Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King Reader Review
7 hours, it took me 7 hours to get through a boss only halfway through the game. 7 hours of grinding enemies, going through side quests, saving gold for new equipment, looking through every nook and cranny I could find for items I might have missed.
I loved every minute of it.
Having recently played through the import version of Final Fantasy XIII I was reminded of what has probably become my favorite game of 2009 (despite having been released in 2005) Dragon Quest 8.
I have mentioned the extremely linear pacing of Final Fantasy XIII in my import review and being somewhat put off by it. Dragon Quest 8 is different and in many ways the direct opposite of Final Fantasy XIII.
The story is fairly limited, though quite well executed. The Hero of the game (called Hero by default) is a knight in service of his king. When his king gets cursed by the dastardly Dhoulmagus and turns into a toad-like monster and the princess gets turned into a horse, the hero goes on a adventure to find a cure for the king and the princess. Along the way they meet Yangus, a thief with a heart of gold, Jessica a country girl with powerful magic and Angelo a lecherous knight. Itís quite apparent that the story isnít the main attraction here. There are a few plot twists but you will most likely see those coming a mile away. But what the story lacks in originality it more then makes up for in characterization. The characters donít have tragic story arcs or a sad past to try and make you care for them. Instead they just brim with personality and general likeability, helped by some fantastic voice acting and excellent writing.
Its not the story thatís going to keep you playing but the surprisingly addictive gameplay. This game is "traditional". It features random encounters, turn based combat, dungeon crawling, npc interaction fumbling through menus limited saving opportunityís etc. etc. It is a design that most developers have dropped since the snes days and for good reasons, most of the time it doesnít work. Turn based combat is usually a horribly repetitive and boring affair and dungeon crawling together with random encounters only exacerbate these issues. Whilst random encounters remain annoying the battles themselves are great because this game doesnít pull any punches every battle is a challenge and your going to have to use every one of your wits to win out. And this makes getting new levels, items or abilityís all the sweeter, because you feel tangibly stronger every time you gain something. When you gain a new piece of equipment rather then making battles a little faster or easier like most other rpgís in Dragon Quest 8 it can make the difference between being stuck in one place or moving on.
But you will die, this game is hard. But death is not defeat, when you die you are revived at the church you last saved at, minus half your gold but with all experience and items intact. This has two effects, one: you wonít throw your controller out of the window if you die and your last save was 30 minutes ago. And two: Dying is much more terrifying. Since dying means having to redo the dungeon or area you died at and when you die you lose half of your precious hard earned gold. The result is that your constantly on edge for fear of death yet not overly frustrated when you do die.
The 7 hours it took me to defeat a particularly nasty boss where when I really started to love the game. Despite being stuck in the main storyline there where plenty of side quest to enjoy, plenty of items that I had to save up for. The boss became less of an annoyance and more like a benchmark, I had to be at least that strong to continue. Optimizing my party and equipment became less of a novelty, without really being necessary like in most rpgís, but it became absolutly essential. It is the hunter-gatherer mentality that is so deeply ingrained in the game that makes it so damn intoxicating.
You donít get insanely more powerful every time you level up, and enemies remain difficult even after half a dozen levels, but you will notice the difference in strength after gaining a level because the game forces you to study even the minutia of stats. In a Final fantasy game you may go 5 levels before you notice that your dealing 1200 instead of 1000 damage. In Dragon Quest you will notice the difference between 100 and a 102 damage because it really does matter.
Before playing Dragon Quest 8 I would have thought such a game to be maddening, I found out thatís its like the sirens song, slowly pulling you in until all your thoughts are consumed with this sweet ambrosia (in a good way).
The visuals of the game do much to hide its hardcore interior. Its cartoony cell-shaded look, combined with characters designed by Akira Koriyama (from Dragonball Z fame) gives it a warm and instantly lovable feel. The characterization of the game extends to the character design as every NPC and enemy has some quirky feature such as the transforming democro-bot (which had me rolling on the floor laughing). The game is easily one of the best looking PS2 games and frankly due to the style and detail of its designs it looks better then most High-Def games.
The music is enjoyable even after a 100 hours. With some beautiful arranged pieces. Fortunately the developers chose to update the music for the Western release of the game, as the Japanese release opted for tradition and kept the nes era tunes (Not kidding), and they added in a few orchestral pieces.
Itíll take you at least 60 hours to play through the game (I finished it in 72 hours) but even after the ending you unlock an area that can take you another 20-30 hours to complete and gives you a second alternate ending. Then there is the monster arena where you can collect monsters and fight with your captured monsters for some of the best equipment in the game.
Suffice it to say that you will be playing this game for a while. Having picked this up for 20 euros (I live in the Netherlands) that is some great value.
I bought this game mostly because of the series reputation and wasnít expecting much of it. After 3 hours I stopped and didnít look at the game for 3 months before going back. After 10 hours I started to enjoy the game, after 20 hours I started to love the game, after 30 hours I was obsessed with it. If your like me and donít know what to expect from this type of game you might be initially put off by the slow pace, the difficulty and the almost ancients mechanics, but stick with it and you will see why Dragon Quest is Japan's best selling franchise, after all 4 million people cant be wrong.
10 / 10