Video Game Review: Dragon Quest VIII (PS2, iOS, Android, 3DS)

Dragon Quest VIII was recently re-released on iOS, Android, and 3DS, pretty much all the mobile systems. It originally came out on PS2 and that is the version I played. It was also English dubbed.

Before playing, I read many reviews on the game. Most of them were very positive with the same specific caveat: this is a classic/old school Japanese role playing game. What I found during my playthrough was that this was a euphemism for grinding, repetitive, unoriginal, primitive gameplay.

But first, let’s go over the good parts of this game.

The first thing that amazed me was that all the music in this game is fully scored by a live orchestra. Even in this day and age, synth music is popular and practically much cheaper and less of a hassle than hiring a full orchestra play your music. Dragon Quest VIII ignores that and opts for the live orchestra for every song, something even Final Fantasy X did not do even though it was a system seller back when the PS2 was released. You need to also remember that this was years ago, back during the time of the PS2. Games were far less popular than they are now. Even still, they opted for the orchestral music and I am glad they did.

Voice acting is all right. Everyone has some kind of accent from the United Kingdom for some reason.

Graphics are all right. It’s an old game. I do appreciate the nostalgic Toriyama art style.

I think most people agree that the strength of a good role playing game is its story. The story here is satisfactory. It’s a classic tale of a nameless hero saving the world.

I also think most people would agree that the greatest weakness of role playing games is the gameplay. Even with the years of progress made in this genre of video games, I think most people would agree the weakest parts of games like Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition was the unimaginative combat and gameplay. The same is absolutely true here.

Dragon Quest VIII self proclaims that it wants to remain true to the “old style” of Japanese rpg’s, but what comes across to me is old primitive it is and how lazy the developers must have been not attempt any improvements to the old formula.

The games basic structure is this: you travel through an open world from town to town, dungeon to dungeon. Each town has  plot point. Each dungeon has a boss and an associated plot point. Town’s are safe areas while everywhere else is not. That means that if you walk through these unsafe areas, you are subject to random encounters (based on the number of steps you take) with enemies who you have to battle. Battle is turn based. You have up to four playable characters and you and your enemies take turns casting spells and performing attacks.

It’s a tried and true system… except role playing games have come leaps and bounds since the inception of this genre and playing into these outdated systems leaves much to be desired. For instance, there are only four playable characters. A remedy to the old problem of how boring only four playable characters are is to add more character to the plot who play differently. Further, there aren’t that many spells nor are they sufficiently flashy. In the past, old role playing games would create massive, cinematic spells to help ease the boredom of turn based combat and alleviate the repetitiveness of seeing the same spells over and over again. In Dragon Quest VIII, I’m just bored. There aren’t enough spells. Furthermore, the lack of a journal or some method of keeping track of quests just makes playing the game a hassle. I literally have to memorize or write down what I was doing or else be completely lost in what I’m supposed to do. As an adult who takes breaks between gaming sessions, this is a hassle.

And I haven’t even gone into the time consuming grinding required to progress in the game. At many point in the game, the difficulty of the game spikes and there is no way to progress unless you spend substantial time grinding out levels and items so that you can be strong enough to defeat the enemies in that area. Normally, you can attribute this to bad or lazy game development. Developers are supposed to organize the pacing so that players get some kind of payoff as they play through the game, be it in items or story progression. Subsequent games after the old Japanese rpg’s, like Dragon Age: Inquisition or Witcher 3, have introduced many side quests with meaningful storytelling instead of requiring dull, repetitive combat. In Dragon Quest VIII, there is none of that. I just waste time grinding out levels. It’s extraordinary frustrating as I am working adult and I just don’t have as much time to attribute to such mind numbing game play.

Score: 5.9/10 A fun game, if not for the grinding. I spent around sixty seven hours playing this game, maybe thirty hours of it just grinding and leveling so I can progress. I don’t have the time for this. There are plenty of better role playing games to play that reward the time spent much better. I would only recommend this game if you’re looking for a time killer, feel nostalgic about old Japanese role playing games, and you have a 3DS, android, or iOS device. Otherwise, avoid it and go play Witcher 3, Dragon Age, or any of the other million role playing games that that better respect your time.

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