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The 2005 PS2 Role-Playing video game

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Beautiful... But Definitely More for Old School Fans (4.5/5)

  • Nov 6, 2009
  • by
In Japan, the Dragon Quest games are huge.  So much so that the creators are urged to release the game on Sundays or Holidays.  It's not quite that way in America or in other countries.  In fact, in several countries, Dragon Quest VIII was the first Dragon Quest game they ever got.  America at least got the first four games and the seventh installment.  Throughout the years gamers are constantly baffled by the huge love affair Japan has with the games.  True enough, Dragon Quest doesn't do a lot of special things.  In fact, in almost every area where Dragon Quest succeeds... Final Fantasy is often seen as being far better in most countries outside of Japan.  Yet for what it's worth Dragon Quest is still a fantastic series.  It's very rare to find an American who actually knows the series very well, but the ones that do are strangely passionate about it.  Dragon Quest VIII was the first game in the series to really make a huge dent in America.  It has sold nearly 700,000 copies.  That may not sound like much compared to Final Fantasy X (which sold 2.8 million in America) but it's a huge number when you consider it is the most exposure any Dragon Quest game ever got outside of Japan.  And 700,000 units sold goes a very long way.

Dragon Quest VII, when it dropped down on the Playstation showed that while the Dragon Quest series was still a lot of fun to play, the games in and of themselves were very dated.  Dragon Quest VII in particular was a Playstation game that still looked like an SNES game and it played like an NES one.  Very dated.  

In 2003, however, something magical happened.  Enix merged with Squaresoft.  Say what you want about Square-Enix but the merge benefitted the Dragon Quest series immensely.  With Square giving Dragon Quest VIII a bit of a Final Fantasy makeover graphically, and Enix continuing to tweak the gameplay, Dragon Quest VIII still seems dated but it at least looks as though it isn't in the wrong time period anymore.  It looks like a PS2 game.  And while it doesn't fully play like one, at least the visual appeal gives you the feeling that it does.  It's a little hard to explain, but some of the visual uplifts helped to make Dragon Quest VIII more absorbing and the overall adventure much more fun.

Dragon Quest VIII, like every other title in the series, puts you in the shoes of an unnamed, mute Hero.  Unlike other Dragon Quest games, however (except for VII) there is a definite focus on story going on throughout the game.  A man by the name of Dhoulmagus has stolen a Scepter from the Trodian Kingdom and has used it to turn the the King into a toad and the Princess into a horse.  It sounds funny on paper, but the game itself actually makes this come off as something quite terrible, if only because the game really lets you know that while Dhoulmagus spared the King and his daughter, he's still a very bad dude.  And it shows throughout the journey.  Throughout you'll meet characters that have seen him and have been killed by him.  The story, of course, becomes something so much bigger as it progresses. And the cast of characters you'll meet outside of the main hero are all very well done.  Most of the characters don't get too much development, but they've got likeable personalities and the game is full of several twists.  That's not to say the story is great.  It's merely good, but Dragon Quest VIII never actually raises to the epic nature of several other JRPGs.  At the very least Dragon Quest VIII doesn't have to.  The story may not be epic in nature, but it doesn't skimp on any of its moments.  It's also surprisingly dark. 

But the biggest reason why there isn't a huge story aspect to Dragon Quest VIII is because there just isn't a whole lot of it.  What story there is is good, but the reason it never rises to epic proportion is because you'll spend a lot of time not really trudging through the story.  This is precisely where Dragon Quest VIII's old school charm comes in.  If you played RPGs in the late 80's or early 90's, Dragon Quest VIII feels a lot like them.  There's a story and you'll go from Point A to Point B etc., but for the most part the game is pretty non-linear in its approach.  Without a strategy guide or a handy online walkthrough from GameFAQs, you might be hard pressed to figure out just where to go next.  The game almost never tells you where to go next, and when it does you won't necessarily know how to get there.  Instead what usually ends up happening is that you'll have to talk to severa denizens in whatever town you're in or else you might not know very many locations at all.  It's old school, but it still manages to work.  If you get off the beaten trail, you'll definitely know because the enemies you run into will be much too strong.  The game really pushes exploration as well.  You may not know where to go next, but the game doesn't hold your hand about it.  This is even more apparent about halfway through the game when you get a ship to explore the entire world.  At that point it's easy to feel completely lost because the game never really tells you where to go.  It pushes you to explore. 

On the other hand, even enemies in your current location might be strong.  Again, this is because Dragon Quest VIII is very old school.  This means, for those who began their RPGing with games like Final Fantasy VII... that you'll have to take time to run around and level grind.  For me, this is absolute fun, but for those who just want to get on with the quest (and who have never been exposed to Dragon Quest before) you might be annoyed.  When I say grinding, I'm not kidding.  You'll have to get into several battles before a character levels up.  The game will take you upwards of 100 hours to complete because you'll spend a lot of that time grinding.  Not only that, but there is more to do after the main quest is over.  The point still stands, however, that Dragon Quest VIII may be brought up to standard, but never left any of its old school charm behind.  If you are to succeed at Dragon Quest VIII you're going to have to learn the meaning of patience.  No game will teach you the virtue of patience better than Dragon Quest VIII.

