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Dragon Quest VIII: Journey Of The Cursed King PREVIEW

Developer: Level5

Publisher: Square-Enix

Release Date: Nov. 15, 2005

Official Site: Dragon Quest VIII (Free Demo Offer!)

Wiki Article: DQVIII Wiki

Alundra: After a prolonged hiatus, the series that made releasing further installments in it's franchise on a weekday in Japan illegal, is back. Dragon Warrior in Japan is the eqivalent to today's World Of Warcraft: it contains a massive fanbase if dedicated fans that will gobble up anything thrown at them; and in the case of some previous Dragon Warrior installments, they will take anything.

The eigth instllment in the legendary series makes the inevitable leap into 3D, and it does it quite well. Noted DBZ artist Akira Toriyama is back once again to reprise his role as main character designer, and the cel-shaded look of the games entire cast of characters truly gives life to his artistic vision; something that also worked well for DBZ Budokai.. Characters are brightly colored and seem to burst with personality, the game also featured a series first: voice acting. From the small amount in the demo, I was pretty impressed on how well some characters were voiced, especially the King and Yangus, although the hero, Eight, is mute. This is not to say that the game is fully voice-acted, only key scenes have voices, the rest of the dialouge you will be forced to read. Unfortunately, this is where my fun stopped and I was given the harsh reminder that I was playing a Dragon Warrior game.

The town that you are set in couldn't have more of a generic design, and confusing at that. The town features only two houses, and then a handful of shops with more people in them then there are houses to hold them. The area felt dull and lifeless, and for the most part, it seemed like the entire locale lacked any kind of visual flair that would set it apart from another location. I found myself not even wanting to explore the town after I had run around it for a few minutes, since talking to the locals further confused me as they bablled on about issues I didn't know about. This could be the fact that you are dropped into the game at a early point of the storyline with no backstory, but I would have appreciated more information.

Once outside the castle, the game furthers is rather bland design by just laying out a generic path for you to follow littered by trees and a few hills that you can traverse if you would like, but it almost seems like the game wants you to follow the beaten path. This isn't to say that the rest of the game suffers from this hinderance: the screenshot below shows a lush landscape that begs to be explored. As you journey around the world map, the seengly now-archaic idea of random encounters hampers your progress along the way. Rather than letting the player tactically move about the map and decide when they want to fight (something even Grandia fixed 7 years ago), you will be forced into random encounters that may or may not force you to start from your last save point because you were low on health.

Albeit, the purist in me argues the fact that it is staunch RPG tradition that random encounters are a part of the game, but I think that in current age of technology we are in now, the map could have been littered with the absoloutely gorgeous monster models that you will sadly only see in battle. The only encounter I had where I could see my opponent prior to our engagement led to my subsequent defeat since he was apparently a high-level monster wandering in the woods; this also confused me because I approached this monster because I thought it was a NPC, but found out that it was more or less a random encounter.

As mentioned beforehand, the character and monster models in this game are gorgeous, the cel-shaded look fully fleshes out Toriyama's unique art style. I was impressed on the amount of detail that went into each and every minute and weak opponent I encountered, which, by the way, are slightly styled in the vein of the games predecessors. Each battle begins with the traditional first-person perspective, and then the camera will sweep around the battlefield as the action ensues. Nothing new in the battle department this time around, you can basically attack, use an ability, run, or "psyche up" to boost some stats that will effect your next turn, nothing to write home about.

From what the demo has presented to me, I haven't been impressed thus far with anything besides the excellent character design. The story almost seems to be the typical globetrotting quest to save the world or some other tired formula. Call me spoiled by Final Fantasy, call me too demanding, but keep this in mind: many of the hinderances in Dragon Quest VIII are simple game nuances that could, and should have been addressed years ago. If the final product fixes these shortcomings, then this installment in the series could be the best since the first.

Preview Score: 7/10

--- Alundra

Byrc: What do a mountain man, a hamster called Munchie, and a silent hero named Eight have in common? They’re our new heroes of the 21st century, well maybe in an alternate reality. These new bastions of freedom, justice, and all that jazz are now coming to a PS2 near you. What is the name of this monolith of a game in which our heroes reside, it is Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.

Yes, Dragon Quest VIII, not Dragon Warrior VIII. To those who care or in the know, would understand that Dragon Quest is the original Japanese name of this great RPG series. When the original Dragon Quest was released in the US on the NES, the name had to be changed. The reason for the name change is due to a previous use, taken by a role playing company known as TSR (table-top RPG players know who they are). Since the name had to be changed, they decided on the name Dragon Warrior. Other changes were also done as well. This was back in 1987 and the gaming world was very different than it is now. Games were mostly marketed to grade school children, so the RPG series had to be toned down. References to drinking, swearing, death, and sexual innuendoes were either completely taken out, or reduced in importance. Many older fans were of course appalled by this action.

After many years of Dragon Quest releases and Playstation remakes (which were not released in the States), Dragon Quest/Warrior VII was released for the Playstation in 2001. Even though the gaming industry started to market toward older players, the game was still unfortunately censored, yet not as heavily as before. Now after 4 years Dragon Quest VIII will be released in the US on Nov. 15. You may have noticed that the name is not Dragon Warrior, but Dragon Quest. The reason for this is unknown to me. I expected the name to be changed, but as far as this reviewer knows, no change will occur.

