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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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PlayStation 2
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November 15, 2005

Dragon Quest X

Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Dragon Quest Wars

Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen

More in this Series
 Written by Chris Reiter  on December 02, 2005

Review: You pay for the Final Fantasy, but get the Dragon Quest of a lifetime.

RPGs. You love 'em, right? You think you do, but you probably don't. Or maybe you do, I don't know. The point here is, there's someone else who adores them even more: the RPG freaks of Japan. It's one of Japan's greatest digital loves. As everyone should be aware by now, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are the two top RPG franchises in the world. Which one is better? Some will tell you it's Final Fantasy, but Japan's records will prove it's Dragon Quest (otherwise known as Dragon Warrior in America...until now). Three million people in Japan hastily snatched up their copies of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King in the first week of release, at a record-breaking total of just three days. This marks Japan's fastest selling video game to date. Now that 2004's best-selling Japan title has finally hit us, we the American populace can hit back as we do what we do to play the role of hero against villainy, in the first renamed and redirected Dragon Quest.

What's your name? Who cares! You're the mysterious rugged castle guard thrust in a long-drawn quest swelling up with evil events. Your kingdom, Trodain, has just been engulfed with a flood of spiny thorns that were once its people. Your king has transmuted into Yoda. His daughter the princess is now a pretty horsy. The mastermind behind all this spiteful plotting is none other than a deceptive jester named Dhoulmagus. What does this guy want? What all sinister figureheads want: more power. With an ancient scepter in his hands that he has plucked from the castle's concealed tome, you know what Dhoulmagus has done already. How you were the only person to survive the predicament while retaining your true form is unknown. But you're sure to find out, as you'll meet friends, retrieve objects, rescue lives, save the day, and perform a whole host of other noble duties tracing and confronting Dhoulmagus to justify the meanies to the very end.

Taking in the new with mostly the old is exactly the thinking process the eighth installment of Dragon Quest has embraced. Dragon Quest has always been a classic turn-based RPG series. Where Final Fantasy has striven to push toward the future with fancy visuals, innovative combat techniques, and a boatload of franchise spin-offs, Dragon Quest has tended to remain stuck in the past. It's not a series that tries its hardest to impress anyone favoring superior technology and concepts. It's fine the way it is and always has been: simplistic. Now that we've reached number eight though, Dragon Quest does invite a few changes in for an overdue refurbishing. One big noticeable shift comes from Enix no longer sitting in the developer seat. That command for control has now been passed on to Level-5, better known for their work with the revered Dark Cloud series. Another conversion happens to be that the legal restriction was broken off America's allowance of the Dragon Quest moniker (its official name in Japan). No more perplexities for you, Tommy "Which game is which?" Nashville. Finally, Dragon Quest has busted out of its aging 2D shell by succumbing to the dark side with a brand-new coat of cel-shaded 3D goodness. Somewhere, someone from the hardcore old-school days has dropped dead.

Barring these differences, Dragon Quest VIII is in fact not so far off from its seven predecessors. Keeping everything about its RPG adventure suitably primary, number VIII is pure of any unwanted complexities. Self-explanatory battle selections attack, magic, defend, item, and flee makes up most of the straightforward feudal elicitations that combine together with the newest addition to Dragon Quest's combat menu: psyche up. Psyching up your character essentially trades in a turn for the opportunity to channel one's attack strength toward the following bop on the head. Firing up especially during boss battles and similarly strong opponents (such as special creatures found at specific points on the map that yield valuable tokens when defeated) helps maintain a well-balanced strategy. If say you charge up the psychedelic power (which can be produced as many times as needed), your risen tension will cancel if it's decided your next action isn't "Attack," instead choosing to heal a party member. Against all the strange and interesting creatures you'll face however, from the popular blue goober slimes, to mummies, insects, and dance fever devils magically forcing characters to boogey on down, Dragon Quest VIII isn't innovative any way you look at it. Its command sheet contains for the most part basic standards that have been held by the RPG genre since the beginning. Still, even though its fighting mechanics aren't inventive, everything in the game's eventual four-person attack formation stays intact while maintained at an acceptably random and turn-based coordination.

One of the most essential appliances of Dragon Quest VIII is its upgradable abilities system. Every character is tailored with five distinctive attributes that aptly heighten in status using garnered skill points you'll distribute upon which over time. To get them though, first you'll need practical seasoning. Experience and gold are hauled off at the end of every battle. With that coinage in your pocket then, obviously you'll be able to obtain better armor, weaponry, items, and secure a stay at the inn for health and magic furnishing. When that developmental juice fills to the next notch however, you'll gather a small chunk of skill points to expel where needed. Paying off enough of a particular trait drives it to larger ranks and thus better outcomes with new abilities attained. Most of these qualities are weapon-based. Administer the points toward one character's axe proficiency, or someone else's whip know-how and another's staff trade. Then on top of refining the tool's general empowerment, they'll acquire fresh dueling talents to utilize whenever the respective utensil type is on hand. Besides weapons, conditions unique to each character can also be enhanced for both extra powers and excelling their usefulness in the world around them. Where [Insert name here] will eventually be able to transport the party to any town you've been to in an instant, the beefcake Yangus will be sniffing out locations of treasure chests if you want him to.

