Jump back into Dragon Quest and experience the heart-warming journey of a cursed King in the Nintendo 3DS remake. Bringing a number of changes to the title, there’s a lot to love and very little to loathe in the eighth instalment, yet it still lacks a few royal elements preventing its ascent to the crown.
Developed by renowned games studio Level-5 and published by Square Enix, Dragon Quest VIII exudes such an uplifting charm in its simple tale of vengeance, that it’s easy to forget the game’s formidable length. At 80 plus hours, the turn-based RPG is certainly one of the longest of the series, coming in just behind Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. And similar to its predecessor, Dragon Quest VIII found firm footing with fans on a Sony home console in 2004, the year of its original release on the PlayStation 2. And now more than 12 years later, the Nintendo 3DS remake brings greater changes to polish the older gem.
Following the mute Hero as the main character, Dragon Quest VIII is a tale of love spotted with darkness and revenge. King Trode and Princess Medea have been cursed by the maniacal Dhoulmagus, turning them into creatures, while the rest of their kingdom lies under a pile of vines, rotting leaves and twigs. Teaming up with the Hero, they meet the friendly but brutish cockney-speaking Yangus – who’s less like Dick Van Dyke and more Vinny Jones – and follow the trail of Dhoulmagus through the Kingdoms of Trodain and Ascantha in the hopes of lifting the curse. Along the way they meet strong-willed and witty Jessica and ladies’ man Angelo, both of whom have been touched by Dhoulmagus’s evil after death strikes their loved ones. Together the band of intrepid heroes travel across the world in order to defeat the evil that lies at the heart of Trodain’s curse.
It’s a little disheartening to note that, from the get-go, Dragon Quest VIII features no stereoscopic 3D. The title’s producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto notes that the reason they skipped such a pivotal element was due to it doubling the amount of memory needed. But given it was included in Nintendo’s remake of Dragon Quest VII, it’s certainly a great misstep by the developers and one that many are likely to miss. However, the game does make use of the new 3DS’s c-stick for additional camera movement; it’s a bit tricky to master due to its sensitivity but nevertheless it’s an option. Yet since playing through both of the 3DS remakes, the eighth’s camera movement feels much smoother and less disjointed than seven; a pleasing aspect for players.
Featuring cel-shaded graphics which look beautiful on a glossy 3DS screen, Dragon Quest VIII’s remake delivers a number of improvements for its original fans. From a very handy fast forward battle mode to HP and MP restoration upon levelling up, it’s easy to see how the changes affect core gameplay. But perhaps the neatest additions are that players no longer have to twiddle their thumbs for alchemy items to fuse – it’s simply instant – and that dungeon maps are automatically acquired and placed on the secondary touch screen. Plus, there’s that sweet overworld map for location viewing, too.
For those who haven’t played the original, Alchemy is just part of a number of side quests available to you within the game. It’s a handy way to make new, improved items from collectables or weapons and armour bought with your in-game gold. No longer time-consuming, Alchemy is likely to be much more enjoyable for the completionists. The same cannot be said of the Baccarat Casino, however. Fresh out of luck, I stayed for half an hour pulling the same slot machine lever, but no triple seven’s were churned out. Where’s my lucky cat, leprechauns and four-leaf clovers when I need them? Of course, this is no detriment to the game, but I definitely mirrored grumpy cat that day. Scrunched up face and all.
Mini medals return and are collected for the exchange of neat items, players can ride a sabrecat, and you can also take photographs in Cameron’s Codex side quest. For the latter, the 3DS camera is not utilised at all. It’s disappointing to say the least as it could have made for a great twist on an old lens.
With a supremely well written script, Dragon Quest VIII’s storyline is a particular highlight. Couple it with stellar voice acting from a cast of intriguing, three-dimensional characters and you’ve got a winning formula. A particular poignant moment in the story – and a favourite of mine – is the sequence at Maella Abbey. Coming in at around 15 hours into the game, Angelo’s back story is deeply enthralling and one that caught in my throat. The intensity was surprising; it made me want more. And while the storyline doesn’t get much deeper than that particular story arc, the emotion is there and you feel every beautiful, sad moment of it.
If you’ve played Dragon Quest VII’s remake, you’ll be familiar with the battle screen. Working to a turn-based pattern, up to four characters can strike monsters of all shapes and sizes through damaging them physically or with magic altering techniques. When choosing to fight, players can attack, use an ability they’ve learned, an item, use a spell, defend, or use psyche up. While you can level grind on metal slimes for enormous amounts of experience, you’ll have to fight most battles in a tactical manner.
Boss battles, including the spar with Dhoulmagus, are certainly challenging and some of the best in the game. Outwith these main battles, there are some dangerous moments in the field, too. Wipeouts are still common if you haven’t strategically manoeuvred your team and can be a pox upon your gold, stealing half of your money. Unfortunately, there’s still no HP gauge on enemy fights in this remake, a staple of the genre.
As per many RPGs, VIII features skill points for your characters. Each time a character levels up, they receive a number of skill points to be popped into five different categories. Between swords, staves, clubs and axes, to character specific traits such as Jessica’s sex appeal and Angelo’s charisma, there are plenty skills and attributes to choose from. As such, these abilities can make a huge difference when out in the field or during boss fights. And the best bit? You can save these skill points, with no need to allocate them immediately.
For a 3DS remake, then, Dragon Quest VIII is just shy of that elusive slime crown. It’s often the little things that make the greatest of improvements when re-mastering a game, and it’s no different for the eighth instalment. But some odd missteps and missed opportunities means it doesn’t quite catch the falling star. Yet, at its heart, the magic is still there and it’s certainly not forgotten.