The original Dragon Quest VIII released in the EU regions on the Sony PlayStation 2 back in 2006 (simply titled Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King because it was the first Dragon Quest title to release in EU regions), and was a highly-acclaimed title back then. I personally loved it and found it to be one of my favourite Dragon Quest games, despite a weaker story than VII (which we reviewed here). Square Enix has remastered Dragon Quest VIII game for the Nintendo 3DS, so it was with great glee I tackled this title to find out what had changed between the original and this version.
Just so that we’re all on the same page, Dragon Quest was Enix’s competitor to Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy, both of which started on the NES back in the late 1980s. It’s been a perennial argument about which is the superior series. Squaresoft merged with Enix in 2003 to form Square Enix. It’s been a running joke that Dragon Quest releases have caused noticeable drops in school and work attendance in Japan. In any event, much like Final Fantasy, the Dragon Quest games all take place in different universes and seldom have anything to do with each other. Dragon Quest VIII was the first Dragon Quest title to be released in Europe, so for many in this region, it was their first experience with this excellent series.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King starts with your hero and his companion, Yangus, travelling with a toad-like creature, who it turns out is the king of a region called Trodain. He and his daughter, Princess Medea, had been cursed by an evil jester named Dhoulmagus, leaving the king looking like a toad and Medea looking like a horse. The hero, Yangus, the King, and Medea are on a quest to find Dhoulmagus and make him undo the curse, leading them on a merry chase around the world.
In terms of play, the game is a standard-fare JRPG, complete with turn-based battles and monsters galore. Square-Enix didn’t need to do as much work to update this game as they did for Dragon Quest VII, since the original Dragon Quest VIII was already a fully-3D experience, complete with voice acting. As it stands, much of the game remains unaltered, thankfully. The biggest change to the game is the removal of the random battles in the field and instead showing you where the monsters are. This means that you can, if low on health, go ahead and avoid the battles entirely to be able to get to safety. It also makes it easier to grind for levels should you wish, since you don’t have to run around fighting inferior beasts. One minor graphical change is the camera draw distance, making the game feel a little more claustrophobic. I actually had to go back to my original version of the game to figure this out, and I’ve included a screenshot below of the comparison.
Naturally, those have not been the only changes. The 3DS version now comes with a camera function, allowing you to take in-game pictures of the scenery. Thankfully, this wasn’t just included as a “by the by” thing: there’s actually an entire series of sidequests devoted to photographing certain monsters and scenes. Other differences include the addition of two old NPCs as playable characters, new and unique monsters to be found in the field, new bits of story, and a whole slew of tiny little features that make playing a JRPG like this a little easier. One of the nicer ones is the change in the way the alchemy pot works. In the original game, you combined two ingredients, and then had to walk around the world (recipes counted the steps you walked, if I recall correctly, so you couldn’t just stand around either), until you heard a “ping!” that let you know it was ready. In the 3DS version, the alchemy pot is instant, so no more waiting around for ages to figure out what you’d made.
What cemented this game in my mind as one of my utter favourites was the voice acting, giving so much life to the characters. It was also the first time I’d heard multiple different accents in a single game. Most accents in the game are British, but even then there’s a fun diversity here. For example, the King’s accent is clearly upper class, while your companion Yangus speaks with a Cockney tang. There’s also a chap with a South African accent (running a big cat lodge, naturally). The localization team did an amazing job, even with the names of the monsters, giving the entire game a sense of delightful whimsy.
Because I was playing this game on a New Nintendo 3DS, I was happy to find that the game supports the C-Stick for camera control, although you could use the L and R buttons for this should you wish.
Naturally there were minor issues with the game, although very few of them are inherent to the 3DS version only, and it’s not stuff that can easily be sorted out without a massive redo of whole segments of the game. The 3DS version attempts to address some of these with the additional content that expand character motivations, but it doesn’t necessarily address weaknesses with the story, especially given how strong the story was in Dragon Quest VII.
Still, the game excels in just about every other way, from Akira Toriyama’s character design, to the soaring music, to the way you can simply explore the countryside without getting bored of running around. And the game is LONG—you can expect to see well over 80 hours here, so that’s a decent amount of bang-for-buckage there. The changes to the 3DS version addresses the most egregious problems with the original (such as the ridiculously high rate of random monster attacks. Seriously—there were times you couldn’t take two steps without being attacked), and that makes this version all the more superior to my mind. People who enjoyed Dragon Quest VIII the first time around will likely pick this one up for the nostalgia factor and for the new content, both of which are fully worth the price of admission. If you’re on the fence about this title, I heartily recommend you do grab it, because it’s just such a sheer delight to play, made more so for the changes. And of course, who can resist saving a princess in distress, no matter if she literally has the face of a horse?