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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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  • Weird graphics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Andrewkov (140579) on Friday December 16, 2005 @03:58PM (#14273907)
    I haven't played games in years, but I looked at the screen shots out of curiousity. The grass looks blurry to me, like it's got major motion blur. Is this normal for these new fangled 3d games? Maybe it's just me but it looks really strange.
  • Excellent Game (Score:3, Interesting)

    by casualsax3 (875131) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:00PM (#14273926)
    This is the first game since Final Fantasy VII that I was unable to put down from the moment I got it. It's an excellent RPG all round.
  • Loving the game (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sarlos (903082) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:01PM (#14273930)
    The game really is all the reviewer says. It has an old school charm that I find irresistable. The first time I found cheerfully floating Drakies, I laughed out loud, it was too perfect. People may be skeptical of the cell shaded look, but it works oddly well for this title. It fits the lighthearted gameplay and makes me nostalgic for the blocky sprites of the old NES games.

    And lest we forget, Jessica is rather, err, bouncy... o.o
  • Bad example, Zonk! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RailGunner (554645) * on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:03PM (#14273946) Journal
    First: You don't fight giants around Elfland. Those are Ogres.

    And that's not a Dragon Quest/Warrior game - that was Final Fantasy!

    The better analogy would have been fighting Wyverns in a swamp while carrying Princess Gwaelin back to King Lorik...

  • by UOZaphod (31190) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:09PM (#14273989)
    I thought I noticed the handiwork of Akira Toriyama [wikipedia.org].

    I did a little research and he designed the monsters and characters
  • Re:It's About You (Score:1, Interesting)

    by dch24 (904899) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:19PM (#14274076) Journal
    Turn based and other role playing games aren't about you, silly! LucasArts and Sierra games do not involve much plot. They piggyback on ideas that have been tried and tested (King's Quest, anyone?) But serious role playing games (FF, for example) have a plot all their own. They struck out in a new direction where you are playing for something more than just getting a trillion points and making it on the high score list, or fragging more guys faster than your buddy next door. RPG's are many things to many people, but what do you think? Role playing is about entering a more real-world scenario than the total anarchy First Person Shooter that, to me, is terribly boring.

    Role playing games have traditionally offered some amazingly subtle and beautiful challenges. Like, negotiating in a free market for the things you want. Now that is a skill that a lot of people use in real life. Fast-twitch trigger-happy shoot-anything-that-moves may be useful to some people in real life, but not me!

    Another challenge in RPG's has been learning the rules. With complicated ranking mechanisms involving many variables, and huge maps with dungeons-inside-dungeons, it rivals the complexity of real life. (When's the last time you tried to use public transportation? The kill-or-be-killed skills a la Halo won't help you get on the metro.)

    I could go on, but basically, that's the idea. By the way, I love Dragon Quest!

  • by Audigy (552883) on Friday December 16, 2005 @04:35PM (#14274189) Homepage Journal
    I'm "only" 25 hours into the game, but I've experienced everything the reviewer has and much much more.

    Despite the paper-thin plot (as it appears to me currently, at least) the game is challenging, and encourages the players to utilize tactics other than "button mashing" to get through battles.

    The monsters are detailed and adorable, and the Bestiary feature allows you to look at monsters you've already fought and reply their battle animations as many times as you'd like if you just can't get enough. ;D

    The voice acting and the localization effort are top-notch. I can't remember feeling sorry for a character in recent memory except while playing DragonQuest VIII. Additionally, some of the jokes are incredible.

    I'm glad I bought this game, and I am extremely happy that one of my favorite console RPG series is pulling in such stellar reviews in America. I look forward to many copies being sold so the game is re-released as part of the Greatest Hits series in 6-12 months.
  • Dragon Quest VIII (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fatal Darkness (18549) on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:13PM (#14274691)
    Dragon Quest is probably an acquired taste. The original Dragon Warrior on the NES was my introduction to the genre and as such, has set the standard for me as far as what I expect from a console fantasy RPG. Fancy graphics are a plus but mean nothing without good game play.

    The great thing about Dragon Quest is that it gives the option of exploration as well as the incentive -- something that is largely absent in most "modern" RPGs I've played. Most other so-called RPGs restrict you to the story. You don't have options to search or work for better equipment and abilities, you're given them when the story dictates it.
    They always follow the same formula: story, dungeon, next town/location, buy the next weapon/armor upgrade (which doesn't actually do anything for you but was just put in to make it feel more role-playing), repeat. Anyone who plays these games is going to play every scenario under the exact same constraints as everyone else because of the strict linear gameplay and lack of options for customization. Two different people playing Dragon Quest can be at the same scenario with completely different equipment, levels, skills and abilities depending on how they played the game. Dragon Quest gives you choices, perhaps at the expense of an epic storyline, but it makes the gameplay very enjoyable. If you'd rather watch an interactive movie, might I suggest a post-SNES Final Fantasy game.
  • by Greyfox (87712) on Friday December 16, 2005 @05:28PM (#14274897) Homepage Journal
    The casino system is based on games of chance and pretty much requires you to cheat to pick up the casino prizes. I suspect that the designers either EXPECT you to cheat or just plain hate their users. Maybe both...

