Dragon Quest games often fall to the wayside in terms of Square Enix releases due to the immense popularity of the Final Fantasy franchise in the West, but with releases like Dragon Quest IX and Builders, they’ve started to come to the light more than they had before. This trend continues with the 3DS version of 2005’s Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Originally released for the PS2, DQ8 was met with critical acclaim for its’ engaging story, varied characters and beauty in both visuals and sound. With the original release being over a decade old, does such beauty hold up on a smaller screen in 2017? Almost perfectly.
The core premise of Dragon Quest VIII holds up very well as a simple, yet very engaging JRPG that sits very pleasantly in any 3DS owners’ library next to games like Bravely Default and Shin Megami Tensei IV. The evil magician Dhoulmagus has cursed a castle and stolen its’ magical weapon, turning the king into a toad and the pricess into the horse, making the titular Journey of the Cursed King. It’s a tale as old as JRPG’s themselves, but the basic form of the plot develops in delightfully weird and charming ways that keep you coming back for more.
Akira Toriyama (of Chrono Trigger and Dragonball fame) brings his quintessential artistic brand to Dragon Quest VIII and it stands to reason that his style is one of the most easily recognised of all manga-styled games in history. The fact that DQ8’s character design can stand up to such monsters as the aforementioned Chrono Trigger and Dragonball is a sight to behold. It holds up beautifully on the 3DS and loses next to nothing in the translation from PS2 to 3DS. The frame rate stays very high and the resolution is only very slightly lower, but not to any hugely noticeable degree. (There’s a heck of a lot to be said for the sound design in DQ8 as well, with a brilliant orchestral score that spreads wildly between light-heated tunes, dramatic confrontations represented in boss battles and atmospheric underscores in dungeons. The game is also almost fully voice-acted, which is pretty rare in 3DS games, and is very much appreciated in this modern era.
One of the nicest things about Dragon Quest VIII is the simplicity and accessability of its’ design. You won’t find any sprawling spreadsheets here to make the most of your massive roster of characters. Rather, you have a simple party of 4 (all of which are very likeable characters, I myself have a fondness for Angelo) who learn new abilities as they level up and get better equipment as you progress through the game. That’s it. If you prefer your JRPGs to be much more involved and in-depth with it’s battle/party management systems, you may find youself disappointed and just how old school DQ8 is. However, do not confuse simplicity for ease, as this game by no means holds your hand throughout it’s lengthy campaign (approximately 15-20 hours have gone into this game prior to this review and there’s no sign of stopping for quite some time!). Some of the fights in this game, even with random monsters, can prove to be very difficult, and can almost come across as cheap when a monster sneaks up on you, happens to be not 1 monster, but 4 or 5, and take you out with no effort whatsoever. Save regularly, people!
The fact remains that while Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is a lovely game, it is one that we have seen before. If you have played the original on PS2, I wouldn’t go in expecting too much out of this version that wasn’t already present. Regardless of whether you have played the game before or not, it is a worthy addition to the JRPG-loving 3DS owner. If you haven’t played it before, expect a variety of loveable characters, colourful expanses and wonderful music (and the occasional hair-pulling monster encounter!). It pays homage to a very traditional style of game, that we could honestly do to see more of in this modern age of video games.