Monday, October 31, 2011

3 Year RPG Special Part 4: Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Crused King for the PS2




Welcome to the next part of the 3-year RPG special. I remember reading a pretty harsh statement from Bioware stating that Japanese-style RPG’s lacked innovation. While that may be true in some areas, I don’t think they should say that when Bioware’s Dragon Age 2 was not as good as the original, with a not-so-well-developed story, bland characters, and still had what critics called an identity crisis of wanting to know what kind of game it wants to be. It also doesn’t help with the whole controversy about that Bioware employee giving the game a perfect 10 out of 10 and calling any other reviewer biased and stupid. Even though RPG’s from Japan still use common gameplay elements like turn-based combat and have fairly simple melodramatic stories, it works out for some series since sometimes we don’t need a fully complex story with underlying political or religious themes. Sometimes, we just need a simple story with enjoyable characters and a sense of adventure and excitement without having to pay close attention to the story’s many underlying themes. This is where the very popular Dragon Quest series comes in. This is probably the most popular series back in Japan and for good reason. The franchise has had very simple, but entertaining plots (it differs from game to game since Dragon Quest 4 and 5 have great stories) and great characters with a combat system that hasn’t changed in about 20 or more years. While I have admittingly stayed far away from this franchise due to extreme levels of difficulty that does turn some people off, if you stay with the games you will learn to love them and be hooked on them for the rest of your life. This is where Dragon Quest 8 comes in for the PS2! A game that I think is far better than Final Fantasy 12 and 13 entirely, Dragon Quest 8 with its simple yet entertaining story, great characters, simple combat, and of course the artwork of Akira Toriyama added for some flare is a great RPG. Any RPG fan that likes old traditional turn-based RPG’s should get this game immediately! It’s one of if not the best RPG on the PS2 and one of my favorite RPGs. Let’s dive into the wonderful world of Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King.


The story tells us of a kingdom that was cursed by a jester turned evil wizard named Dhoulmagus. This event doesn’t end well with the results being the king turned into a sort of frog-like man, and his daughter turned into a horse. The king is accompanied by a hefty thief named Yangus, and of course the main character named Hero (I called him Alan). It is their quest to save the king’s land and stop Dhoulmagus in his tracks before he rules the world. Along their journey they will meet two more characters, Jessica a hot vixen with a headstrong attitude, and Angelo a suave yet clever swordsman. The story might not be original, with a pretty simple plot, but if you look at a lot of Japanese styled RPG’s of today, their stories aren’t that original or unique either. Dragon Quest 8 fixes this by having only 4 main characters and the story being well told with some touching scenes, funny scenes, and some pretty dark areas. It all results in a wonderfully told story and one that you will be sticking with for awhile. 

The gameplay is very simplistic in design, but like I said in so many other reviews about RPG’s, there are some tweaks done that makes this franchise so charming. Battles take place in a first person perspective, kind of like if you were playing a turn-based version of the Elder Scroll games. You take turns smacking around monsters and leveling up. Surprisingly, all of the characters can excel in specific weapons, like the Hero, who has no name of course, is actually really good with boomerangs since they can hit all enemies on the screen, Yangus can do heavy damage with an Axe, Jessica can use a whip, and Angelo is great with a sword or bow and arrow. This gives the game a lot of variety since having a hero who can hit all the enemies on the screen with one normal attack is a great thing to have since the battles can sometimes have up to EIGHT enemies on screen. Heck, I even ran into a battle with TEN enemies. Battles can be tough depending on what monsters you are fighting in that exact battle. Sometimes, they can be pushovers and sometimes they can be even harder than the boss! I kid you not, I got killed at least twice by normal enemies that happened to be in big groups, and then I blazed through the boss like melted butter. Each time you level up each character, they get skill points that you can use on different attributes that can help you. For example, Jessica has an attribute called Sex Appeal. If you focus on that specific attribute, monsters in battle will be swayed by her and not attack your party. Or if you level up Yangus’s humanity, he can have an attack later where he has a bunch of old people run over the monsters. There is a deep strategy here since the encounter rate is high, which require you to be a few levels stronger than you already are to defeat the bosses that will hit you hard if you don’t level up enough. You can also increase your attack power by doing a sort of buffing move called psyche up where your tension rises and you do more damage. About half way through the game or so, you can fight visible monsters in the overworld and recruit them to make a sort of backup army, and if you group certain monsters together, they can do special attacks and moves, kind of like in Dragon Quest 5. As you travel across the world from a third person perspective, you can find items to mix together in an alchemy pot to make new, rare, or normal items for your party, but you will have to wait awhile for the alchemy pot to finish the first item before moving onto the next. This is a smart idea since you don’t get a lot of money in the game, and items cost a lot. Sometimes, it’s better to find ingredients for one weapon instead of buying the current weapon you see at a store. 

