A broken, overgrown castle, a horse-princess, and a troll-like monarch. An evil jester, a dead sage, and a missing crystal ball. Such are the problems that are handed to you within the first half an hour of Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King, which is, as it happens, my favourite game of all time.
Growing up, I only ever had several “favourite games”. Firstly, it was the original Jak and Daxter, a platformer, developed by Naughty Dog, on the PS2 which saw you assume the role of the title character Jak, traversing and exploring quite a large, diverse world in order to stop Gol Acharon and restore your friend Daxter back to his normal self, after being transformed into an Ocelot, a rather unfortunate looking weasel thing. I always loved the variety of the locations to be found within the world and the quirky sense of humour that the game had, which I’m afraid to say rather diminished in the subsequent entries of the series.
After that, I played a game called Road Trip Adventure, in which you existed in on a planet of sentient cars, and had to travel around, winning races, building up your best team, until you could win the final tournament and become the President of the world, which, quite frankly, in light of recent events, is a better idea than the Electoral College, but I digress. It had elements of originality because the player could discover cars that wanted to move somewhere new, to live or to start a new business, so you could send them off into a big plot of land into the desert called “My City,” which would develop and expand as the game went on. It was a very fun game, and I am planning to replay it soon. Sure, the physics are a bit naff, but if science has to be sacrificed in the name of fun in a video game, then so be it.
However, sometime during 2005 or 2006, fate struck, as I picked up a demo disk which had, among other things, a demo for the first game released under the merger of, long-time rivals, Square and Enix, and developed by a newbie for the series, Level 5, Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King. The demo blew me away. I recall it having two modes; Story mode and Battle mode. Story mode let you play the first hour or so of the game, which was just about enough to see the first town and dungeon, and Battle mode was just the story but a bit later on, when you had all four characters and could run around the second continent battling monsters. Something about the visuals, the gameplay, and the scope of the potential world, got to me, and ended up purchasing the game not long after.
I ended up loving Dragon Quest 8 for the same reasons I liked Jak and Daxter and Road Trip so much. It was because of the adventure. You’d start the game, entering the first town of Farebury, seeing all of the buildings and characters rendered in proper 360° 3D graphics, stunning to this day thanks to it’s cell shading aesthetic, designed by the same mind behind Dragon Ball Z, Akira Toriyama. After a while, and a bit of plot, you’d be sent out into the world, an expansive area filled with rolling hills and winding roads, leading, in one case, to a waterfall cave, the first dungeon of the game. Over the next seventy five to eighty or so hours, you’d travel to castle towns to snowy hamlets, catacombs to moonlit peaks, in your pursuit of the force responsible for the aforementioned Cursed King, and a string of murders that you encounter of the course of your quest.
So, in short, a very solid, varied, and unique jRPG for the ps2, now a good 12 years old. Older, if you consider the earlier release date in Japan. So why is the 3ds version even better? Why is it a great port, and not just a cash-grab on nostalgia?
See, here’s the thing. Right from the first few hours, from your time spent on the first continent, you can tell that the remake is a labour of love. A game requested by the fans, made for the fans, and for anyone looking to jump into Dragon Quest, or jRPG’s in general really.
I like to think of it as a port of “They didn’t have to”s. They didn’t have to port over the voice acting onto the 3ds, but they did. They didn’t have to add in more monsters, an extra dungeon, and new ending, but they did. They didn’t have to add two fan-favourite characters into the playable party roster, but they did. They didn’t have to add a whole new, fun, fleshed-out photography mechanic sidequest, and they didn’t have to bring a host of new tweaks and fixes to streamline everything, but they did. Honestly, they could have just copied and pasted the game from the ps2 onto the 3ds, and I would have still bought it in a heartbeat, such is my confidence in the game being a great one, regardless of platform.
The thing is, even though we’re all treading over familiar ground, like we still go from Farebury, to Alexandria, and beyond, it still retains that sense of wonderment and adventure again, because there are all new things to do and see and discover. Where there may have been nothing of note over yonder hill before, now there may be a brand new treasure chest, a new monster or a photo opportunity. Incidentally, the photography sidequest was a stroke of genius, and definitely adds a lot to the game. If you keep up with it as you go, the rewards are actually very useful towards the main quest, like a Holy Lance, which can be unlocked just at the time that Hero could use an upgrade from the Iron Lance you bought at Port Prospect. Additionally, it feels like a few changes were made to balance the game a little more. Jessica’s ‘Twin-Dragon Lash’ ability has taken a hit, which is a shame, but aside from that I have never really found myself short on gold or exp in order to progress the story and my characters. There’s still some levelling involved, but I do not think it to be anywhere near as time-consuming as before, particularly as you can now see the fights that you’re getting into in advance.
In terms of technical aspects, I am very happy with how the game performs too. It renders the world beautifully, and has never really, to my knowledge so far, approximately thirty hours in, dropped any frames or lagged at all. If I have any gripes at all, it’s that the pop-in trees make their return from the Dragon Quest 7 remake, which is a very minor issue in the grand scheme of things. The sound is also very good. The voice acting has all been brought over from the original, with more added here and there. All in all, it’s all very well done, with some hilarious over-acting from some of the characters, particularly the ones of non-British origin (looking at you, Morris!). The music took a bit of a hit, as the PS2 had these sweeping orchestral numbers, which, unfortunately, did not survive the switch in hardware. The same melodies are still here however, and the format in which they are still delivered hits all the correct highs and lows that it needs to. It’s full of wonder as you wander the world and sail the high seas, and its subtle and melancholy when the story calls for it, and triumphant upon achievements being reached. Curiously, the 3D component is virtually non-existent in this game, which is unfortunate as it worked so well for Dragon Quest 7, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker, just an odd design omission. It’s only present, to my knowledge, in the Battle Records.
All in all, I cannot recommend Dragon Quest 8 3ds enough. It’s a fantastic jumping on point for the Dragon Quest series due to it’s accessibility, and is a great gateway to numbers four through seven, and nine, which are all playable on the 3ds too. It is every part as great as I remember and then-some, and have thoroughly enjoyed my thirty hours in this new version so far. Here’s to another thirty, and then another, and then another.
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