Mr. Saturn's Dragon Quest VIII Review
Email the author: Mr. Saturn
Needless to say, I'm a bit of a fan of the Dragon Quest series. However, the newest entry, Dragon Quest VIII, the first in the series to be called under it's actual name in North America, features a lot of changes from previous titles in the tradition-based series. But is the game stronger or weaker because of it?
We should start by taking a look at the actual changes themselves. What's so different? Well, let's start with the biggest difference: 3-D. Heartbeat's Dragon Warrior VII (and, subsequently, Dragon Quest IV) was in an isometric "3-D-esque" perspective, but no true 3-D. The programming for this chapter was taken charge of by Level-5 (of Dark Cloud fame), and uses a camera perspective not unlike that of the recent Zelda titles. Also like the newest Zelda title, the game's graphics are presented in a cel-shaded fashion, accurately depicting Akira Toriyama's characters. Much like Wind Waker, many will describe this game as looking "just like a cartoon." Sadly, the cartoon it looks like is Dragon Ball Z... thanks Toriyama... -_-
Aside from the graphics, there's been a bit of a change to the long standing Dragon Quest battle system. No, it's still turn based, and it's still a party of heroes versus one or more groups of enemies. And, yes, you can still run into "a slime, two slimes and a slime." The major difference here is also asthetic. For the first time in the series, you can actually see your characters during battle. This doesn't make any major differences for battle, but it does seem to speed up the pace for people who'd rather just see numbers jump around the screen than read full sentences (read: Final Fantasy fans :D). The enemies are even more animated than they were in Dragon Quest VII, and spells have a larger animations than before (in-part due to the 3-D battlefield).
The menu system has also, finally, been upgraded to feature icons for items, weapons and armor, and characters themselves. For traditional Dragon Quest fans like myself, this US-exclusive upgrade may seem completely unneccesary, and makes the game look more like more recent RPGs, like Star Ocean or Wild ARMs. However, new players will likely find this less intimidating that Dragon Quest's older text based menu system. The only complaint I have here is that they've removed the "tidy items" command that was on the menu of recent Dragon Quest titles. This is especially annoying as it takes an inordinate amount of time to move items around, even to rearrange them in one character's inventory. This is forgivable, though, as it doesn't need to be done very often.
The level up process has changed just slightly. In previous games in the series, you would simply gain levels, and get more powerful. In recent Dragon Quest titles, you would also have a job class, and gain job levels. Now, they've gone back to a more traditional format, pre-assigning the characters with abilities. However, in order to gain those abilities, you get "ability points" at level up, which you can assign in five categories. This categories include four weapon types that the character can use (such as Sword, Hammer, Whip, Boomerang, and Fisticuffs), as well as a specialty ability that each character has (Courage for the hero, Humanity for Yangus, Sex Appeal for Jessica and Charisma for Angelo). Boosting weapon ability gives you battle skills from previous games (which now often use MP), and boosting your specialty abilities tend to lead to new spells.
Before I get on to the story, I'd like to take a moment to mention the translation. This translation is far more acurate than previous Dragon Quest titles (all released under the Dragon Warrior name), but this may be tough to deal with for us long time Dragon Quest fans. Monster names have all been retranslated fresh, so now Babbles are Bubble Slimes, Healers are Heal Slimes, and Red Slimes are now She-slimes for some reason (I never considered the red slime to be female before... O_o). Spells also received the retranslation treatment. This is especially hard for us long time fans as we don't know what spells it is that we're casting until they're done. Personally, I've had to write myself out a little checklist that tells me what each spell is (Zoom = Return, Evac = Outside, Midheal = Healmore, Crack = Icebolt, Crackle = Snowstorm, Fizz = Blaze, Fizzle = Firebal, etc). New fans, obviously, aren't going to know that things are translated differently, so this will only really effect us older fans. While we're on the subject of the translation, the text has all been translated into British English rather than American English, giving the game a very medieval feel. Also a first in the series, many of the significant characters in the game have voices, all with British accents. This is also new from the Japanese release of Dragon Quest VIII, which had no voice overs.
Now, on to the actual content. The music, composed once again by Koichi Sugiyama, is phenominal as always. Another US-exclusive feature is that the midi soundtrack that the Japanese version had has been completely replaced with an orchestral version of the soundtrack, almost guaranteeing a Japanese "Director's Cut" version of the game. As for the story, Yuji Horii has once again cranked out a fabulous Dragon Quest-quality plot to follow along as you grind your characters up in level:
The game starts right in the middle of the action, going back to explain the slow part of the story (a lesson possibly learned from the hour or so of inactivity at the beginning of Dragon Quest VII. You play as a soldier in the army of the Kingdom of Trodain, a nation hit by a terrible curse; the evil jester Dhoulmagus has obtained an ancient sceptre which has granted him an inordinate amount of power, and his first action with this was to attack the kingdom of Trodain, sending an army of giant, thorny vines throughout the kingdom, murdering many of the citizens, and then cursing the royal family, turning the princess into a horse, and King Trode into a monster. The only other survivor is our hero, who takes on the task of avenging the people of Trodain and returning the king and princess to their original states. Soon after, they meet up with Yangus, a now former theif, and a powerful member of the party.
As a whole, the game is very well made, and is far easier for a new player to sink their teeth into than previous Dragon Quest titles. If any game in the series was going to recruit new fans, it's this one. What's more, even forgetting previous titles in the series, this is a great RPG, and one of the best of recent years.