Review: Dragon Quest VIII – Journey of the Cursed King (Playstation 2)

In this review, we find ourselves exclaiming “Cor Blimey!” in the Playstation 2 game Dragon Quest VIII – Journey of the Cursed King. We find out if this RPG game is worth a play.

This game was released in 2005 and is the eighth instalment in the series.

We know this particular series quite well at this point. First, we tried the original Dragon Warrior. That game wound up being fairly mediocre. Next up, we tried Dragon Warrior II. Unfortunately, that game simply didn’t make the grade for us. From there, we tried Dragon Warrior III. While that one did pass, it only did so barely. After that, we gave Dragon Warrior IV a whirl. That game is OK, but nothing too spectacular.

After that, we tried Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. This game showed a fair bit of improvement in the series, but still wound up being only a fairly decent game. From there, we tried Dragon Quest VI – Realm of Revelation. That game disappointed and wound up being a barely passable game. Finally, we tried Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. Unfortunately, that game wound up tanking hard for us. Nevertheless, we are persevering and now giving the next game in the series a try.

The story of this game is that King Trode of Trodain Castle is going to hand off Princess Medea to marry a prince from another kingdom. Unfortunately, before he could do so, Dhoulmagus breaks into the castle. Dhoulmagus heard a rumour about a powerful sceptre being held in the castle’s treasure room. Making his way past the guards. Both King Trode and Princess Medea hear the commotion and decide to try and intervene in spite of all the injured guards. Unfortunately, by the time they make it to the treasure room, Dhoulmagus has already obtained the sceptre. He decides to use the ultimate power to curse the king and princess, turning the king into a troll-like monster and the princess into a white horse.

Disappointed that this was all the power the sceptre produced, Dhoulmagus realizes that the protective circle might have been holding him back. So, he leaves. Out on a balcony, he tries again, cursing the entire castle with thorny vines. The only survivors of the encounter are Kind Trode and Princes Medea thanks to the protective circle and the hero who happened to be untouched by the vines. Together, Trode, Medea, and the hero set off to try and put a stop to Dhoulmagus’ reign of terror.

You start the game off with a tiny animal named Munchy joining your party. Already, you have Yangus in your party as a battle companion. You also start in the city of Farebury after an introductory fight.

Available to you are a series of shops and an inn. There’s a weapons shop for weapons (indicated by a sign with swords). There is also an armour shop (with a shield sign). Additionally, you can shop at an item shop (a wing icon). Also, you can stay at the Inn to rest up and restore your health and magic. The bar (with a mug of beer sign) can be a place to find information, but you don’t typically buy anything there.

While you venture around town, you can also obtain treasure by breaking barrels and large grey vases. Also, you can drop into wells to find any additional items or hints. While you may find items, you can alternatively find gold which is used to buy things in this game.

When you venture outside, you will eventually get random encounters. While they may seem like a nuisance, regular battles are key for growing your party’s strength. Winning in battles earns you experience points and gold. Earn enough experience points and you’ll be able to level up.

At first, levelling only increases your overall stats including health, magic, and other stats. However, later on, you’ll also earn skill points. How many skill points you earn per level are set in stone. You can distribute them right as you earn them. Generally, you have the fisticuffs and a special ability (bravery for hero and humanity for Yangus). While fisticuffs are generally pretty much the same amongst all party members, the special ability is unique to the character. They increase passive skills. Meanwhile, each character has a unique set of weapons they upgrade. While a few weapons may go to multiple characters, the skills are a bit different for each.

Generally, you’ll want to figure out which weapon you want to improve first and stick with it for a large portion of the game, though there are plenty of different skills you can level up at the same time. Just remember weapon skills can only be activated with that particular weapon in hand. Something to keep in mind as you decide where you spend skill points. I personally went for distributing points between one weapon and the special skills for my characters for most of the game, but there are probably many other strategies one can employ along the way.

The only other way to earn skill points is through skill items. Unfortunately, they are very rare, but they will net a character 5 bonus points.

One thing you will notice in this game if you’ve been following this game in chronological order is the fact that special jobs have been eliminated. So, you won’t be trying to switch up classes to boost different stats. Instead, you are focusing on your characters natural skills such as magic, physical attacks, and whatever else the characters can offer the party.

Like other games, you’ll have a limited number of item slots. However, you’ll also get a bag that can store an unlimited number of items. The only catch is that you can’t access your bag during battles.

Items you equip also take up inventory slots still. You can equip a weapon which can be used in battle. While many just increase your attack capabilities, some offer special abilities such as an ability to put enemies to sleep on occasion. Armour adds defence to your character, though some pieces of armour can add additional bonuses such as added protection from magical attacks. Helmets work similar to armour and offer an added bonus to your defence. A shield will also add even more defence and works just like armour and helmets. Finally, an accessory can be equipped. Accessories can boost a certain stat such as strength, agility, or even give that character an even bigger boost in defence.

After a while, you’ll eventually obtain an alchemy pot. This pot can be used to combine different items to make even more powerful items. For instance, a medicinal herb and a medicinal herb can make strong medicine. The practical benefit is that the strong medicine can restore even more health than the regular medicinal herb. Of course, the alchemy pot isn’t just for boosting regular items. It can also create new kinds of weapons and armour. Just keep in mind that not all combinations will yield better items from the ingredients. However, there are hints scattered throughout the game (largely in book shelves) that give you hints for alchemy recipes.

