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Funny story. I was picking up a preorder of Shadow the Hedgehog for the GameCube when I saw that the game store was releasing Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King early. Square-Enix didn’t want the game to get buried launching the same day as the Xbox 360. I ended up picking it up as well on a whim. While Shadow the Hedgehog was… something, I ended up experiencing one of my favorite games of that generation with Dragon Quest VIII. Now over a decade later, all these folks with 3DS can now for the first (or second) time play this amazing game. And it has aged wonderfully thanks to some neat enhancements and portable play.
For those who never played Dragon Quest VIII, you play as a knight for King Trode, whose castle was attacked by the jester Dhoulmagus. The king and his daughter were cursed as a troll and horse respectfully. You (the only one unfazed) start a journey with them to reverse these actions. You along the way befriend the bandit Yangus, the vengeance-ridden Jessica and the romantic Angelo, and their clashing characteristics help make the 80-hour-plus journey of vengeance and redemption into one of friendship and personal discovery.
With the artwork of Dragon Ball’s Akira Toriyama, a killer British dub and Level 5’s expertise in cel-shading and game design, the world of Dragon Quest VIII is ripe with beauty, great production and whimsy that is few and far between in video games, even today. Like Tales of the Abyss and Xenoblade Chronicles, Dragon Quest VIII being on the 3DS is a great fit. It’s second chance shares shelf space with other great RPGs. Their console lineage also gives some modern handheld greats like Pokémon Sun/Moon, Fire Emblem Awakening, Etrian Odyssey, Shin Megami Tensei IV, Stella Glow and Bravely Default a run for their money.
The combat is simply an old-school, no-frills, turn-based affair: you got your attack, defend, spells, abilities and items. One unique thing it does however is Psyche Up. It takes a turn buffing your attacks while getting into some Super Saiyan-looking poses. One thing that could be a positive or negative depending on your style, is that each character has their own inventory separate from the caravan’s. If you didn’t equip someone with healing items, you could be in a pickle if a tough fight goes in a wrong direction.
The game’s trailers don’t do the game justice visually. On an actual 3DS it looks much sharper. It’s a nice change of pace compared to others like Pokémon that has a fuzzy look to it. The towns, dungeons, characters and other important locales all look great. However the overworlds could have benefited with some extra visual work as they still look a bit bland and have some pop-in.
Hinted at previously, there’s an excellent British dub within the Western version of the game. Many of the games’ characters have full voice acting. Like other British dubs like Xenoblade Chronicles, it’s a refreshing change of pace than the voices from American anime localizers. Yangus gets the nod for voice MVP. His super cockney accent just gives him so much more flavor than anyone else. This dub was created for the Western version because the Japanese got an orchestrated score that was licensed only for the native land. The Western OST uses a MIDI version of the score, though players have got to lower the music’s volume on the audio settings as its high pitches utterly drowns the other audio in the game. In addition, the soundtrack making the 3DS’ speakers scream is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.
For those who have played the PS2 original, the 3DS version adds a few upgrades. The combat animations can be sped up and the second screen shows a detailed map. The enemy encounters are no longer random (excellent) and there’s two new characters. Red, Yangus’ pirate semi-girlfriend, and Morrie, the monster arena manager, both join the fight. They add a bit more flesh to an already great game. If the extra characters weren’t enough, one other brilliant addition is the Cameron Codex challenges. It’s a new lengthy side quest revolved around taking snapshots of particular things with the new Photo Mode.
Dragon Quest VIII was my favorite PS2 game and I’m reminded why with this enhanced 3DS port. The characters, soundtrack, gameplay, story, and length are all crafted masterfully. It was hard to put it down, even though I experienced it over eleven years ago. For those wanting a good 3DS game, a good RPG in general, or something trying to fill time while they count down the days until the Nintendo Switch, look no further than Dragon Quest VIII. It’s one of the best JRPGs of all time, all over again.
Now can we get a Dragon Quest IX remake for Switch?