As a stand-alone RPG Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is a good game, actually no, it’s an excellent game. But as part of the tremendously popular Dragon Quest series, number VIII (8, for the non-Romans) has dragged the series firmly into the 21st century. It is the first to be fully 3D and it’s an improvement that has been warmly welcomed by gamers and critics alike. The bright, colourful backgrounds, monsters and characters could easily have become ‘too much’, but long-time Dragon Quest artist, Akira Toriyama, gives each item - animated or not - its own personal touch, yet he shows marvellous self-restraint amidst all the craziness. And craziness there most certainly is – in abundance, especially in the form of the characters. The only trouble is that nothing, and no-one, can to be taken seriously in this crazy world of monsters, magic and mayhem.
The story at the heart of the game is about an evil, wizard, named Dhoulmagus, who broke into a castle and stole the legendary sceptre that was securely sealed away. That, however, was not the end of his wickedness. He cursed the castle, turning it into a crumbling ruin, he cursed the King, turning him into an ugly little green troll-like creature, and he cursed the beautiful princess, turning her into a horse. Once a relative calm had descended you learn that it has fallen to you - a palace guard who somehow remained unscathed through all the cursing and spell casting - to help King Trode and Princess Medea find Dhoulmagus and to get him to break the spells. Along the way you are joined by Jessica, a headstrong, whip-wielding, young woman anxious to prove herself the equal of any man, Yangus,
a reformed thief and highwayman with a liking for strange head-gear and Angelo, a Templar Knight who feels little empathy for his vows of poverty, sobriety and chastity. You might think that the plot sounds rather simplistic and thin on which to base a game. And indeed it might be, if it weren’t for the many unexpected plot twists and all the other fun and excitement. As you play you will notice that each character, NPC and monster in Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is a joy to behold. Each has their own unique ‘look’, range of facial expressions and even their own voices. And there are literally hundreds of cute and corny, funny and furious, whispery and whiney voices in the game - most with strong English accents.
The combat is turn-based and the AI is intelligent – and quirky - enough to make every fight a unique encounter and a challenge. Some monsters will summon others, others will sleep until attacked, some will cast spells you’ve never seen before and others will run away, so, as corny as it sounds, you should always expect the unexpected.
As your party builds up numerous abilities, spells and attacks you’ll have plenty to call on to make every combat an interesting one. Sometimes, instead of attacking, you may like to ‘save up’ your attack turns and fill a ‘Tension Gauge’ so that your character launches a super-powerful attack. But what mostly makes this game so much fun is its humour and its diversity. One minute you’re battling slimes atop a grassy knoll and the next you’re hunting for ingredients for your Alchemy Pot, creeping through a haunted castle and then sailing to a new port, chasing Doulmagus and then watching shadows creep up a wall to unlock a new area. Oh yes, there is much to fill in the 100-plus hours of gaming fun. Amidst all the quirky characters, fearsome foes and scenic stops you will hear beautiful music, and like all good music, it never intrudes upon your game. Yes, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King will bring back pleasant memories for long-time fans of the series while offering something new and exciting for newcomers. Long-time RPGers will be pleasantly surprised that a new game can bring so many ‘old-school’ characteristics into play yet still have a fresh look and feel about it. In fact any gamer who picks this one up will be more than happy with their purchase. It kept me gaming until 3am on too many mornings to count, and if a game does that I know it’s a good one.