Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King was a historic release when it landed on the PlayStation 2 back in 2006 for many reasons: it was the first Dragon Quest video game under the SquareEnix banner, it was the first time Dragon Quest did not have to use its Western placeholder of Dragon Warrior for legal reasons, it was the first Dragon Quest in full 3D, and it was the first Dragon Quest title to feature a full English dub and an excellent one at that too. Dragon Quest VIII did for its franchise what Final Fantasy X did for its own: upping the production values and realising the fantasy setting to its full potential. For many including myself, it was our first foray into the brilliant fantastical world of Dragon Quest, and it honestly felt like the first true encounter with the Japanese Role Playing genre.
Over a decade later Dragon Quest VIII makes it way to the 3DS with a truckload of new features and improvements to boot. Back in 2006 I’d think you were crazy if you told me that one day Dragon Quest VIII would be playable on a Nintendo handheld and be the superior version too, but here we are in 2017 with the most definitive version of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King… all fitting comfortably within your meaty palms. And unlike the watered-down iOS port that was released some years ago, Dragon Quest VIII on the 3DS sacrifices none of what the made the PS2 original great, but instead enhances them.
Journey of the Cursed King, as the name implies, tells a classic story about a cursed Kingdom, and you the protagonist are essentially its last remaining soldier. Part of the Royal Guard of the Kingdom of Trodian, the hero maintains his loyalty to the surviving King Trode and his daughter Princess Medea. The catch? The curse has transformed the King into a hideous troll-like creature, so hideous that he gets driven out of every town. The Princess? She turned into a horse. This awful curse was placed by an Evil Jester and Sorcerer called Dhoulmagus, and the quest of our Hero and his companions is to hunt Dhoulmagus down and lift the curse once and for all.
The story of Dragon Quest VIII has a very familiar and almost comfortable fairy tale vibe about it, it’s about as wholesome a fable you could ask for. A fallen and cursed Kindgom, a hero on a quest to lift the curse in an ancient land filled with monsters and castles, doesn’t get more classic and familiar than that. While the premise and plot may lack twists and metaphysical shockers that the Japanese RPG genre has almost become notorious for, it is smooth and consistent in its delivery, and the somewhat predictable nature of it allows more room for character development. Thankfully, the massive journey in Dragon Quest VIII spends ample time to really explore and develop the game’s charming and memorable cast. From the scruffy Yangus to the feisty Jessica, and even the seemingly arrogant (but misunderstood) Angelo, the cast of Dragon Quest VIII will leave a lasting impression thanks to their little quirks that give each an unique personality.
What really drives the story home is the English dub and dialogue delivery, and honestly even now it features some of the most impressive and well-executed English voice acting in a video game, RPG or otherwise. Every character, sans the mute protagonist, speaks with a distinct accent and quirk that complements their visual design perfectly. There is a ton of voiced dialogue in the game, even from a vibrant cast of non-playable characters and monsters. Final Fantasy may be notorious for hair-tearing voice acting, but Dragon Quest VIII is nothing short of excellent in that regard. Revisiting Dragon Quest VIII over ten years after playing the PS2 original was a real treat thanks to the great dialogue and voice acting.
I may prefer the boyhood odyssey to manhood tale of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, or even the awe-inspiring mythical sense of discovery and wonder in Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past, but the execution of the traditional fantasy tale in Journey of the Cursed King is just so on point, with a cast that is so charming and interesting, that it simply must be experienced.
The visuals have never looked better, looking sharp and crisp even on traditional 3DS models. They’ve not only translated a massive PS2 title, but also cleaned it up and optimized it to make it better than its ever been for the 3DS. The graphical styling may be a little on the simple side, but they have a strong vibrancy about them. The artwork by Akira Toriyama is easily some of his best, with the cast as distinguishable as any of the most iconic characters from his own Dragon Ball franchise. As for the music, for me it immediately brought back memories of playing the original back in 2006, and it wasn’t a case of listening to run of the mill music I had long forgotten about, but rather remembering very catchy and well orchestrated scores that were instantly recognisable and humming in my mind once more.
When it comes to gameplay Dragon Quest VIII does not differ too much from the series’ stable of sound and strategic old school turn-based battles, also featuring deep character customization where you train your party in mastering a range of weapon types. After playing several Dragon Quest titles and revisiting Dragon Quest VIII again on the 3DS, I must say that Journey of the Cursed King was and still remains a TOUGH and rewarding RPG.
I will go out on a limb and say that this is the hardest game in the series, but not in a frustrating way at all. In fact, things are a lot smoother in this new release as this time you get to see monsters on the map and field, unlike the PS2 version which had invisible, frequent, and VERY annoying random battle encounters. Little touches like this and more make the experience feel a little less daunting than it did in 2006, as the pacing certainly feels more smooth, quick, and streamlined in the 3DS game. Mind you, it is still a tough and grind heavy old school RPG with some of the most demanding boss battles.
In terms of new features this 3DS remaster adds new characters, monsters, story arcs, and very extensive use of photography. Yokai Watch and recently Pokemon Sun/Moon made fine use of photography for compelling in-game gimmicks, and Dragon Quest VIII does a fine job of this too. Not to mention, the Monster Arena and Alchemy Pot are back better than ever.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King was one of the best RPGs on the PS2 back in the day and now it’s back as one of the best RPGs you will play on your 3DS. Whether you are coming back for a second time like I did or are experiencing it for the very first time, Dragon Quest VIII is a rich content heavy adventure with a storyline and cast that is eloquently presented. It is also arguably the hardest Dragon Quest game in the series, and for that reason I’d be more inclined to recommend last year’s Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past to the uninitiated. But if you’re up for a quality and challenging RPG, then Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King will be among the highlights of your 3DS adventures in 2017.