Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dragon Quest VIII Review

The Dragon Quest series was started by Enix in Japan and released to North America in 1989. Some believe Dragon Quest caused the fall of the Berlin Wall, but that's never been proven definitively. What is certain, is that Nintendo pimped the hell out of it as OMG TEH BEST GAME EVAR MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!! in Nintendo Power, and when it came out only five people ran out to buy it. So, they bundled it with Nintendo Power subscriptions rather than burying 250,000 cartridges in the desert next to the Atari 2600's E.T.. This is how I first came into contact with it. The game was very simple. Kill a dragon and rescue the princess. Then go kill the Dragonlord who's castle you could see across a narrow waterway at the start of the game. It was also very primitive. You only fought one monster at a time and only had a single party member. You didn't just walk on stairs and go up or down, you had to stand on them, bring up the menu, click and 'Stairs' to do so.
While later installments made larger parties and fixed the interface up, Dragon Quest VIII is still very much an old school JRPG. It is very grindy. Every time you get to a new area you can expect to have to spend at least half an hour fighting enemies. Sometimes it's more like two hours. There is an ability, Whistle, that can be used to trigger a random battle instantly. That makes it very grindy without having to run in circles like a retard for hours. But grindy nonetheless.

Combat itself is quite pretty like the rest of the game. The enemies are all nicely animated. The general strategy is either to one-shot weaker enemies or to use the 'Psyche Up' ability to charge for a much stronger second round attack and kill all the enemies. This is really kind of a problem in a game that requires you to kill many enemies at practically every new town, area, or event to gain some levels. Battles that give lousy EXP/gold can take several minutes. Harder enemies take even longer. You can't always run away from battles, and you'll spend many hours in them to finish this game.

The boss battles are also more battles of attrition requiring your party to be of sufficient level and just hit the boss over and over while one or two party members spam healing magic/items than in any way strategic. They remind me of the first Breath of Fire in that regard.

The final boss in the game took over an hour to kill. It wasn't possible to use 'Psych Up' or keep any of the Attack, Defense, or Agility buffs up because the boss gets two turns each round and constantly dispels them. Which drags the fight out even longer. On more than one ocassion I shouted "Just fucking die already!!!!" at my TV.The game's story, something that is the main reason many people play RPGs, is nothing to write home about. Evil power threatens the world, turns cute girl into a horse, and it's up to you to save the world by defeating the evil power.

There is also a system of item creation, the "Alchemy Pot." You put ingredients into it and run around until it pings! and you get an item. It immediately rejects combinations that don't work. And you can find partial recipes in books all over the world. In practice, the recipes you find in books are so vague that I doubt anyone actually created anything useful without a complete item listing or a FAQ.

Overall, I'd recommend this game to somebody who finished DQ7 (I didn't) and likes the old school, extremely grindy JRPG. If you cut your teeth on Final Fantaay VII or X and love the Cinematic RPG of the 2000's, then you probably won't enjoy this game. I personally would have enjoyed it a lot more if the EXP requirements were reduced by about 1/3 or so which would cut about 20 hours out of the game. I ended up logging just over 75 hours on it, and I haven't touched the optional post-game dungeon or gotten the "true" ending. A good bit of that time was level grinding to gain some levels so I could kill the boss fight I got stuck on.

It's hardcore, and not in the good way that Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is hardcore. It's hardcore in a "go grind for two hours and come back!" way, which at this point is my life I'm not really that big a fan of.

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