(www.plasticpals.com) Dragon Quest VIII: The Journey of the Cursed King follows the trail of an evil jester named Dhoulmagus who has cursed the inhabitants of the kingdom of Trodain. The hero is the only person in the castle who manages to resist the evil magic, so the king (who has been transformed into an imp) enlists his help. Together they'll make many friends and some enemies on a grand old quest for king and country. It closely follows series' tradition, but also pushes the series forward with its more modern presentation.
As usual you'll explore towns, talk to characters to learn what to do next, and fight enemies along the way in random encounters. It's all fairly typical role-playing stuff, following a linear story progression without too many opportunities to get lost. While some of the scenarios aren't particularly interesting, there are quite a few memorable ones. One minor gripe is that, because of the size of the world map (which has been built to scale), it can take quite a while to get from point A to B until you get the Zoom spell (and other forms of transportation).
A couple of notable new ideas were introduced that would carry over in Dragon Quest 9. The first is tension, which can be built up during battles to boost a character's abilities. It adds a bit of strategy to the battle system, since it's often a gamble to build up tension over several rounds if an enemy has the ability to neutralize it.
The second is the alchemy pot, which can be used to create new items, but the implementation here is a little janky. Unlike in Dragon Quest 9, alchemy recipes don't always tell you what ingredients are required, or even what the resulting item will be. Even more annoying is the time required to actually alchemize anything, which ranges from 5 to 10 minutes.
When the series moved to the PlayStation with the 7th installment, it kept most of the trappings of the series' traditional appearance and sound. Dragon Quest 8 brings things more into line with modern expectations. For the first time story scenes feature voice acting for every major character, and the score is fully orchestrated. The titular cursed king Trode is particularly well acted, as is your main pal Yangus, who both provide much comic relief throughout the adventure. Most of the characters have English accents which fit the setting and really add to the overall tone of the game.
Additionally, all of the characters are modeled in 3D which allows them to better express themselves during the story scenes. It's a huge departure from the small 2D sprites of the previous games which hardly captured the look of Akira Toriyama's character designs. The game's cinematic moments are done using the capable in-game graphics, which have a hand-drawn anime appearance with ink outlines.
The settings are slightly disappointing, since they can't quite reflect Toriyama's style and are often a bit bland. It is somewhat excusable, given the hardware limitations as well as the sheer number of towns and castles that had to be made. That said, the draw distance is pretty impressive, allowing you to see to the horizon.
Dragon Quest games are never too challenging, but a few of the bosses and optional side quests certainly can be. Finding all 110 mini medals, for instance, requires that you explore the world with a fine-toothed comb. The monster arena can get pretty tough, and the Dragovian Trials are especially difficult. You can easily spend an hour or two just in the game's casino.
It's possible to complete the main story in around 50 hours but it's likely to keep your interest well beyond that. My personal play time was around 75 hours with very little time spent level-grinding. Completing some of the post-game content will even unlock an enhanced ending.
Fans of traditional role-playing games will find it hard to put the controller down, and when it's all said and done the experience leaves you totally satisfied. The PlayStation 2 was certainly no stranger to RPGs, but Dragon Quest 8 manages to rise above them all with its great cast of characters and memorable storyline. This is hands-down the one RPG you simply must play on the PlayStation 2.
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