Another change in this game is the overworld. While it is still a way to access other towns and dungeons, the overworld has been greatly expanded in this game. With that expansion, there is also an increase in treasure chests throughout the overworld map. This is something that seems to be rather unique to this game. Just keep in mind that some chests require special keys to unlock. So, just because you found treasure doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have access to that item. Still, it is definitely worth exploring. Even if you don’t find anything, the battles you encounter will also strengthen your party (provided they don’t kill you of course) and make additional areas a bit easier to endure after.

Saving works just like other games in the series. Find a church in a town and make a confession. Churches also offer other small services for small fees. The one you’ll likely use the most is the resurrection ability early on. If a character loses all of their hitpoints in a battle, they can be brought back from the dead at a church if you don’t have any items or spells to carry out the task. Another thing to keep in mind is to save often. If you get wiped out in a battle, you’ll be brought back to the church where you last saved. While you keep your experience you earned, your gold gets cut in half.

Another returning feature is the casinos. There are two of them in this game. One is available part way through. Rewards and games aren’t as good in this one though. An additional casino opens up late in the game. Payouts are much higher and the rewards are also better. As always, the casino currency are coins. Each coin costs 20 gold. You can play Bingo, slots, and roulette (only in one casino).

While there are a few optional places to go, most dungeons allow you to advance the plot. Different Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) will give you missions to complete. You’ll often obtain rare items in exchange for plot critical information or items. So, completing these dungeons are typically critical. Most dungeons now offer maps if you can find the right treasure chest. This is very useful for your adventure. You’ll even eventually get a world map while you are at it (which is vital for your success as the game proceeds further).

On a final note, there are special rare monsters roaming around on the world map. Generally, these are tougher versions of regular monsters. If you defeat one, you’ll not only get a small boost in experience points, but also a special monster coin that you can sell later. Some information I read is that these special monsters are used in a special side quest, but I never encountered that personally.

One of the common complaints I’ve had about this series is the ridiculous amounts of grinding that is required to keep your characters strength up. In the entire series, I think this game requires the least amount. If you know this particular game inside and out, you’ll probably don’t need any grinding at all. Still, if you are new to it, I would definitely recommend a small amount here and there. Even then, grinding can involve you roaming around in the overworld or simply not using the Evac spell when you complete a dungeon. There is a difficulty spike when you take on Dhoulmagus, but beyond that, I didn’t really encounter anything all that impossible. Grinding largely gives you some breathing room in the more difficult battles.

Another common complaint is broken plot where you are just expected to know what to do next without any hints on occasion. This game isn’t that bad for that, really. There are plot breaks even with pushing start, but it’s generally easy to follow the different points for a large portion of the game.

My only real complaint is that this game is light on optional stuff at the first half of the game. Partially solving this is the massive overworld to explore. I think what would have been nice is to add a few designated optional dungeons with small rewards inside. As it stands now in the game, you still have that “one town, one dungeon” in different areas a lot. If it weren’t for the large overworld, I’d say this game isn’t all that immersive. In terms of immersiveness, this game could be better, but it could be worse as well.

As for the writing. This whole series has many strengths and weaknesses. The Pankraz death scene in the fifth game is certainly a strong point in writing even if it was sad. As for this game, it also has its up and downs, but generally, its alright.

Generally speaking, this game is actually a pretty decent entry in the series. It has a good size overworld, the grinding isn’t bad, the writing is decent and the plot breaks are largely left on the later portions of the game. If you are wondering about length, yes, it’s definitely a long game. For me, it weighed in at about 64 hours according to the internal game timer. Of course, you can really go a lot longer depending on how long you want to spend completing everything.

Graphically speaking, this game is decent enough. If this were a title released right at the beginning of the PS2 life, I would definitely be saying that this game has great graphics without hesitation. However, it was released late in the life of the system. So, it is competing against the likes of Gran Turismo 4, Sly Cooper 3 – Honor Among Thieves, L.A. Rush and Time Splitters – Future Perfect. So, for me, the graphics are a bit on the dated side, but certainly not horrible. The heat and other special effects are decent enough. So, an alright game all around.

As for audio, this game is not bad. The music has a mostly orchestral sound to it and doesn’t really stray much from it. Meanwhile, the sound effects have anime-style sounds mixed with fairly standard sounds. voice acting is quite decent for the most part, though. So, it’s OK there as well.

Overall, this is a pretty solid entry in the series. This is nice to see since the previous game in the series was so bad in my view. This one turned things around which is a pleasant thing to see. A lot of the headaches I got form previous games are mostly gone. Grinding is fairly minimal and the large overworld has a lot to offer. Some plot breaks, but those are found late in the game. Could use some additional optional dungeons in the first part of the game to complete that immersive experience. Graphics are a bit dated, but decent and the audio works well enough. So, an overall solid performance here.

Furthest point in game: Defeated the Lord of Darkness (beat the game). Ended with main character at level 34.

General gameplay: 19/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 72%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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