The battle system itself isn't that much better either.  Again, for me this is all fun stuff.  I grew up on this old school kind of stuff.  But if you started in the LATE 90's or (worse yet) the early 2000's, this type of gameplay is going to be foreign to you.  Many of the current JRPGs don't push the player to really raise their characters.  Dragon Quest does.  This is especially apparent in the battle system as it's not active, fast or anything like that.  It's completely menu based, with you selecting all the actions of your characters and then watching a round of combat take place.  There are hardly any special flashy things going on in combat either. 

There are a couple of Final Fantasy tweaks in Dragon Quest VIII, however--even within the battle system.  For one, there is actual animation in battle now.  This doesn't sound like much to most of you reading this review, but you have to understand that in Dragon Quest I through VII each battle took place with no animations whatsoever.  You might see a slash go across the enemy, but you never saw your characters go up to the enemy and physically strike them.  Ever.  Even as the Playstation showed fluid animations of this happening.  Dragon Quest never made that leap, until now.  Again, it doesn't seem like a big deal unless you've been playing Dragon Quest from its inception.  And yes, some of it does look dated.  The menu based stylings of combat may be tiring for those used to fast paced combat, but Dragon Quest has never been about this.  Yet it is strangely fun... in part because it's just so simple.  Don't take this to mean that Dragon Quest VIII is easy.  The game is anything but.  Again, going back to its old school roots, this means that Dragon Quest VIII can be, at times, very punishing.  If you're not level grinding and instead are trying to plow through the game, it isn't going to happen.  You're going to die.  A lot.  And dying in Dragon Quest VIII gives you a BIG penalty.  You'll restart from the last place you saved and you'll lose half your money.  Considering your enemies don't drop a lot of cash... you're going to want to survive in battle.

All of those old school charms are fantastic, though.  But for all the old school charms that work there are certain things that don't.  Some things Dragon Quest really should change by now.  Some of them work better in Dragon Quest VIII, but many of them should be overhauled entirely.  In particular is Dragon Quest VIII's save system.  In order to save you have to find a priest in a town at the church.  You can ONLY save if you find one of these guys.  This wouldn't be such a problem if these guys weren't so few and far between.  Later on you'll get spells that will warp you to towns instantly... but for heaven's sake this game was released in 2005.  This has been something Dragon Quest has been doing since the very first game.  To give you an idea of how old the series is... the first game debuted in 1986.  And in the 80's this form of saving was quite appropriate.  It was all about level grinding and whatnot.  Yet this is perhaps the part about Dragon Quest that needs to be changed the most.  The dungeons are, for the most part, incredibly long dungeons.  Traversing from one town to the next on the world map also takes an incredibly long time.  Having save points this few and far between is a big issue.  There's no quicksave or anything either.  And there's nothing worse than getting far into an already long dungeon... in an already difficult game... only to die because you either run out of resources or because you're just not strong enough to tackle it.  It's a pain in the ass and it's something that in 2005 should've been remedied.  We're not playing games in 1986 anymore.  The old school aspects of the battle system and level grinding are charming, nostalgic and enjoyable, but saving in Dragon Quest sucks the big one. 

In addition to that, the quickest and easiest way to revive fallen comrades is to take them to the goddamn priest who has to cast a resurrection spell.  Saving is painful enough.  At the very least it encourages you to go through the game and keep your characters alive in battle.  Before you start thinking all is lost there IS a revive spell in the game.  Unfortunately the spell can, umm... miss.  Again, a convention that is twenty years old that should've been tossed into the trashcan along with the idea of having to find a Priest to save your game.  You also don't get a lot of MP and that spell costs A LOT of MP.  If a character goes down in battle you're almost better off leaving him like that until you get to the next town.  But even that has its penalties.  The higher in level your characters get, the more a Priest will charge to ressurect them.  As I said... at the very least it will encourage players to work hard to keep their characters alive (and yes, before you ask, even if you cast the revive spell out of battle it can miss... WHAT!?), but it just seems silly that in 2005 gamers were being punished more by dated conventions than the actual difficulty of the game itself.

Another aspect of Dragon Quest that's very old school that needs to change is the menu system.  Surprisingly, navigating the menu in Dragon Quest VIII is way better than in any game before it which, again, kept the same old thing since 1986.  If you've ever played any of the original Dragon Quest games... it's embarassing that even in 2005 the developers couldn't get it right.  The menu interface should've stopped being a problem by Dragon Quest V.  So it's easier to navigate in Dragon Quest VIII, but it's still a tedious process.  You buy items that take up a single space on their own.  So if you buy two herbs they take up two spaces.  They don't stack.  That's the first problem.  But the even bigger problem is the continued use of a limited inventory.  Each character in your party of four can carry up to twelve items.  Problem is, weapons and armor that you equip take up space too.  So really, you only have seven available slots (if you insist on making sure your characters stay alive).  Again, this is something that just needs to be changed in this day and age.  Navigating the menus is also tedious.  I haven't had to complain about menu interface in an RPG for nearly fifteen years!  It's not rocket science, it's just pointing and clicking!  Yet navigating the menu in Dragon Quest VIII can make you feel like you're doing brain surgery.  It's that ridiculously terrible.  On the bright side the items not carried by your characters can be stored in a sack (and they'll actually stack there) but unless you give them to characters they can't be used in battle.