I was lucky enough to try out the demo and behold the unbelievable 3D representation of Akira Toriyama’s work. To many anime fans he is the unbelievable mangaka and artist of Dragonball. Older gamers will also know him as Chrono Trigger’s character illustrator, whose delightful illustrations graced the character status screen and character sprites. Level 5, the developers of Dark Cloud 2, took the challenge of brining Toriyama’s character illustrations into the 3D realm. The developer decided to use a technique that has recently become very popular, due to games like “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” and of course Level 5’s own Dark Cloud 2. This technique is known as cell-shading. Due to the popularity of this technique, many developers have tried to imitate, but fall short and end up with something horribly grotesque. Yet, Level 5 has honed their skills to a point that no other developer reaches the level of their expertise. Its hard press to see fault in the games graphical representation, but due to the PS2’s limitation, there are some blemishes on this beauty queen. Aliasing, clipping, and slow-down occur in wide open spaces, like fields outside of town. In dungeons and towns, such scars are hardly noticeable. Please keep in mind that this all refers to the demo. Although I expect the same issues to occur in the real game, these are nothing more than the nit-pickings of an anal retentive reviewer. Most gamers would barely notice such things, so it’s best to not take this to heart. Just remember that this game takes the PS2 to its limits and shines like a bright star among the graphical Big-boys.

The style of the new installment is draped with the usual Dragon Quest trappings. It pays homage to the past installments. It is set in a somewhat medieval time period, filled with chivalrous knights, village idiots, buxom debutants, and of course the happy smiley Slime. Experience with the demo and past installments hints toward a story balanced with humor and dramatic plot-twists. The character style, although “cartoon-ish” in manner, points toward a complex stew of personalities. Like all human beings, the characters show a level of complexity that clash with their outer appearance. Non-anime fans may have to get use to the style. You’ll see many anime archetypes and mannerisms used in the game. Characters will have exclamation points hang over their heads in disbelief, giant tear drops, and crazy floating question marks, all of which were very atypical in Japanese RPGs during the SNES era. Yet, if you’re an RPG console fan the style may not even raise an eyebrow; instead you’ll have a Cheshire cat-like grin across your face.

Due to my gossip-mongering ways, I chatted up with the townsfolk and to my surprise I hear voices. Do these voices destroy my love for the series? Two words: Heck NO! The series still follows the tradition of having a silent protagonist (he’s not mute mind you). Like all great heroes, his thoughts somehow telepathically become known to his fellow comrades. This is not a bashing of this odd story-telling technique, the reason for this silence is due to the point of view the story is told. “You” play the protagonist, therefore you assume the role; yet, the other main characters have been endowed with some great voice acting. The Square-Enix localization team decided on the use of British voice actors. This choice may have been influenced by the fact that the past Dragon Warrior games used Old English in the text translation. To Dragon Quest importers this may seem very odd, since the Japanese version contained no voice-acting. Some purist may even be up in arms concerning this issue.

Yet, let me calm the fears of “the purist”. Akira Toriyama not only worked closely with the Japanese development staff, but he also had a lot of influence with the translation staff as well. Toriyama has expressed a positive attitude toward changes for the American version. In an interview he explains that since DQVIII was made for Japanese fans in mind, the game must be altered to appease the Western market. According to Toriyama, the spoken word is more important to the Western world than in the East. Toriyama himself agreed with the use of voice actors. Another major change that Toriyama agreed with is the music. This may come as a shock, but the American version will have a different soundtrack. Although the melodies will stay the same, instead of using synthesized music, the US version will use a live orchestra to play the melodies. Is this a good thing? Well to some purist, it may not be. Unfortunately the demo did not have the new American music. The Japanese version and demo uses a lot of recycled sound effects and memorable melodies from the past Dragon Quest games. To my knowledge the new music will try to keep itself within the confines of the Dragon Quest style. Let us hope that is the case.

The game’s style and music pays homage to the past installments; and the same rings true with the gameplay. Battle system is pretty simple; it is a party turn base system with random battles. Unlike the real time turn base system in newer RPGs, you must choose the actions of all your part members for 1 turn. After you choose attack, magic, or special skill, your characters will do the action, and then the enemies’ turn will be next. This makes things hard on the player since you can’t change your tactics in the middle of the turn. You have no real clue of what your enemy will do. This asks more from the player, since he or she must take caution and be more strategic with their actions.

Other than the battle system is the leveling and magic system, and the demo gives a small example of how your characters develop. Thankfully, this part of the game shows a lot of promise. Although DQVIII automatically allocates the character’s stats after each level up, there are other skills that are left to be player customized. These skills either effect a combination of stats or allow new abilities, special attacks, or magic to be learned. After each level you gain points in which you can use to allocate them to any skill you wish. However, it seems you cannot make a super genius character that is good at everything, since not all characters have the same skill sets. Players can also customize their character’s weapon proficiency, since each character has a set of weapon types he or she can allocate points to. This allows for more varied characters and stops players from making generic heroes that all do the same thing. For players who want more customization and control of their character development, should keep an eye out for this game.

There are very few things to say about the game that hasn’t been already addressed. All that is left to say now is that this game has a lot of promise. It may or may not live up the expectations that have arisen from playing the demo. We can only hope the game will be able fill the shoes of its predecessors, and be able to make a name for its self in the land of mainstream gaming.

Preview Score: 8/10


Stay tuned for our full review of this game in the coming weeks.

--- Alundra & Byrc

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Published on: 2005-11-03 (18837 reads)

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