It sounds cliché, but the Dragon Quest, however, is actually big in Japan. So big, in fact, that its sales eclipse even those of Square Enix's mighty Final Fantasy series, buoyed by mobs of rabid fans who made Dragon Quest VII the best-selling PlayStation game of all time. So far, in the US, things haven't been quite so rosy. If Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King doesn't break that slump, nothing will. In a series first, it manages to combine genuinely awesome graphics with that good old Dragon Quest gameplay, resulting in a role playing game that is as beautiful and easy to enjoy as it is retro.
Dragon Quest VIII tells the tale of a wandering king and his daughter, transformed by a cruel curse into a green, gnomish creature and a horse, respectively. You play the role of a youthful royal guard, the only such person who escaped unaffected from the castle, enshrouded in vines by the maniacal jester who laid the curse. Over the course of dozens of hours, you'll team up with a (mostly) reformed, likeable rogue, a beautiful female magician, and a Dante-like swashbuckling holy knight to chase down the responsible villain and restore the king and his daughter. As is the case with all Dragon Quest games, simple charm is favored over epic storytelling; the basic tale simply provides an excuse for the highly compelling gameplay.
Slaying monsters, powering up and exploring dungeons are Dragon Quest VIII's bread and butter, and there are plenty of portions to go around. The battles are turn-based, but quick and simple. Even so, the fast battles are deceptive; the game is so darn vast and intricate that you'll spend dozens of hours on your first playthrough. Unlike many current RPGs, Dragon Quest VIII features a fully detailed world to explore between locations - you can spend hours just poking into the nooks and crannies in the hopes of finding treasure. In fact, there may be a bit too much such exploration - probably due to the fact that most of it is pretty much empty of anything but random battles.
Luckily, there are plenty of beautiful sights to keep your wanderlust surging. The new graphics engine pushes the PlayStation 2 harder than any other RPG, with lovely landscapes and fantastically rendered characters.
Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama's character and monster art has never looked so good in a game. A new orchestrated score and surprisingly excellent voiceovers have also been added for this American release.
Dragon Quest VIII is the ultimate descendant of classic console RPGs. It's what all RPGs might be like if Final Fantasy VII hadn't come along and changed everything. Far from a throwback, it succeeds spectacularly in marrying old-school RPG concepts with cutting-edge graphics and an uncommonly charming world. If this is a throwback, we'll happily continue living in the past.