On the bright side you can combine certain items together in the alchemy pot to make more items or new items such as new weapon, armor etc.  And in fact, mixing and combining items is fun.  The game won't let you combine two items that won't make anything, so you won't waste your time, and you can always talk to town citizens and they'll give you recipes or you can just experiment on your own.  The only downside to making items is that once you choose to mix them, you may have to wait a while.  The more lucrative the item, the longer you have to wait.  Thankfully it isn't too long a wait and it's measure more in steps rather than actual time.  So if you really want to make an item fast you could simply run into a wall (yes, they do count as individual steps) for X amount of steps until the item you're trying to create is done. 

The production values in Dragon Quest VIII are beyond stellar.  This is perhaps where the Final Fantasy influence comes in the strongest.  You'll still recognize your favorite sprites... they're just in full 3D.  There's a full camera at work and there's also just a ton of detail put into the environments.  Akira Toriyama's artwork has never been better either.  The cel-shaded look of Dragon Quest VIII suits the series well, and I'm glad to know that with Dragon Quest IX they'll continue it.  It's an amazing looking game.  The sun also goes up and down in the game world, and it does change the enemies that come out.  Unfortunately it has little effect on much else, but it's still a pretty cool detail.  There are no FMVs.  Dragon Quest VIII looks incredible, but there's absolutely nothing flashy about it.  There may be some perks taken from Final Fantasy for the game, but let's be clear that Dragon Quest is NOT Final Fantasy.  It has never used "flash" in its graphical appeal.  Ever.  In fact, this is perhaps the first time a Dragon Quest actually looks better than much of the content on the system it's on.  Graphics have never been a strong suit for the series.  So it's actually surprising that while there's not a lot of "flash" the game still looks absolutely incredible.

The strongest aspect of Dragon Quest VIII, however, is its soundtrack.  There is hardly a game that sounds better than Dragon Quest VIII.  It's completely orchestral soundtrack is so good that there are times when you might want to just sit around and listen to the music.  The use of music is also fantastic as the right tunes are always played for specific situations.  The towns sound busy and lively, the dungeons mystery and unknown and the world map music sounds as though you're really out exploring the world.  The soundtrack itself isn't huge, but the quality of the music is better than even some of the current games on the market.  If you like orchestral soundtracks you need to hear the music in this game.  Period. 

The voice acting and writing is also top notch... in most respects.  The voice acting, while pretty straightforward, at least conveys the right emotion at the right time.  Just about every character talks with an accent, but it's rather nice to play a game where the accents aren't overdone.  They're perfect.  There isn't voice acting in every moment of the game, but what you get is still good.  That may be the only real problem with the voice acting.  There just isn't enough of it.  In the parts that really matter it's there, at least.

If you're an old school RPGer you'll definitely appreaciate Dragon Quest VIII.  It's that good at appealing to the old school senses.  There are still parts of it that need to be updated (the saving system REALLY needs to be updated) but for the most part, Dragon Quest VIII is a good game.  Old school RPGers take note, you just might like it.  If you began playing RPGs in the late 90's or early millenium then it's an acquired taste.  There is a specific approach that the game demands.  If you can come over that hurdle, you just might enjoy Dragon Quest VIII as well.

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More Dragon Quest VIII [PS2] reviews
Quick Tip by . September 26, 2010
The only stateside PS2 Dragon Quest Game and damn if they only had to get one, they got a good one. Four party members, the same great feel and items to collect and monsters to slay.
review by . May 13, 2009
This is the first Dragon Quest to make its appearance on the PS2 and quite a debute it is. You control a precocious young scamp named Hero who is in search of a way to reverse the spell that has plagued his world. You will recognize the characters as they were designed by the creator of the Dragon Ballz and are cell-shaded to produce that true anime feel. The game also includes a playable demo of Final Fantasy XII...though I bought mine used and never got it. Anyway, let's take a closer look at …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
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I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this video game


Dragon Quest VIII uses cel-shading textures for the characters and scenery and is the first game in the series to have fully three dimensional environments. This game retains most of the series' role-playing game elements, such as turn-based combat and the experience level system. Dragon Quest VIII follows the silent Hero, the main character, and his party of allies as they journey towards their goal of defeating the wicked Dhoulmagus. The kingdom of Trodain has been cursed by Dhoulmagus and the King, Trode, and his daughter, Medea, have both been transformed and it is up to the Hero to return them to their original form and save the kingdom.

Dragon Quest VIII has enjoyed much success since its release, both in Japan and in the US. It is a Square Enix Ultimate Hits and a Sony Greatest Hits title. A survey conducted in 2006 by the magazine Famitsu earned the game the #4 spot as the best video game of all time after Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy VII and Dragon Quest III.
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ESRB: Teen
Number of Players: 1 Player
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Level 5
Console: PS2
Genre: RPG
Release Date: November 15, 2005
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