Dragon Quest VIII Review
Dragon Quest VIII is a JRPG originally released for PlayStation 2 in 2005. Ported to the 3DS in 2017, it received a number of changes, additions, and improvements from the original release. Despite being hailed as one of the best JRPGs back in the day, Square-Enix managed to make a classic even greater thanks to these additions. While it kept a few old-school flaws in the process, it also preserved the entertaining and enjoyable storyline and gameplay fitting for a JRPG that holds up today.
This review will cover both versions of the game. However, where mentioned, it will primarily include the 3DS version and its additions. For those wondering whether or not to dust off your copy of the PS2 version, rest assured. If you’re considering playing it, I strongly recommend it. No need to get rid of the original copy of a great game as the core experience will remain the same overall. We’ll cover what you’re looking for in our review below.
Dragon Quest VIII starts off with Guv! More specifically, that’s the nickname the Hero is given by one of his companions, a bandit named Yangus. Accompanied by a troll-like king and his steed, the two want you to enter the town of Farebury to investigate the whereabouts of a mage named Dhoulmagus. This mage is responsible for transforming the king and his daughter from their human forms. As the story begins, you’ll learn that Dhoulmagus executed his master and has already left Farebury.
As the story progresses, you’ll continue chasing this mage as he commits dastardly deeds everywhere you go. Along the way, you’ll meet the noble mage. Jessica, and the lady-loving Angelo, who join your quest. You’ll watch them develop as stronger characters as you progress through the storyline. The plot begins to grip you as you delve further into the game and empathize with the characters’ plight.
Whether it’s Angelo’s womanizing ways, Yangus’ banter with King Trode, or Morrie’s passionate speeches, each character is bound to resonate with you. As you embark on your journey to restore King Trode and his daughter, Medea, back to their normal selves, you’ll grow to like these characters and the tales that follow them.
Composed by veteran DQ composer Koichi Sugiyama, the music suits the mood perfectly with its dungeon themes, flying themes, and battle themes. Despite the release on the PS2 featuring an orchestral soundtrack, however, Dragon Quest VIII on 3DS has a MIDI-only soundtrack. Whether this was due to copyright or due to system limitations soundtracks is unknown. However, don’t let that deter you from the quality melodies you’ll hear in the game. Plus, for Dragon Quest fans, many players will recognize tunes from older games in the series, such as “Heavenly Flight.”
Dragon Quest VIII features all the wonderful animations and visuals from the original PS2 version. Akira Toriyama’s art style remains well-preserved in the title over 10 years later. The colorful, anime art allowed the visuals to age gracefully with unique character and monster designs. While the resolution naturally inferior to the PS2 version’s, that simply comes with the handheld’s limitations. For what it’s worth, the conversion was amazing.
Unlike most JRPGs, Dragon Quest VIII will charm you with its delightful, British voice acting. Along with its various dialects, from the proper-speaking Jessica to the impolite slang used by Yangus and Red, Dragon Quest VIII notes characters of various cultures and accents, which is an interesting note that sets it apart from other games.
In towns, you’ll find shops, talk to NPCs, rest, and save at churches. You can also take on side-quests which net you rare equips or items, such as seeds, to boost your skills and stats. While on the overworld, you’re free to explore wherever the path will take you. The game provides beaten paths to help guide you to your next destination. You can cast Zoom to warp to towns and dungeons you’ve visited before. Later in the game, you’ll inherit a ship and even a bird to fly you around.
Battles consist of four party members taking turns against enemies. You can equip them with various weapons. Whips can attack all enemies while knives do more concentrated damage on a single enemy. Use the Skill Tree to boost their stats in a particular weapon choice. They’ll also learn magic and abilities through normal leveling up as well.
Thanks to the 3DS version’s upgrades, you can now double the battle speed. This greatly increases the pacing and marks a vast improvement from the original!
A few flaws.
