Dragon Quest VIII – Journey Of The Cursed King Review: Always Room For More

Credit: Nintendo/Square Enix
Credit: Nintendo/Square Enix /

It seems that Square Enix is now dedicated to releasing improved versions of the Dragon Quest games on Nintendo hardware. How does Dragon Quest VIII’s rendition hold up?

Developer: Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: January 20th, 2017

You’ll forgive me for having walked into Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for 3DS with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, I trudged through Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past last year and found the remake of that to not only be unnecessary due to the slog that was the original game but also found the apparent “upgrade” of 3D models and environments a bit of a bad joke. So it’s with enormous relief that I tell you Dragon Quest VIII’s 3DS rendition is without most of the problems that plagued Dragon Quest VII and even has some nice bonuses thrown in to make it worth picking up for series veterans.

Dragon Quest VIII’s plot, unlike that of VII’s, begins mercifully at the very beginning of the game. You, a silent protagonist, alongside your former-bandit buddy Yangus, are escorting and protecting a weird little green monster and a very nice horse. Surprise! The monster is actually your king, and the horse is his daughter, Medea. They were turned into their current forms by an evil wizard named Dhoulmagus, who you are now pursuing in an effort to force him to lift the curse. As you chase him, you are joined by the fledgling magician Jessica and pretty-boy Angelo, both of whom have also suffered losses at Dhoulmagus’ hands.

dragon quest viii
Credit: Nintendo /

Your pursuit of Dhoulmagus takes you across the world in over eighty hours of gameplay just to get the story done with, so be warned–this is one of those long RPGs. That’s not including extra activities like the Monster Arena, crafting all the Alchemy Pot recipes, and Cameron’s Camera challenge (which we’ll discuss below). Fortunately, though, it’s not all just popping into towns, dealing with whatever mess Dhoulmagus has left, and leaving on his trail again. There’s a decent twist in the middle of the story that changes both the object of your pursuit and the stakes of the game in a big way. Things can get a bit tedious early on while you trek from story moment to story moment, but the pace picks up once you earn your fast traveling options, so be patient.

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If you’re already familiar with and loved the original Dragon Quest VIII, it may still be worth delving in for another go if you’ve got the time to spare. Two new characters have been added for the 3DS version, along with some new story to go with them. I won’t spoil too much about who these characters are, but they’re familiar and beloved faces, and while one is easy enough to add to your party in a conventional playthrough, the other will take some serious work to unlock. Good luck!

dragon quest viii
Credit: Nintendo /

Speaking of new features, let’s talk about what else was added. Encounters are no longer random but occur by running into monsters you see on the world map or in dungeons. While I still find this system a bit frustrating for determining how leveled one ought to be in any given area, the advantage is that you can tailor your encounters to monster types your party is better-equipped to handle, as well as flee as needed when your party is all but wiped out. You’ll find that these encounters clip along faster, too, once you select the “Speed” option from the battle menu. It’s a great feature that all but eliminates onerous watching of the same attack animations again and again in fights with eight monsters or more.

Even if the main storyline itself grows humdrum at times, you can count on your traveling partners to keep things shaking with good humor as you travel.

Other than those two adjustments, the battle system remains unchanged, and that’s for the best. While it’s mostly standard turn-based fare, extra tactics like the Tension mechanic (storing up energy for a few turns for a more powerful attack later) or Intimidate (which can either force monsters to flee or backfire horrendously) keep things surprising.

Dragon Quest VIII has also kept its excellent and easy to understand and use skill tree. Each character has five places to allocate Skill Points–four weapons skills that differ between characters, plus one special skill unique to that character. The degree of customization allowed is about as perfect as it gets. You can choose each character’s path easily without confusion, then go back, swap weapons, and try new skills as the game wears on.

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Back to the new stuff: there are a few new options on the Misc menu, including the ability to download items over the internet. I tried it several times but was, unfortunately, unable to net any items during the review period. More notable is Cameron’s Camera challenge. You gain the ability to snap photos early in the game and can take them anywhere outside of cutscenes or battles. Not just photos, either–you can add party members, stickers, and borders to the pictures you take, then share your photos via StreetPass as postcards and receive others.

You’ll be challenged by an NPC named Cameron to capture specific shots as you travel, for which he’ll reward you. The whole thing is entirely optional, but it’s certainly a clever use of online sharing. I found myself getting excited when I spotted the object of a challenge over the next hill–some of those objects are even brand new, challenging monsters you can fight!

dragon quest viii
Credit: Nintendo /

I will acknowledge that not everything about this remake is dandelions and roses–for example, speaking of those dandelions and roses, as I run by they clip in and out in an annoying way. Environmental assets will suddenly appear or disappear right next to me or under my feet at the weirdest times on the overworld. While this is jarring, it’s only a minor annoyance that doesn’t disrupt gameplay. On the whole, the environment visuals aren’t especially praiseworthy. In fact, they look rather clunky when looked at next to the originals on the PS2, some of which can be attributed to the game being on a handheld.

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The excellent character art by Akira Toriyama holds up, though, and works together well with the solid, fully voice-acted scenes and strong character writing to make the main cast the most interesting asset of Dragon Quest VIII, even twelve years later. Even if the main storyline itself grows humdrum at times, you can count on your traveling partners to keep things shaking with good humor as you travel.

8. Dragon Quest VIII on 3DS gives me renewed hope that upcoming Dragon Quest remakes might be just as solid. Already an excellent RPG in its own right, Dragon Quest VIII 3DS boasts an improved monster encounter system, several new sidequests and activities, two new characters and some new story to entice even veterans back for just one more journey. There are a few visual blips and the sheer length of the game may be a deterrent for some, but this new, handheld version of a classic is by far the best way to enjoy it.. Square Enix. . Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.