Dragon Quest 8 first released on PS2 in 2004 and was jokingly referred to as the bonus game that came with the Final Fantasy XII demo, which is what got many to buy it in the first place. Little did most gamers know that DQ8 would actually be one of the best JRPGs on the system, and be superior to the full game of the demo that came with it. Since then, SquareEnix had released the game on mobile platforms which resulted in one of the worst ports I had ever seen in my life. So when a 3DS version was announced, I was almost certain that it would it be a mess like its mobile counterpart, thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Dragon Quest 8, like many of the Dragon Quest games before it presents the player with really simple stories. There was a kingdom that was attacked by an evil Jester named Dhoulmagus. The jester, while wreaking havoc, cursed the king and his daughter, turning them into a little green monster and a horse respectively. You take on the role of a surviving guard who now accompanies the king on a quest to rid himself and his daughter of the curse and to take down Dhoulmagus. That’s about the gist of the story for pretty much the entire game. Dragon Quest 8 was often hailed as one of the best RPGs of its time, so with a story this simplistic, how exactly has it managed to top so many lists? Well, 8 sticks to what the series does best, creating believable and lovable characters that leave lasting impression.
Even coming back to this game after all these years I’m still enamoured with the main cast. While the protagonist is silent, the rest of the crew is just oozing with personality so you never really mind. My favourite of them all has got to be the chubby thief with a British accent, Yangus, who has a penchant for using slang such as ‘avin’ a giraffe as well as calling the protagonist Guv’nor. He’s such an iconic Dragon Quest character and is a great example of a unique personality that you often don’t find much of, especially in JRPGs. The rest of the crew is equally as endearing and as a nice new addition to the 3DS version, Square has added 2 new characters to the game (who were in the original but not playable), namely the feisty but classy Red and the monster tamer in tights with a weird Italian accent, Morrie. They’re great additions to the team and are good enough incentives for fans of the original to make a returning trip.
The care put into the main character’s personality is extended to the NPCs and towns themselves, which is a godsend, especially with the way the game is designed. Even though Dragon Quest 8 is a fairly ‘modern’ game, it still harkens back to an older generation of RPGs. There’s no real map marker for your next objective, instead you have to constantly talk to your party and NPCs in town to figure out where to go next. Due to the towns and the NPCs therein being so full of life and expression, it’s never really a chore or burden to run around and gather information.
By forcing you to explore, you end up growing attached to the world, which is really important, especially in RPGs. Often, and it happens a lot with modern JPRGs, towns are just throwaway locations on your journey to the next objective, being nothing more than little hubs with a few shops. In this game however, each town has a bunch of interesting NPCs and other little things to find. Take Yangus’ hometown, Pickham, for instance. It’s a place filled with ruffians, outcasts and thieves, but instead of it being a depressing slum, it’s actually quite the jolly place to visit. There’s a casino that’s probably rigged, a fake fortune teller and even an underground sauna where burly men go to sweat it out. You’ll also hear some hilarious stories from NPCs, like how this one guy went out for a minute and when he got back, his bed was stolen. It’s this kind of humour and life that’s sprinkled into these locations that truly makes the game stand out.
Everything else about the game is pretty standard JRPG stuff. You’ll traverse a world map, visiting various towns and dungeons while engaging enemies in turn-based combat. The battle system is fairly basic as well. You can choose to attack, use an ability, spell or item or just defend. There’s nothing really out of the ordinary aside from the Tension system. Each turn you can choose to build up tension which means you don’t act during that turn, but your next attack will be stronger. You can do this a few times and there is even a chance that you can reach Super High Tension in which your character gains a purple aura and enters a state, akin to a Super Saiyan (Characters are designed by Akira Toriyama after all), where their next move will deal devastating damage. Buffs, debuffs and status ailments also play a big role in combat which, combined with the Tension system, adds a nice layer of strategy.
The 3DS version of the battle system remains largely the same but it does add two great features which make for a much better experience. The first one was actually introduced in the Dragon Quest 7 remake for 3DS as well and that’s the complete elimination of random encounters. While the encounter rate was nowhere as bad as other JRPGs of the time (I’m looking at you Digital Devil Saga), it was still a nuisance at times, but by removing this element completely, players can now choose when they want to engage the enemy. The other feature is the ability to speed up battles which make grinding (an activity you’ll be doing a lot of) much easier than before. It might sound like minor additions but they truly are welcomed nonetheless.
One aspect of the game I’m still not too fond of is the levelling up system. Upon levelling up, you get a few skill points which you can pump into 5 categories of which 4 relate to weapons and 1 to a personality trait. When a particular category has enough points, you’ll learn a new passive or active ability. For instance, the main character starts out with a sword, but can become proficient in spears if you so wish, but you never really know what’s good and what works and because SP is only gained upon levelling up, there’s not much room for experimentation. I usually just end up pumping points into the character’s default weapon and their personality trait.
For a 3DS port of a PS2 game, Dragon Quest 8 actually looks really good. While a lot of the visual features have been toned down, and there is some noticeable popup at times, it still looks and sounds fantastic. There is some minor slowdown here and there, but it’s never enough to really detract from the overall experience, certainly not in the way the mobile version did. Unlike the mobile port as well, this version keeps the excellent voice acting intact. From a visual and sound point of view, this is actually a surprisingly good port.
Dragon Quest 8 on 3DS is an excellent port of a classic JRPG. After SquareEnix put out a terrible port of this game on mobile, I was sceptical to say the least of the 3DS version, but thankfully, this turned out much better than I expected. Aside from some minor technical issues, the new characters, content and improvements makes this a worthwhile adventure for both fans and newcomers alike.