Dragon Quest:
The Journey of the Cursed King
Developer: Level 5/Square-Enix
Publisher: Square-Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

Much to the annoyance of the powers that be here at Gamecell, this review has taken me a while. Not because it’s been a chore to play and I can’t find enough swear words in the dictionary to describe it and not because I’d forgotten about it and left it gathering dust on the shelves, but because to write about it would require me to actually stop playing, and that’s something I just wasn’t prepared to do. You see, Dragon Quest VIII (a franchise even more ancient than Final Fantasy) is just plain lovely, and has surpassed my expectations in every way.

The basic gist of the game is this; You are “insert name here”, on a journey with the King of a domain you previously guarded, who just so happens to look a bit, well… like Yoda – remarkably so actually. The intro eases you into the story without giving too much away, but needless to say you’ll be tracking down a big nasty guy who has all sorts of evil intentions, having already been responsible for the state of your dear King Yoda – sorry, Trode. The remainder of your adventuring company consists of a horse (which, while being a rather pretty horse, does have limited uses), and a rough looking fatty called Yangus. In typical RPG fashion, as you progress through the game you’ll recruit two more allies to join you on your travels; Jessica, a fiery red-head with gravity defying boobs; and Angelo, a smarmy, smooth-talking git that Square-Enix clearly wanted and intended to be “the cool one”.

Your band of merry men arrive at a town and are immediately told to sod off and look for a famous old man of some description, at which point you gain control of our Hero. The first thing that impressed me was the smooth transition between cut-scenes and gameplay, as (unlike the Final Fantasy games) there are no rendered sequences; the game engine is used throughout and it works a treat. The vibrant colours and prominent anime stylings are hugely reminiscent of Japanese television series Dragonball Z, which could have something to do with the active involvement of the project’s lead artist Akira Toriyama. Coincidence? Probably not, eh? Run around for a few minutes and you’ll soon realise just how much work went into this game, the hustle and bustle of the town is astonishing and day rolls quietly into night as you chat to shopkeepers and smash up barrels. There are only about 10-15 different types of NPC model and as such they tend to repeat once or twice per town/village, but the important ones always have a distinctive and memorable look and personality, allowing the story to revolve around them without having to drop blatant hints every time you’re told to find somebody.

Adding to the unique feel of the characters is the voice acting, a feature which has only made it into a few RPGs in the past and very rarely works in a convincing and satisfying way. Only the characters involved strongly in the plot are voiced, but it still enhances the cartoon feel of the game and the British Isles’ and Australian accents are a refreshing change from the squeaky American ones found in games like Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts. Overall the sound is good, and the suitably quaint and catchy music only gets annoying when you find yourself humming it 6 hours after you’ve turned off the PS2.

It is only when you exit the first town that you realise just how brilliant the visual style of the game is, and your first encounter with an enemy is almost guaranteed to crack you up because the way they look, move and act is hilarious at times. Some will be too stupid to move and just “stare blankly into space”, some will “assess the situation” and some will get cold feet and leg it at the first sight of you, it really is a totally new experience for someone so used to plain old turn-based combat. Essentially the formula is the same, but additions like the ability to ‘Psyche Up’ to improve the strength of your attacks and magic develop a more tactical side to the scrap, and even little things like the novelty names of the spells (“Oomph” and “Kafrizzle” being two of my favourites) add something.

Before heading off to the first dungeon I couldn’t help wandering off to have a look around; trees, fields and mountains stretched off into the distance begging me to explore every corner of them, so off I went. The world is massive, and I mean MASSIVE – Sometimes it feels like miles between destinations and the frequent random battles will begin to annoy some people, but I was having too much fun to care. One useful feature is the ‘Intimidate’ command, which allows you to scare enemies off before engaging them and saves the hassle of fighting, and later in the game you can also learn some spells which keep the nasties off your back for an extended period of time.

The dungeons themselves are more linear affairs, usually consisting of relatively obvious routes towards a final boss. More often than not there are some puzzles that will need to be solved in order to progress, but they’re very rarely anything more taxing than pushing blocks and pulling switches, and they only begin to get complicated if you’re intent on finding all the secrets hidden within. The difficulty setting is spot on, and rewards those people that are willing to put in the extra time. Although the standard skirmishes won’t usually cause you too much grief, the bosses themselves will punish you if you haven’t been steadily improving your team, which leads me on to one of the strongest aspects of the game…

Customisation is key in any RPG, everyone secretly loves moulding their little hero into a lean, mean, fighting machine and this is where Dragon Quest excels in my opinion. What it offers is probably the most accessible system I’ve ever seen in an RPG, whereby tailoring your characters is almost entirely down to personal preference, with no particular set-up having too much of an advantage over another. By killing baddies to gain experience you level up, and by levelling up you gain Skill points which you can put into one of five categories or “Skill Trees” for each character. Four of the five are the tools of combat, giving you the chance to boost proficiency with a particular weapon and learn special skills and techniques, and the fifth is unique for everyone. Opinions on which set up is best are running wild around the internet, but from having a good mess around myself it seems pretty clear to me that it’s very, VERY difficult to go wrong.