The graphics are beautiful for the PS2. Level 5, the developers of the White Knight franchise, the Professor Layton series, Dark Cloud series, Rogue Galaxy, and Jeanne D’Arc knew how to make the next game in the Dragon Quest series. They tuned this series tightly so it isn’t as drawn out as Dragon Quest 6 or 7. The characters are memorable, and they are complex and 3 dimensional, and I say that even when Jessica wears a somewhat sultry outfit and an even sultrier outfit if you find the playboy bunny outfit and the Hero doesn’t talk. They both have so much character in them that you cannot find in games like Final Fantasy 13. The character and monster designs by famed manga artist Akira Toriyama look great in this cel-shaded 3D environment. One of the best things about the design of the monsters is the personality they give off that only Akira Toriyama’s designs can do. Even their personalities affect how they attack in battles, like the Jailcat and its many color-pallet-swapped cousins will sometimes just lick themselves, and there are enemies that will just stare off into space. Even if some of the names of the monsters are terrible puns, there is just a charm to them that just brings you more into the game. The voice acting is terrific! Yeah, you can say it sounds bad because of the hammy accents, but that is part of the charm. It is like if you were watching the love child of a Monty Python and Princess Bride film. I mean, sometimes in RPG’s, the voice actors aren’t given good direction and they sound silly pulling you out of the game in result. You hear the voice acting in this game, and you just get pulled even more into its unique world. For a while, I wanted to know who the voice actors were for this game, and after some research here is what I found. Ricky Grover voices Yangus, Emma Ferguson voices Jessica, Blake Riston voices Angelo, Jon Glover voices Trode, and there are some other great voices, just look up this game on IMDB. The music is heavenly, and I get the feeling of great adventure awaiting me when I pick up my controller and turn on the PS2. The composer for this series is Koichi Sugiyama. He is famous for making that great and awe inspiring theme song that again gives you the feeling of an awe inspiring adventure awaiting you. He is also famous for working on the entire Dragon Quest series, along with film and T.V like Cyborg 009, Gatchaman, and even Godzilla vs. Biollante. His music is great and is definitely I-pod worthy, so go find the soundtrack for this game right now!

Oh my goodness, this is such a perfect game! I mean, I might be fan boyish right now with this game, but there are some minor faults. The encounter rate can be high and a tad annoying at times when you are trying to get to place to place and are stopped by constant random encounters, but that’s really only if you’re traveling by night when certain enemies come out and the encounter rate is higher. For some reason, they decided to keep the gimmick of reviving your dead friends ONLY at the church. Granted, you can get out of areas faster by using specific spells to get to the church, but it’s just the fact that you can’t revive them on the spot, which is tedious, since fights get tougher and tougher. Before I move onto the conclusion, here are some tips for people who want to play this game. Have the Hero focus on boomerangs and lances, grind until you’re about level 6 before you fight the first boss, and don’t just flail away at the boss. Look at the situation, and when you get Angelo, make sure you use him as the main healer along with the Hero, and make sure you’re about 4 levels above your past level before you go onto each boss fight. It will make boss fights much easier.
Well then, what can I say that I haven’t said already about this game? I…LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE this game! This IS one of my favorite games of all time. It’s basically everything you want in an RPG, it’s almost perfect. Heck, it IS perfect. I declare Dragon Quest 8 to be the best RPG on the PS2. You can get this game for about 10 bucks and more. If you can find it, BUY IT! You will not regret it. You could say that Dragon Quest 8 is being stubborn with how traditional it’s staying, but really? Is that a bad thing? It’s like people complaining about how Super Mario Galaxy 2 is just more Super Mario galaxy? Again, is that REALLY a bad thing?!  Sometimes, it’s better if we don’t invest our time into some new-fangled game gimmick that in the end is unpleasant, like Fable 3 and Mindjack. You will probably see me review Dragon Quest 4, 5, and 9, so make sure to look for those in my 2012 reviews. Dragon Quest 8 is hands down one of my top 20 favorite RPG’s of all time and is one of my top 25 favorite games of all time. Now, go out and have yourself an amazing adventure through the land of Dragon Quest 8! 

This game gets a 10 out of 10

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