    The monster encouter rate for monsters too weak to damage (or help) your party is much too high. Those monsters should stay away unless called (And yes, you can call them.)

    The monster treasure drop rate is WAY too low. And the skill you can get to increase it doesn't help much.

    The voice acting is... well it's terrible. They should have not had voice acting and used the extra time and money to put more stuff in the world and increase interaction with NPCs (A la Morriwind.)

    Occasionally the writing was heavyhanded in a very typical RPG and Anime way. It's that whole "Oh look the bad guy is gearing up to cast a spell that will destroy my party, I'll just stand here with my thumb up my ass and let him" mentality. NO! Put an arrow in him before he can launch his attack! Or "We just beat down the big bad boss without breaking a sweat, but the next scene is of us all gasping for breath while he attacks again/does a move that makes him stronger/limps off to lick his wounds" wtf?!

    All in all it's a reasonably fun game that will keep you busy for a while, but I'm still holding out for the next Morrwind game.

  • Re:Dragon Quest VIII (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eightyford (893696) on Friday December 16, 2005 @06:19PM (#14275552) Homepage
    That choice you are talking about can be confusing as hell sometimes though. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has walked from town to town talking to people because I didn't know what to do next. Hell, even in FF Mystic Quest I got lost (didn't know what to do next) a few times (I was like 8), and this was before I had the internet for walkthroughs.
  • Re:awful review (Score:3, Interesting)

    by srstoneb (256638) on Saturday December 17, 2005 @04:37AM (#14278592) Homepage
    I find it unfathomable that anybody would even TRY to go into the first dungeon without having walked around to see what they could find. Are there actually players who go and do what they're told to do before checking all the nooks and crannies for surprises? That's... so boring.

    In an RPG, when the building is on fire and you have to rush to another floor to save somebody, do you rush to the other floor to save them? Instead of mucking about opening boxes, running around in circles, standing in front of the person you are supposed to save without talking to them, laying down on the bed to take a nap and restore your HP with the flames blazing all around you, etc.? Why?

    I really don't think the game designers expect you to do that. Hell, DQ8 even has dialogue about it -- when there's a scare in the first town because the cursed king's appearance is frightening everybody, if you wander around talking to people several of them say things like "Aren't you worried about the monster they spotted? You have strange priorities." They ASSUME the player is going to dilly-dally because that's part of the fun of the game.

    Before that first dungeon, aside from just exploring the landscape, there are several treasure chests and unique monsters out there in the field, two inaccesible bridges to discover (one of which, from the clues, clearly leads to your home castle), as well as a mini-sidequest with the guy in the hut on top of the mountain who lost his toolbox. I probably "grinded" for at least two or three hours before I even CONSIDERED moving on with the quest. I never found it even remotely tiresome. I hesitate to even use the word "grind" because it carries negative connotation.

    If you're playing an RPG that has random battles, and you don't enjoy fighting in random battles, you should probably stop playing. Fighting random battles is PART OF THE GAME. It is part of the game because some people LIKE them. If you aren't one of those people, don't play those games.

    No matter how many times I fight those floating bells, I never get sick of seeing them chuckle. The pelvic-thrusting Hipsters crack me up. The way the yellow, reptilian Jargons balance on one foot most of the time, but occasionally hop to the other foot like they're dancing makes me smile. I could just sit there watching them stand there, swaying, and enjoy myself without even entering any commands. All of the battles are simply DELIGHTFUL because the enemies are so clever, punnish, and cute. A man who doesn't enjoy slaughtering a band of bipedal foxes wearing muskateer outfits and dancing jigs is a man with no soul.

    As for "no progression of character development"... I would say that's only true if you don't read any of the dialogue. I think the characters -- both in your party and all the major NPCs -- are very clearly defined by their manner of speech and the things that they choose to talk about. Even if you never his START to talk with your party (which you can do at any time while walking around) they still have plenty to say during cutscenes. You complain that there is no reason to go to that first dungeon aside from being forced to do it, but I would say that is itself a story/character progression -- the King insists that you take time out of chasing down the man who cursed him to help the girl because she reminds him of his daughter, and because he believes that she is a Good Person and feels that she deserves your help.

    And... "You don't learn any background into many more hours into the game"? Seriously? In medias res is a staple storytelling technique. Granted, being staple doesn't mean you have to like it, but it's used so widely that it seems like a weird thing to complain about. (Especially when it is used to much more tiring effect in, for example, most Final Fantasy games, where an amnesiac main character is as common as not.) What more do you need to know at the beginning aside from the king and princess being cursed, you're a castle guard, and you're chasing the guy tha

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