Release Date: November 22, 2005
The PlayStation 2 is known for its vast selection of RPG titles, but given the sheer number of games out there, some deserving titles are unjustly skipped over, like Square-Enix's Dragon Quest series. The eighth installment, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, will be the first PS2 stateside release.
Even before playing this preview build, I knew that the developers, Level-5, were more than capable of doing justice to Dragon Quest, given the excellent job they had done on Dark Cloud 2.
The build takes you through the world of Dragon Quest VIII. Eight, the main character, must learn how to undo the deeds of the evil clown Dolmages, who cursed King Trode and turned the princess into a horse. This little expedition allowed me to get a feel for the environment. The medieval setting and cel-shaded graphics combined to convey a sense of old-meets-new.
What I found most interesting was the church, the only place to revive your characters, cure a curse or poison, save the game, or view leveling information. Oddly enough, this was also the biggest problem I had with the game; since there is no way to revive your characters other than going to a nearby church, a lot of backtracking and leveling is required, which might be off-putting to some. I found this the hard way when I accepted the second mission to find a crystal ball for the fortune-teller's daughter.
To complete this objective, Eight and his party must go to the waterfall cave and pick it up. Getting to the cave is an adventure in itself, since you must face several different types of enemies, and the free-roaming capability means that there may be more than one way to get from point A to point B. (As a warning, I suggest taking the most obvious path, because I got quite lost the first time.) Luckily, there is an item that will instantly transport Eight and his cohorts to any visited town, which is handy for a quick refill of medicine bottles at the local store before setting off on your travels.
Even if Eight and his crew are backtracking in order to reach an objective, it's not a waste of time because they are still gaining experience. Sure, the characters will lose life and require healing, but when a character levels, they eventually get skill points to improve the character's fighting statistics. From what I've seen, I'd suggest concentrating on leveling up the character's weapon skills.
To get these skill points, you need to defeat your enemy and understand the battle system. Every character in Dragon Quest VIII can get an extra boost of power, making it easier to kill difficult enemies and adding some strategy to the battles. Unusual commands really change the battle around, such as using magic for healing friends/foes and attack abilities that change a tough battle into an easy victory.
During story mode, your characters will not get any of the cool techs, but they're visible in battle mode when you control a party of four, and boy, do the special abilities look cool. Attacks range from simple status effects to massive group enemy attacks, and I really wish these were usable in story mode.
The graphics look pretty good, considering this is only a preview build. There may still be a few bugs that need to be straightened out with the framerate and such. Character models are nicely done, and even though the build ended way too soon, I still got quite attached to Eight and wonder what will happen next. Dragon Quest VIII sports such a rich environment that I wonder what the developers have up their sleeves for the rest of the title.
The sound in the game fits really well, although I wouldn't mind if they did away with the sound effect for scrolling text. Thankfully, in the later parts of the game, the sound effect is replaced by voice actors.
Dragon Quest VIII is definitely a contender for the next great RPG hit. I'm eagerly awaiting this title, and I hope that it gets the attention that it deserves. To pass the time until the November release, I suggest you run out and (re)acquaint yourselves with the earlier titles in the Dragon Quest series.