Good: Gameplay, simplicity
Bad: Long quest may turn off casual RPG fans
Cel-Shading: Definitely hip
Dragon Quest has long been an in-house development, but with the beginnings of a new future for the recent creation of the company Square Enix, they've decided to hand the Dragon Quest series over to another development team. This task was handed to Level 5, the team that created Dark Cloud. This may have worried some, but for those who have been lucky enough to experience Dark Cloud new that the development team would not let fans down. Turns out that Level 5 lived up to the history of the famous Dragon Quest series as number 8 delivers a fresh and exciting journey to the RPG world.
Dipping into the main story for introductory purposes, you play as a palace guard who is the sole survivor of a devastating attack by and evil entity. This evil obtains a scepter that has the ability to morph others. This ability was applied onto the King turning him into toad. It's up to you to track down the perpetrator and to relive this god-awful curse. This simple prelude leads into a story that expands beyond that simple plot line. I'll be the first to say that Dragon Quest isn't' what it is because of the storyline. In fact, as you progress through and meet new people and experience the many twists, you'll soon realize that the story is very cliche when it comes to Eastern RPG's and predicting the outcome of different scenario is a breeze.
Gameplay is as simple as you can get with RPG's of this time. Spells, abilities are all learned as you level and the simplicity of spell distribution is superb. In most RPG's you'll be stuck with dozens of spells to choose from and at a certain point it is almost frustrating and a waste of programming to have spells that you never use. Well, DQVIII doesn't suffer from this as the amount of spells learned is just the right amount so that you'll be using them all and feeling like they all have worth. This goes with party members as well. You'll have the same four members of your party throughout the game; this again limits the complexities of determining which characters you will use and having to keep your characters the same level. Some may frown on this because it is a lot simpler, but when one actually experiences a fight they'll realize why all these things were done.
To elaborate more, DQVIII is not a picnic to progress through. The mobs here are tough and get tough early. This isn't like a standard turn based RPG where you can just spam melee attacks and a couple heals here and there. Enemies will surprise you with stuns, heals, focused attacks on your healer and many other disastrous events that can lead to an unwelcome party wipe. While the battle system is simple, the difficulty of enemies balances this out as you'll still be doing a lot of thinking and paying attention in case something crazy happens.
Another difficult aspect of DQVIII is its vastness; although, this difficultness is more of a negative than a positive. While the one could finish the main story in about 50 hours, this would be excluding a ton of the side missions and activities you can participate in. It actually took me over 20 hours just to leave the first continent. Usually these traits are great for deep, engrossing RPG's, but there was a certain point where the gameplay became tiring and was burning me out. The constant high encounter rate for random mobs didn't help with the tediousness either. Most gamers will hit this invisible wall and it's actually quite difficult and less motivating to pick up the controller and continue to the end of the story.
There is a certain charm however, that comes with DQVIII. Most of it has to do with the cell-shaded animation that is featured. While this is new to the series, it is very welcomed. You'll be able to encounter a variety of environments that feature different elements of nature (earth, water, fire, etc.) and you'll also meet hundreds of characters all with unique facial expression and artistic design. While some may still frown on the choice of developers going with cell-shading, it fits perfectly here.
The North American title actually got a bonus with voice acting. This was added exclusively to this version and it's very well done. It is a bit awkward at first to hear anime characters speak with British accents but it blends in after a while. The track is superb too. Old school Dragon Quest fans will recognize remixes of past themes and enjoy the charm of the new ones. Nothing spectacular as far as sound goes, but definitely not slacked on either.
Dragon Quest VIII boasts great battles, excellent visual style, and a freshness the series has been longing for. There are just a couple hiccups in overall design of the story as the excitement just isn't enough to motivate the gamer to progress through the entire story without a bit of frustration from tediousness. The game is long and takes quite a bit of effort to complete. While this is great news for the hardcore, the casual RPG fans might get sick before they leave the first continent. This is almost a tribute to the gamer because it will suck you into the gameplay and you will most likely be playing this game exclusively for a couple weeks. This is what I look for and love about RPG's and that's why this is my early pick for RPG of the year.
First Play: A-
Last Play: B+
Overall: 91% A-