The Journey of the Cursed King
|Developer: Level 5/Square-Enix
Release Date: Out Now
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”.
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.
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…
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.
- 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
- Relatively simple game mechanics
- Doesn’t bring anything new to the series or the genre
|Dragon Quest: The Complete Official Guide|
Publisher: Piggyback Interactive
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.