You may not recognize the name, but it’s arguably the best role-playing game franchise in the history of video games. In Japan it’s already sold over three million copies, but you still don’t even recognize it. Maybe it’s because it’s undergone a name change, in North America it’s always gone by the name Dragon Warrior, does that name ring a bell? The Dragon Warrior series had four releases in North America for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and though it stayed in Japan only for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System it made a triumphant return on the PlayStation only to be ignored by most gamers for state of the art PlayStation 2 games. Well, despite the lack of affection it has been shown it’s back with a new name and backing by what is quite possible the most important name a role playing game can have on the cover of their box: Square (Now known as Square-Enix). Despite the fact that the game holds weight on its own in Japan, in North America Enix has had far lesser success with their games. So, Dragon Quest VIII is poised to be the biggest RPG of the year and couple it with the fact that it has a playable demo disc of Final Fantasy XII and you’ve got the making of a sure fire hit.The first thing you’ll notice about Dragon Quest VIII is the art style. If it looks familiar you’re probably a fan of the anime, Dragon Ball. Akira Toriyama, the artist responsible for the Dragon Ball franchise is behind the beautiful art in DQ VIII. The main thing you’ll notice in your first venture into the outer world is just how huge the world really is. There are dozens of locations to explore, countless monsters, and more items than you can shake a magical staff at. The characters are extremely detailed and the animation is amazing, especially for a turn based RPG. Normally, the amount of animation is kept to a minimum, but clearly the minimum is not sufficient enough for a game the magnitude of Dragon Quest. The world is bright and colorful and quite simply a joy to behold and take in. Dragon Quest VIII is easily one of the best looking RPG’s on the PS2 not including the words Final or Fantasy.
If you’re impressed by the art style of Dragon Quest, then you’ll be just as impressed because the score totally delivers and compliments the game in every way. To put it mildly, the music is fantastic. Everything about it is of the highest quality, even the voice work is tremendous. There’s no mistaking the fact that Square-Enix and Factor 5 went through every minute detail to make sure that Dragon Quest VIII lived up to every expectation and indeed it has. Little things that make all of the difference that other games don’t do are what bring Dragon Quest to near perfection. Something as simple as not having a victory song after every battle keeps things flowing smoothly and helps transition between the battlefield and the area you’re exploring. The score is superb and could very well be one of the best, if not the best on the PlayStation 2; period. Along with that the voice work has to be up there as well. The acting is great, the accents don’t sound forced or harsh in any way. The painstaking amount of detail that went into the audio of Dragon Quest is apparent with every note and quite simply makes this one of the best sounding games in recent memory.
The one area of the game that will split the amount of people who enjoy this game from those who dislike it comes from its dated gameplay. Turn-based games enjoyed their time in the spotlight when hardware wasn’t capable of much more. More recently RPG’s have used real time combat, or some sort of mixture between real time and turn based battles. Dragon Quest VIII is old school in every sense. Turn based battles are the hallmark. Random enemy encounters are a dime a dozen, menus are plentiful and level ups are the order of the day. All that being said, Dragon Quest VIII is enjoyable for those willing to give it time to develop. The story is as cliché as just about every other RPG out there, but of course it’s all in the execution. That’s really where Dragon Quest VIII shines. It’s so much better than most of the other RPG’s on the market that it raises the bar on what one should really be like. For example, you will probably die a lot. Bosses are extremely challenging (in fact the first boss will probably kill you), but so are the enemies as they can and will outnumber you almost two to one. You’ve got to really plan out your moves in advance and execute them properly in order to survive. Therefore, level grinding actually pays off, not simply because you gain a level and strength, but because of all the items there are to be had that will make your journey simpler. It’s really refreshing to see a game challenge you in the way that DQVIII does. Most games take the easy route and playing through it without any sort of challenge until the final boss is only a formality. In a genre that’s growing bigger by the day, yet becoming more stale, it’s great to have a game as triumphant as Dragon Quest VIII because this may be far and away the best RPG on the PS2 or any console.
Dragon Quest plays better than most of those other games and has one of the biggest worlds to immerse yourself in, as well as a high replay value due to all the extras there are to collect. It’s easy to spend 80-100 hours playing through this game just soaking up the world, collecting rare items, achieving the highest level and just trying to find every secret the game has to offer. This of course is both its greatest achievement and its worst. The reason being that if you play through this game once and find everything that there is, you have very little reason to come back and play again. Conversely, if you breeze through the game, but want to play it again to find the rare items or do all the side quests you missed out on the first time around, there will be plenty to experience the second time through. Either way picking up Dragon Quest VIII will result in one of the biggest single player games you’ve ever experienced. Of course since a new Dragon Quest game comes out once every half decade you’ll have plenty of time to run through it over and over again while awaiting the next game in the franchise that Enix built.
Dragon Quest VIII is everything you’ve probably ever wanted in a role playing game and so much more. You’ve got one of the biggest epic adventures ever known to single players. Without a doubt this is one of the finest games of this generation, and yet everything that makes it also brings it right back to the pack. For instance its heavy reliance on battling every monster you can find will make it unappealing to many gamers, especially with its antiquated battle system. Also, the simple fact that many gamers who read this review and are remotely interested in this game may be turned off immediately by the fact that it’s a 40-50 hour journey to complete at minimum. So many gamers just don’t have the time to invest in a game like this, but that’s their loss not yours. Dragon Quest VIII is a must have game if you’re an RPG fan. It’ll hold you over until Final Fantasy XII is released and who knows you may even enjoy it more when it’s all said and done. Oh, and did I mention that there is a demo disc included for Final Fantasy XII?
Despite all the wait between games in the Dragon Quest series, it’s always worth it, and Dragon Quest VIII may just be the crowning achievement. This is quite possibly the pinnacle of role playing games, turn-based or otherwise. You should do whatever you have to do (within legal bounds of course) to get yourself a copy of Dragon Quest VIII because it really is that good and should not be passed up. A must have for any RPG fan.
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