A massive, old school JRPG that delivers

User Rating: 8 | Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King 3DS

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a soft place in my heart for the Dragon Quest series, and now, with this recent 3DS rerelease, I own the first nine main games in one form or another (the only ones I have yet to beat are II and III). This eighth installment was one I was unsure of if I’d ever get the chance to play it, but thankfully, its transition to Nintendo’s handheld has given me that chance. And it delivers almost exactly what you’d expect from a DQ game: a large, charming adventure filled with things to do.

The kingdom of Trodain has fallen prey to a malicious jester named Dhoulmagus. Said jester has stolen a precious staff and is using it to wreak havoc and mayhem around the world. Initially, the typically mute protagonist is accompanied by King Trode, who has been turned into a stout green monster, as well as the thief Yangus and the princess Medea, who has been turned into a horse by the curse. Along the way, you meet up with other characters that join your fight for their own personal reasons and eventually, the stakes are raised much higher than mere vengeance.

It’s an interesting set up for the series, which is usually more straight forward with its save the world story lines. Anyone familiar with the games know where the story will be going, but the execution of everything makes the traditional narrative engaging anyways. Plus, despite being about revenge, it manages to strike a more humorous and light hearted tone than a dreary one, with an excellent script and solid voice work making it a pleasure to take in the story scenes. But this game also gets darker than other main entries, with people being killed on screen. Never once, though, do these two tones clash. It’s serious when it needs to be and goofy at other times.

What helps you get invested, too, is that the characters are all more fleshed out than in previous games. While they still aren’t the chattiest party in RPG history, their voice actors give each one a flair unique to them. The banter is fun to listen to, particularly whenever Yangus refers to King Trode as “grandad.” My personal favorite was probably Morrie, an older man who runs a monster arena and is only available after working your way through the ranks of said arena (this would be spoilertastic if it wasn’t given away on the back of the box). He dresses in skin tight leotards and is obsessed with passion and giving it your all. His accent is the fun cherry on top.

Game play is fairly standard for anyone who has ever played a JRPG or other games in the series. You explore a world map (this time around it’s fully 3d and absolutely massive) and fight monsters in turn based battles, as well as talk to the locals of the various towns you visit. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but it proves just how effective this structure can be when executed well. There are also some newer features that were brought over to the ninth game that help give your party your own personal tweak.

Each character can equip different types of weapons. For instance, the hero can equip swords, spears, or boomerangs. It’s entirely up to you which one to use. For each party member, you can pour skill points into different trees. There’s one for each available weapon, one for Fisticuffs if you want to make them an unarmed bruiser, and one unique to each individual. The hero’s is known as Courage, and investing points in this tree can give him passive buffs like lowering MP cost, as well as give him powerful spells. The trees help you make your characters the way you want to make them, and give you even more reasons to level up.

While customizing skills is fun and all, there’s plenty to do outside of battle. The Mini Medal side quest makes a return, giving you an incentive to explore every corner of the world and the towns (for those that don’t know, you turn Mini Medals you find in the environment over to a particular character for special items). Then there’s the Camera Codex. New to this version of the game, you can take pictures at any time. A certain character assigns you different challenges to photograph, like a rare enemy or a particular landmark. Much like Mini Medals, turning in enough pictures can net you some extremely useful equipment.

Then there’s the Monster Arena, which is similar in execution to the sixth game. Throughout the world you’ll find tougher monsters that are marked with an icon of two swords crossing. Defeating said monster will give you the chance to recruit them for your monster team and fight in the arena. Each rank is tougher than the last, so keeping your monsters up to date is a must for this quest. After a certain point, you can even call your monsters into battle to fight for a few rounds, which is immensely helpful if you’re struggling with a boss or just don’t feel like fighting yourself.

To top all this content off, the game looks really good. It’s a visual downgrade from the home original PS2 version, but the character models are still well done, as is the world. Some of the places you explore are huge, like a cathedral that serves as the center for faith, or one of the many castle towns you visit. Then there are the monsters, which are as charming and varied as any other game in the series. From the adorably goofy slimes to the ferocious Hacksaurus’s, the monsters all look great and keep battling interesting with their variety.

When all was said and done, I’d spent about 50 hours finishing the main story. You could probably finish in less time if you really wanted to, but I personally enjoyed exploring the world to its fullest and completing side quests. Even more bonus content opens up after the final boss is defeated, with two super challenging bonus dungeons meaning you have plenty to keep yourself occupied with. It’s great bang for your buck and unlike the seventh installment, which had some serious pacing issues at times, this one is has excellent, tight pacing. The only time I wasn’t progressing the main story was when I chose to go exploring and seeing what I could find.

The only complaints I can muster are ones that sadly plague the series as a whole. For one, the menu system is clunky as ever, requiring far too many button presses and menu openings to do even basic things like cast a healing spell. Another is that stats are still too unpredictable. Agility is supposed to determine which character or enemy acts first, but in this series it instead increases your chances of going first. It can make bosses frustrating at times, particularly the final one, which is probably the toughest in the series (that I’ve played, at least) since you can’t tell who is going to act when and plan accordingly.

Still, that shouldn’t stop you from playing this epic, old school adventure. It’s jam packed with things to do outside of its solid gameplay core. It’s one of the best games in the series thanks to the execution of its story, the exploration, and character customization. It won’t win over naysayers since it has its feet planted firmly in tradition, but for people who can’t get enough of JRPGs, it’s something that needs to be in your library.

The Good:

+ Fun characters elevate the fairly typical story

+ Massive world to explore

+ Lots of content to play through

+ Great pacing means the game never drags

+ Good production values

The Bad:

- Frustrations from previous games rear their ugly heads in this one, too