Top 100 PS2 Review: #39 – Dragon Quest VIII (2005)

Beautiful But Empty.

Gorgeous Facades with Not Much Underneath.

IGN’s Ranking: #39/100
My Rating: cropped-starcropped-star

February 15th, 2020 at 9:12pm is when I knew — I can’t keep doing this.

I wanted to like this game so bad, and there were times I had convinced myself that was the case. The colors were vibrant. The music solid. King Trode, royalty turned toad that supplied pompous comedic interludes, was the perfect character to keep me going.

King Trode (Character) - Giant Bomb
This dude is a scream!

The game just asks too much without giving enough in return.

During a notorious difficulty spike, I spent a complete Saturday morning (7am – 12pm, an entire part-time shift!) getting ready to just GET READY to fight a boss. It was only midway through my second five hour shift on Sunday that I finally defeated the bottleneck boss.

Seven hours for just one boss? You can only ask for that kind of commitment ONCE during a video game. Unfortunately, Dragon Quest VIII is greedy. After slamming into another wall of a boss, I looked online and found the terrible news: another recommended five levels of grind. This after I had already meandered and wandered for several hours.

The grind never abates, and once that initial shine wears off, there is no reason to trudge on.

The vibrant and verdant settings lack any real substance beyond being pretty.

[THE GOOD]

Sights to See, Songs to Sing.

There are two things that dabble your frontal cortex with serotonin immediately upon booting up — the art and music. I was 100% sold this would be a hit when that elevator music started bumpin’ on the menu screen:

If that wasn’t enough to get your limbic system thumping, a heavily orchestrated world map theme that quite frankly is one of the most majestic themes I’ve ever heard, ramps up the serotonin to unheralded heights:

The entire soundtrack is coupled with just gorgeous aesthetics. The cell-shading makes the game pop. I could immediately feel the heat and humidity of such a bright summer day in the countryside. As the sun fades, the colors saturate to cool blues and deep hunter greens. The humidity was sucked away, and I was able to explore under the cover of a rich moonlit night.

LOOK AT THIS AND TELL ME YOU DON’T WANT TO ADVENTURE WITH THESE GUYS!

The characterizations, whether the Hero with the anime hair and orange bandanna or King Trode in a toad’s body with a joker grin, are great.

[THE BAD]

Hello? Is Anyone Home?

As you break the crest of a hill, you see a complex world below you. A trail heads to the right. Down and to the left, a shore with waves are lapping in. In between, nooks and crannies of green ledges tucked in between mountains. The sun streaks across the sky as everything is calling to be explored.

What is there to find? Nothing.

Braving 150 random encounters for a single treasure chest that is only a simple antidote is not a fair trade. Most of DQ8 is like this. Beautiful facades, no substance underneath.

Munchie the Mouse, hidden in the hero’s pocket, deserved better than this.

No Plot to Follow.

Take, for instance, the plot. The central figure is a magician/jester named Dhoulmagus. He has turned King Trode and his daughter Medea into animals (a toad and horse for good measure). Following him leads you to a trail of murder as Dhoulmagus is assassinating people at every town.

Intriguing, right? Who is he? Why is he doing this?

The failed party clown wasn’t enough.

Like the facade of exploration, the story crumbles apart when you realize most of your life is an extended fetch quest. People and things appear out of nowhere. They fall in and out of the story. They never matter. It is one endless checklist.

The first quest is about a crystal ball that has no purpose other than to give you a purpose to do something. That’s okay because it is the first quest.

But how about getting the harp (mcguffin) for the moonshadow (hitherto has never been mentioned) guy Ishmahri (someone with no connection to anything) so he can help a random king to stop grieving (another random guy who lost his wife and neither of them have any connection to the story) which leads you to recover a boat by turning back time to make the tides come back to where they were hundreds of years ago (just when you thought we were reaching too much)?

Also, this dude’s voice acting is AWFUL.

Let’s just say it for what it is. Bullshit. You get this pretty world with cool looking characters and then you make them piddle around doing things that neither develop the characters or build momentum towards any purpose?

I Have An Axe to Grind.

Compounding the issue is the games’ absolute obsession with making you grind everything out. Every wide open area is accompanied by the constant start and stop of random encounters. Making it even WORSE is that every new area has its typical 5 level curve. You show up, get stomped, return to town, get better, but only slightly, and then get stomped but to a lesser degree and repeat over, and over, and over again.

Making this more of a chore is the completely uninspiring battle system.

The game boasts your typical Fight, Magic, Defend, Item, Run setup that has been around since Final Fantasy I. It’s super repetitive.

There is a skill tree where you can assign points to unlock unique abilities or specific bonuses with weapons, but rewards are too few and far between to make a real difference in variety.

My biggest source of frustration was how insanely random the random battles were. For a game that requires so much grinding, the same set of enemies can oscillate from pathetic to aggravating depending on how many status effect attacks are casted. It makes the required grinding that much worse.

Goodbye my sweet prince [KING].

[CONCLUSION]

I have a strong love for the art and music even if the gameplay made everything fizzle out.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Mr. Panda’s Video Game Reviews: “The game is quite difficult, and unless you get lucky, you might have to grind to defeat some foes. This is an unfortunate reality of the series, and it’s tedious to retread familiar ground just to level up.”
  • Silverson: “I chose to review it because I really think it got underhanded here in the states in comparison to series like Final Fantasy. I know people would probably prefer to hear someone mutilate the existence of a game but this isn’t the case.
  • Oculin: “Dragon Quest VIII is a very strange package as it is set up like a old school RPG, but has the production values of a AAA PlayStation 2 game.”

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