Aside from the main storyline, Dragon Quest doesn’t disappoint in terms of side-quests either. From very early in the game you’ll get your hands on an Alchemy Pot, which allows you to plonk 2 or 3 items into it and synthesise something (hopefully) better. It doesn’t sound too intense, but it’s the sort of thing that’ll steal 10 or 15 hours of your play time without you even noticing. Another nifty feature is the Monster Arena, which is basically a tournament you can enter to pit your monsters against an opponent’s in the same vein as, say, Pokémon. The battles themselves aren’t the fun bit though, actually acquiring the monsters to fight for you is a genuine challenge as they’re scattered all over the world and will need a good pounding before they’ll agree to join you. Once they’re on your team all you can do is try to put together the right combination, because as soon as you send them into the arena they’re out of your control and tactics aren’t an option. I really feel the developer missed out on something there, because the random nature of the fighting can get horribly frustrating, and having full control over them would have made for a much more satisfying test. Thrown into the mix later are the prospect of traversing the seas and the skies in boats and airships, riding on the back of a tamed Sabretooth wildcat, and blowing all your cash in one of the two casinos; all of which mean that if you don’t fancy carrying on with the plot, you’re never left without something to do.

I was slightly dubious about Dragon Quest when I heard it was on its way, having never finished the previous games in the series I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I couldn’t have asked for a better game to get me through the dull Easter period. My only gripe would be that, with the news that Square-Enix has totally remodelled the combat system for Final Fantasy XII, it does make you wonder why they haven’t gone to the same lengths with this title. The basic mechanics are very familiar and as a consequence they feel slightly dated, and although that is potentially a huge selling point, could also be a basis for people overlooking the game. Injecting a bit of life into the RPG genre will be vital over the next 18 months as next-gen consoles make their presence felt, but for the time being games of this quality will do a fine job of tiding us over. The look, feel, and overall sense of humour of Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King is a breath of fresh air in a genre so clearly dominated by one series, and I’d like to think that it’ll trigger a little more originality in future sequels, spin-offs and challengers to Square-Enix’s throne.


Best Bits

- Everything it tries to do, it does well
- Extremely playable and devilishly addictive
- Fantastic graphical style and brilliant character/enemy models
- Voice acting that doesn’t make you want to shoot yourself in the ears
Worst Bits

- Relatively simple game mechanics
- Doesn’t bring anything new to the series or the genre


by: Hario

Dragon Quest: The Complete Official Guide
Publisher: Piggyback Interactive
RRP: £12.99
Words By:

I’m not a fan of guides, never have been and I was pretty certain I never would be. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I love to play games to their fullest and for me that includes finding my own way into and out of trouble. However, having played more than my fair share of RPGs, and particularly those that Square and Enix are responsible for, I was well aware of the potential brain-ache that can result from not knowing what to do or where to go. If any genre deserved to be given a dedicated guide then this is it, and it seems Piggyback Interactive were happy to oblige.

Born from 7 months of solid gameplay, the amount of time, love and care these guys have put in really shows through; The presentation is immaculate and every one of the 232 pages is well laid out and easy to understand. Starting from the ground up with a full explanation of the basic gameplay, the guide offers complete character biographies and extensive item and monster databases, on top of the full walkthrough. The secrets section covers everything you need to know about the game’s side-quests, and gives simple but effective advice on building yourself a kick-ass team and seeing every last bit of the story.

   

The guide itself is an awesome feat; they’ve somehow managed to word the entire thing in such a way that every aspect of the gameplay is covered very thoroughly, whilst still not giving any of the storyline away. Every section is accompanied by helpful screenshots and maps, with comprehensive instructions on how to find every item in an area, for example. At regular intervals they also take a page or two to recommend some things you could do if you feel like going off on a tangent from the main quest, such as suitable places to level up or hidden areas to find better equipment. Two of the most useful features of the guide are the 2 larger maps with every treasure chest and ‘infamous monster’ marked on them, and the back page of the book also folds out to display a fully labelled world map and key, so symbols never become confusing.

On the whole Dragon Quest: The Complete Official Guide is a truly high quality publication, and I was surprised how much thought has gone into the design. Spoilers have always been one of my main issues with using walkthroughs, but thanks to a clever sealed section at the back of the guide and some intelligent wording in the main piece, nothing is given away. The depth and detail is astounding, and the claims on the back cover of “vital information that you won’t find anywhere else” are well founded. Good stuff.

For more info and downloads visit PIGGYBACKINTERACTIVE.COM

by: Hario

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