There is no doubting that this 2004 release from Square Enix is the best JRPG on the PlayStation 2. At least, in my mind.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is a colourful and detailed re-imagining of the Dragon Quest franchise, with Cel-Shaded graphics and tons of monsters – many of them familiar – to fight it out with in turn-based combat.
Don’t be put off by the ‘cartoony’ graphics – this is a ‘hardcore’ RPG. From the outset you are in grave peril and gaining a foothold in the game takes some effort. And some grinding. But it’s worth it, because Dragon Quest VIII is a game that opens-out beautifully as you progress. Alchemy – crafting new items by combining old ones in an alchemy pot – plays a big part in this. And – while your characters do have limited inventories – you also have a separate bag with limitless holding capacity, so not being able to carry stuff never becomes an issue. Which is great because there are some fantastic items to discover in the game.
The game is played with a party of four characters. There’s you – the Hero – who you can name at the beginning. There’s Yangus; a Cockney ex-bandit and your devoted sidekick. Later on a female spellcaster called Jessica joins the team, and even later a Templar Knight called Angelo joins. And you keep these four characters all the way through the game. Each character has their own set of abilities, spells and skills to invest in, and levelling-up always rewards the player with skill points to spend (on skills, obviously), a bump up in general attributes (Resilience, Agility, Strength, etc.), and from time to time the award of new abilities. Yangus, for example, picks up the ‘Whistle’ spell quite early in the game and this is both useful and humorous at the same time. Basically, when it’s used it calls an immediate battle (if you’re in an area where random encounters happen), which is useful for grinding, and for other reasons.
Combat in Dragon Quest VIII is both involving and fun. At first you’ll struggle to survive, but building levels soon ensures that the tables are turned. The sheer number and variety of monsters in Dragon Quest VIII is pretty amazing in itself. Some are actually quite funny; doing weird dances that impair your party members, or failing badly at special moves and falling flat on their faces. One (Kalamari Kid) even doodles away in the middle of a battle, which tickled my funny bone, as it probably will yours.
One of the best things about Dragon Quest VIII are the Boss Battles. There are lots of them, and some of them are very difficult to beat. Which is great: you want a Boss Battle to give you a challenge. And you want the Boss Battles to be varied and interesting. Dragon Quest VIII‘s bosses tick all those boxes, and then some.
Dragon Quest VIII is full of superb little touches, and some big ones too. Like, for example, the fact that – after you complete the game the first time – you can save and reload a special file that puts you back before the final battle, but with new, unlocked places to explore and quests to complete. I’m speaking specifically about the “Dragovian Trials”, which is arguably the best thing in the game; like an extended game for advanced players – a reward for completing the game once. And I haven’t even mentioned the Monster Arena; another great side quest where you collect famous monsters and pit them against other monster teams in a gladiatorial arena
I could go on about Dragon Quest VIII, but I’ll leave it at that for now. For me: a brilliant game. An excellent level-grinder, and one that endures to this day.