An Overlooked Classic
As I said in my Dragon Warrior (Quest) VII review, I am a huge Dragon Quest (Warrior) fan. However, I'm also getting older, so the tropes of "traditional" JRPG's are getting annoying to me. Dragon Quest VIII takes those tropes, turns them on their heads and then uses them in ways that make you enjoy them. It actively made me want to sink more time into this epic (70+ hours) JRPG.
This game was released in the US in 2005 (over 4 years ago as of the writing of this review) on a last-gen system (PS2). One could imagine that the game would be outdated graphically and musically. However, the designers chose to use hand-drawn visuals and "cell-shading" rendering, which makes this game age very well. This game looks good now, and will most likely look good ten years from now.
Graphics aren't what makes a good RPG, it is the story and the battle system. This is where the game truly shines. Tell me if you've heard this game before: you are a spunky teenage boy/girl who lives in a world where an evil empire/monster is threatening existence. You find a rag-tag bunch of people teenagers to go stop the evil empire/monster. Along the way you find that you were a product of a legend. You have? Good, then you've played a JRPG before.
Dragon Quest 8 takes the general premise of most JRPG's and turns it into something new. You are a young adult who is the only unaffected survivor of a curse placed on a kingdom. You are now traveling with a cursed king and his cursed daughter trying to *simply* remove the curse. As you attempt to remove the curse you find a little bit here and there about the history of the world, and uncover other plots that you must right to, in the end, lift the curse. No spunky teens, no overarching evil empire, none of that. This is the JRPG for those who are sick of the JRPG plot.
The battle system is turn based, random battles. It would seem like that would be an issue for a modern gamer. However, as you battle and gain levels you can add stats to various skills. These stats give you abilities and powers that you can directly customize. Searching out the hidden treasures, monsters, and side-missions will allow you to keep the appropriate level for the area that you are in.
The only thing keeping this from being a "perfect" 5-star game is the ratio between battles and levels. The amount of gold and experience you get from battles is low compared to the price of items and experience needed to advance. Some of this is mitigated by taking the time to search out and find the hidden treasure chests. But at the start of the adventure, and near the end of the game, levels and money come *very* slowly. If they could have adjusted these ratios then some of the early and late game grinding would have been removed.
Overall, however, this is by far the best Dragon Quest game, and one of my new favorite games. I recommend this game for those who are fans of JRPGs, for those who are sick of the old JRPG tropes, and for those who are interested in what makes a JRPG good.