More to its name, Dragon Quest VIII also uses a valuable alchemy customization system for fusing a large array of item creation possibilities. Finding and unlocking treasure chests is the best way to receive a whole bounty of goods you'll need toward molding newer/better weapons, accessories, etc. Combine an iron nail with a regular boomerang and get a reinforced boomerang. Put two and two together with double the herbs and the result is a stronger medicine -- renewing 50 HP over the usual 30. There are more than 100 different configurations and many, many items in which to pool together. You'll need your synthesis' too for the boastful game length amounting to around 100+ hours through Dragon Quest's main story trials and optional ones as well. Challenges are rather straightforward, mainly subsisting along the lines of asking around town for your missing "horse" to trekking easily navigable dungeons to get to the boss at the end. That's not saying objectives are a walk in the park though, as formidable opponents' will have you constantly leveling your characters for survival against enemies that do regularly increase in difficulty within every slice of the world. It's good to know, however, that playing the game is not so effortful. Easy to learn and harder to master, simplistic button presses using X for every action, square for map surveying, circle for menu access, triangle to cancel, and the analog sticks for camera and motion provides a fairly transparent operative basis that shouldn't take longer than 15 minutes to soak up.

Looks like an anime. Plays like a 3D cel-shaded RPG. For the first time ever Dragon Quest is in 3D, and it's really quite something to behold. Heavily resembling a living, breathing, Dragon Ball Z-like fantasy, venerable character artist Akira Toriyama is the man responsible for both the extremely popular cartoon series and now Dragon Quest VIII's imaginative caricaturing. People and creatures alike are pencil-drawn, colorful, clean, and distinguishable. Modeling a bright yellow sleeveless trenchcoat, blue shirt, red bandana, dark spiky hair, and big saucer eyeballs, the hero for example sharply stands out reminiscent of a Dragon Ball Z clone. Other personae, ranging from the reddish pigtailed and big breasted party pal Jessica to creatures like wild trees fitted with razor teeth, are all established fashionably well, and descriptive enough that you won't miss one single detail. Even more impressive is the cleverness of character incitement. There exist hundreds of diverse animations all imprinted into the depths of the game. Walking past a town's inhabitant nudges their head your way. Running around makes the hero's jacket flap wonderfully in a windy symmetry. Monsters met and matched in combat even evoke all sorts of crazy and likable personalities. There are decorative flies with highly caffeinated "bug eyes," and striped kitties that use their long tongues to lick themselves and you. Passing back and forth rounds of gushing waves of fire and all other sorts of magical implementations, like billowy purple sleep clouds and an archer's rain of multidirectional arrows, all look deliciously cool for one heck of a polished game.

Thriving along the land, the game's characters all mesh in brilliantly with the enormously expansive green environment. It's like a never-ending trek almost. From one central building you could circle the outer rim of the forestry landscape completing the entire 360 in an hour's time (counting the duration between enemy encounters). But at least the game's worldly architecture is nothing to be disappointed in. You'll plow past bushy trees and grassy knolls, walk atop craggy rocks and along active river beds. Elsewhere into towns you'll find stately textured stone layered grounds and wooden constructions. Stick-built shops are surrounded by crates and barrels. Enchanting orangey torches simmer and dance on walls and platforms. Pubs emulate tables, chairs, and even customers inside (who knew?). You'll visit cavernous channels and decrepit temples. In other outdoor endeavors, it's even charming how the world evolves from light blue skies, to sparkling sunsets, into the shade of night rendering everything in deep tones. The percentage of flaws in the game's visuals really is minimal. Instances of pop-ups are one of the few graphical problems, as you may enter a room with people being written right in front of your eyes. The other quirk might be that the game isn't insanely gorgeous. Dragon Quest VIII is very much a lovely game, but it probably won't have you heavily craving its stylish etchings as much as you would a photorealistic CG clip from a new Final Fantasy.

If something sounds right, then it can only be good. If something sounds off, then it probably isn't as good. Dragon Quest VIII delivers that kind of experience, where its tonality is reliable and yet not as much all over. Starting with the harmonious musical score, gracing compositions are instrumentally orchestrated by longtime series composer Koichi Sugiyama. His work is exceptionably strained across merry village chiming to vaulting verses hiking into emotional artistry through the paces of fields and slow or chaotic bass based evil confines. Audio is another element not to be disregarded as anything but pleasing. Foes chomp and squeak. Modes of attack alternate between the whack of a hammer, the whooshing jettison of an arrow, and the gusts and blazing of magic. It's no major concern when having to accept the vocal talent as fair game, even though it is the sound's aforementioned weakest link. "Meh" and "AGH!" aren't phrases that come to mind while paying attention to a cast made mostly of English birds and blokes that deliver quaint dialogue. But, "Amazing!" and "A perfect fit." are thoughts that won't be trained on the characters as they moderately give identity to the plot either. The issue's not that the acting isn't firm; it's that the acting is more in line with a somewhat flat and bizarrely obnoxious mixture. Dragon Quest VIII's actors do an okay job of getting the message across, but won't charm you all the way into falling head first in love with their impurities.

Bottom Line
Consumers have different taste buds. Things like the clothing they wear, the hairstyle they wake up with, and the food they eat is all based on what they want and how they like it. Dragon Quest VIII isn't that snazzy pair of expensive Reeboks your mind pictures you wearing so brilliantly. Or the buzzing of a trimmed fade you think you need. Or the banana split with three different flavors and caramel sauce your stomach begs to swallow. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King isn't like Final Fantasy with its over-the-top visual carvings and boundary-pushing gameplay. Here, Dragon Quest VIII is the comfy but less attractive affordable footwear. It's the trim without the finesse. It's the vanilla milkshake without the need of additional toppings. Dragon Quest VIII may not be the most fashionable or favorable in its class, but it's the type of RPG you're going to really like because it's made to perform well. It does its job, and sometimes that's all you really need.

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