Old school gameplay meets new school presentation in the revival of a role-playing legend.

User Rating: 9.4 | Dragon Quest VIII: Sora to Umi to Daichi to Norowareshi Himegimi PS2
After the misery that was the snail-paced Dragon Warrior VII, I was severely doubting whether I should bother getting Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. However, having picked it up and logged in a large amount of time on it, I can say that this game has addressed all the fundamental flaws of the preceeding title, while staying true to the traditions that made the series so great in its glory days on the NES.

The most striking change from seven to eight is in the graphical department. Dragon Warrior VII was perhaps the most laughably bad-looking title on the PlayStation, quite a feat to accomplish to be sure. Blocky, textureless polygons and blurry, pudgy sprites made the game an eyesore. In Dragon Quest VIII, the game is presented in beautiful 3D using cel-shaded characters against realistic backdrops. Just looking at the screenshots provided here on Gamespot, it's clear that Akira Toriyama's artistry comes to life in this installment like never before, giving the whole game the feel of a high-budget anime.

Sound was also among Dragon Warrior VII's failings. The synth just sounded strange in the game. Tinny and boring most of the time, not carrying any of the grandeur that a Dragon Quest title should have. Again, this is fixed with Dragon Quest VIII. The sharp, crisp environmental effects and attack sounds are complimented by a rousing symphonic soundtrack that conveys the epic feel of the journey you're on. Of course, the American version of the game also benefits from spoken Engligh dialogue during cutscenes. And I do mean English. The localization was done in the United Kingdom, and the accents of the characters, as well as their propensity for British slang, make this crystal clear. It would be best to learn what the British mean by "Bird," "Cor Blimey," and a host of other slang.

The game also sines in the story department. No, this isn't an angst-ridden tale filled with emotionally handicapped individuals crying all over the place to make the story seem deeper than it really is. However, the tale of the heroes' chase for the vile jester Dhoulmagus is more coherent and moves at a far faster pace than the slow trod of vignettes that marked Dragon Warrior VII. Also, the cast of characters, player character or otherwise, is amazing. From the doting maid Emma to the insecure playboy Angelo, it's hard not to find someone to attach yourself to during the sixty plus hours you'll be playing this game for.

While the basic gameplay hasn't changed since Dragon Warrior II for the NES, refinements such as the ability to select individual enemies among a group really help to ease the burden of fighting and add to the strategy. Another tweak is the replacement of the occupation system with a point distribution system that allows limited customization of each of the characters. This will unlock several awesome abilities, such as Yangus' Monster Masher. It should be noted that diehard Dragon Warrior veterans will notice several differences in enemy and spell names. "Healers" become "healslimes," "Return," becomes "Zoom," and so forth. While it's certainly not a huge problem, it may be somewhat disorienting to those who have grown comfortable with the series. I would have prefered to have the old names in just for tradition's sake.

One thing I didn't like, however, was the menu. The full-screen menu has various tasks ordered by tabs. While it's not that difficult, it does make the learning curve a bit higher as you try to figure out what tab things are on.

That one problem aside, it's hard not to recommend Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed Kingdom to diehard RPG players, or to anyone looking for a more intellectual brand of RPG. Just be prepared to stay a little while.