for every game in the series.

    They, combined, are the "DQ Team", and are responsible for the entire series, having come together to create it after enjoying Wizardry and Ultima, but thinking they were too complex for the mainstream.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_Quest [wikipedia.org]

    In addition Toriyama and Horii did quite a bit of work on Chrono Trigger -- Toriyama did the art and designs, Horii did the storyline and scenarios, and several experts from the original Final Fantasy team did the battle engine, music, etc.

    That's why CT was so great -- it was basically a new spin on the Dragon Warrior series of games.

    Bewarned, even though DQ8 is arguably the easiest game in the DQ series, it's still leaps and bounds above the difficulty arc of modern Final Fantasy games. If you've never played a DQ game before you're in for a treat, but you *will* die a few times. :)
  • Had to look it up (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:36PM (#14274980)
    For those slightly more lazy but just as ignorant as me: Godwin's Law [wikipedia.org]
  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Friday December 16, 2005 @07:37PM (#14276365)
    "If you played the japanese versions you would know that DQ1 also featured a confusing password system."

    That confusing password system was the save function. It was there because the Japanese version came out before they started putting batteries into Famicom games. It's no worse than what we got with Metroid and Kid Icarus (though those passwords weren't clever little haikus).

    Enix nor Nintendo toned down the length of the game, the complexity, the difficulty, and they sure as hell didn't give us "Dragon Warrior--Mystic Quest."

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