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Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PlayStation 2)

90
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.9
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  lasttoblame (393)
Written on  :  Mar 25, 2008
Platform  :  PlayStation 2
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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Summary

A perfect flawed experience, not unlike eating the best shit sandwich you’ll ever have

The Good

The definition of an RPG has varied a lot over the years from number-crunching (like AD and D type “Balder’s Gate”) to mouse-clicking (a la “Diablo”) to introspective self-moralizing (as in the light or dark “Knights of the Old Republic” or the fashion-victim shades of gray “The Witcher”). For me originally playing an RPG was the concept that within a game you would adopt a role and as such do things in the game your character would do but you wouldn’t in reality (like not run away from evil monsters wishing you harm or illicit sex from prostitutes… well, so far…). Yup, I’m talking about the real meaning of the acronym RPG that does not have to do with rocket propelled grenades.

However, today’s RPG can be better described as such: it’s a virtual representation of yourself you nurture with your time. No, not skill or reflexes or intelligence, but time. RPG’s don’t measure how far you are into the story, but how advanced you have progressed with your characters. A video game RPG make you care for it because of the characters you have made strong with time. Games have many conceits to them, and the biggest traditional video game RPG conceit is that if you do anything enough times you will succeed, just the opposite of real life. Therefore, ten thousand random battle victories=success against the final boss, whereas nothing you can do or plan will trick your sexy co-worker into sleeping with you (except the tried and true method of being married and becoming her boss—so I guess it’s a boss battle where to win you must become one!)

Dragon Quest VIII takes everything and does it perfectly. This game knows how to milk all your time from you that would be better served curing cancer or hanging out meditating with the Dalai Lama. In a perfect show of game balance, Dragon Quest VIII frustrates you at just the perfect amount, enough to keep you going, a definition you can apply to old-skool gaming in general. The game itself and its game play isn’t really at all complicated, what frustrates you is the illusion that it is beatable and as such convinces you to keep pouring time into it. It’s that carnie laughing as you try to win that stuffed animal for your pouting girlfriend and keep throwing down money.

If you pour in enough time you will “beat” the game, but there’s a lot to do in the first place. They range from climbing various skill trees, the usual collecting-mania, and a new kind of inventory that is not focused on currency but instead on gathering recipes and experimenting with an alchemy pot. Another cool addition to the traditional RPG is the Monster Arena where you can organize monsters that were once your enemies to fight for you against other monster teams or against other enemies. A lot of new additions, but nothing too complicated that would sway a casual gamer to not play.

You know, it’s not for the story that you would play this game. In fact, I would argue you never play any game for its story, you play it for the way it tells the story. (I’m looking at you, Unicorn B. Jazzin’) For example, Half-Life: a generic story that can be summed up in a haiku concocted by sixth graders on a rainy day when murder ball is out of the question, but a innovative use of FPS and triggered story events to “perform” a story on a video game platform that inspires a boner every time. In this case, Dragon Quest VIII: a generic story of good versus evil (blah blah) that has been done for the eighth time on this franchise and countless times elsewhere, but an terribly effective time-sink that compels you onward to tell you the same story yet again but in an engaging manner.

It doesn’t make any sense, even for a video game. Why do you stand around waiting for someone to hit you before you can hit them back in a battle? Even though it’s a wide open world, why is it the path you take always has progressively tougher monsters and more expensive items? Why is it you have eyes in your head but still can’t see an oncoming random battle before it happens? Why don’t NPC’s mind when you walk into their homes and pillage their personal belongings (like that Sword of Vorpal +10 they have in their dresser) and then ask them for advice? And from the ‘corn, why is it the final boss just waits for you to come to him when you are leveled up instead of coming to find and kill you earlier on when you are substantially weaker?

Dragon Quest VIII isn’t self-aware and going to declare war on humanity like Skynet from the Terminator movies (because that would be a GREAT game), but it over comes its shortcomings by smartly incorporating them as part of the whole game experience. Those frustrating random battles you will come to accept as part of leveling up. You need to talk to every NPC and smash every barrel to complete the collection-ism and find all the alchemy pot recipes. The game is balanced perfectly to the gamer’s progress so as to not be too hard or too easy (even with over-leveling). This game is completely traditional in the best sense of the word, and I don’t mean one father, one mother, and moral values from 50 years ago.

The Bad

Dragon Quest VIII is humorous; “The funny” can be witnessed everywhere from monster designs (think baby Nazis) to monster names (for example, a wolf monster with the moniker “Jackal Ripper”) to regular dialogue (I need to know how to say “Cor Blimey!” in Japanese because I need a pick-up line for my next journey over). This “give me the funny!” is equally matched by its “cute” presentation of cel shaded graphics done in manga form.

That said, I don’t think it’s a funny game. Dragon Quest VIII tackles real-world issues (eg. that’s non-game related) so earnestly that it contradicts its easy-going presentation. True, there’s no reason why a cartoon character with eyes past her forehead can’t tell a serious story, but a game that straddles the fence this way ends up being neither. Why should I take the story seriously when I’ve been battling cute baby imps, and by that I mean ones that look like cute babies (I think this game has the record for most drooling tongues)?

This game is more suitable for telling kids what life is going to be like rather than telling adults a compelling tale that they can identify with. All the adult themes are introduced subtly but not thoroughly explored; not a criticism, really, especially for light-hearted fare like this, I suppose it’s rather mature to think highly of your target audience.

However, when I say “think highly”, I also mean cram in as many sexual innuendoes as you can. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for me, but that can be a bad thing for those burgeoning young minds. Playing games is a guilty pleasure in itself, but if I can play a game where the female hero gets knocked off her feet in battle and gives me an ample viewing of her personality up her skirt without me craning my neck, THAT’S a guilty pleasure. Dragon Quest VIII has the most subtle boob physics you’ll see on cel-shaded graphics to ensure you’ll put the Irish redhead at the front of your party and have her turn around, and around, and around. (no jumping, this isn’t a platformer) And if that wasn’t enough (and where do you draw the line when it comes to sex in Japan?), you can dress up the red-haired Jessica in a variety of costumes, such as a bunny outfit or the overly-protective Magic Bikini.

So sexist: Put this on. Go fight that monster. Then make me a sandwich, bitch.

If I had to name one thing, I think the worst thing about Dragon Quest VIII is the fact that it’s an outdoor running simulator. You’ll get tired watching this one guy running around a park in Canada that is just about as clean as one too. When you finally retire and move to Canada (national health care, hello) you’ll be disappointed at all the dog doo anywhere there’s grass. Nature is so perfect when rendered electronically that no one will ever go outside again.

Also, I don’t understand why people need a good game to be long. Therefore, folks, just do what I do: fall asleep with the game on and you soon will have 100+ hours logged in on your memory card. The words “world map music” has significant meaning to me now, through the power of my subconscious…

The Bottom Line

This is old school gaming at its finest, a generation later when the kids don’t get you and don’t even know who Han Solo is; don’t you know how fast he did the Kessel run? (sorry Drunken Irishman, no more pop culture references)

Another cryptic way to put it is everything wrong is right again.