Once you get the ship, you’re free to go where you please. Unfortunately, this doesn’t clarify exactly where you need to go. Without markers, how are you supposed to know how to get to Argonia or even where that is? Or how do you know how to get to Baccarat after? Or finding the arbitrary pirate’s cove to find the treasure map to get to Empycchu? Even with the Consult option, your party members don’t always do the best job of telling you where to go.
Also, you cannot respec your skills. It’s odd how a 2015 port of a 2005 title leaves out a convenient element that would help players tremendously. If you feel you leveled the wrong thing, there’s no going back. Hero doesn’t get Crit skills with a Sword, and the Club is arguably Yangus’ worst weapon, something you might not know unless you visit forums. Why waste points on what you’re not going to use?
Thankfully, these are the biggest flaws the game suffers from. You could also make a case for the Hero’s slow running speed as well. But aside from that, there’s no terrible issues such as party-busting bosses, forced grinding outside of one boss, or getting lost till you gain the ability to fly. When it’s all said and done, Dragon Quest VIII does more than enough to keep you engaged and entertained.
I should also mention that EXP gain is a little lopsided. One point in the game, when you fight Dhoulmagus, you may have to grind levels. Unfortunately, enemies in dungeons give you underwhelming EXP. You can find several spots to grind Metal Slimes for easy EXP. However, doing so could overlevel you, hampering your ability to gain levels for much of the game. For players looking to level up in dungeons and fight battles might find little point in engaging enemies at that point.
On the 3DS, you can now recruit two more party members. One is Red, a thief who joins you in the storyline. The other is Morrie, who seeks a successor to his Monster Arena. When initiating the Monster Arena quest, you can battle your way through the ranks in battles governed by monsters using random actions to win. Use a guide to find the strongest monsters, if you wish. You’ll progress all the way to Rank S, where you’ll fight Morrie’s team. Defeat him and you’ll win a powerful party member.
After you clear the game, you can start back at just before the final battle. This opens up several exclusive scenes that can change the ending. Moreover, it unlocks the Dragovian Ruins, where you can learn more about the story and even undertake new dungeons and boss fights. This includes a superboss as well as the ability to find the strongest equips in the game.
Dragon Quest VIII features many side-quests. These will grant you powerful items and weapons which you can use in the Alchemy Pot to equip your party with the best gear possible.
3DS vs. PS2
I can’t justify getting Dragon Quest VIII for PlayStation 2. Unless you’re a hardcore collector, the 3DS is the definitive version of the game. Having played the PS2 one years ago, I can safely say I enjoyed the quality-of-life improvements DQVIII received. You can see a full list of changes here.
When it’s all said and done, Dragon Quest VIII offers a quintessential JRPG experience. Its long story progresses and paces itself well, to include several big twists. Some of these twists are met in the postgame campaign, which also comes with more boss fights and dungeons to explore.
At its core, DQVIII offers a quality soundtrack, characters, battle system, exploration elements, side-quests, and what you might expect in a solid JRPG. It’s not perfect, but few games are to begin with. In the case of DQVIII, these could be attributed to its age. The character’s slow running pace, the lack of respec for skills, and the lack of proper navigation might be a slight hinderance in some cases. But these serve as minor inconveniences, moreso if you come prepared.
Pick a skill and stick with it. You can use the bottom Skillset to learn characters’ unique abilities as well. Use a guide if you need to get around after you get the boat. You can’t really dash in towns or summon a beast outside of the overworld, however, so running around in towns might be a bit of a plod, unfortunately.
Considered one of the most popular entries, the games have everything in common. Progression, writing, music, level structure, and battling all go hand-in-hand among the two games. If you’re interested in picking up Dragon Quest XI for Switch but want to familiarize yourself with the series, this is a wonderful first choice. If a few old-school faults don’t bother you too much, then you’ll have no problem picking up Dragon Quest VIII! With the 3DS’ lifespan ending, one could argue that Dragon Quest VIII is among the best JRPGs for the system even today.