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Preview - Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Previewed on 8/11/05

Still the King

It has been almost 4 years since a new Dragon Quest (A.K.A "Dragon Warrior") game has come to the USA. Level 5 and Square Enix USA have decided to end the cold streak by bringing us Dragon Quest VIII this November.

As the first to come along in such a long time, it's only appropriate that Dragon Quest VIII is all about features, features, and more features. A series can't stay on top without learning new tricks, right? So let's get talking. First up, the dungeonplay. DQVIII plays in full 3D, and the developers have taken advantage of that. What I mean by this is that the way movement works in the dungeons feels different than in most RPGs, with a lot of emphasis being placed on creative exploration. And within some dungeons, obtaining a torch may be key to navigation and, for the diligent, finding certain well-hidden treasures. A first-person view is available to help with such things. Some of such goodies include maps of the area you're in, as you don't start out with maps for dungeons--they must be obtained.

Next up, alternate transportation. The game takes place in a very big world (which, by the way, is seamless), as you can see from screens like this one, so Level 5 put more ways to get around than just walking everywhere. On land, the "Killer Panther" is the way to go. By completing a quest given by one Karachi, players earn the ability to ride these large cats around, gaining extra speed and perhaps access to a few areas that couldn't be reached before. Killer Panthers aren't the only vehicle in the game. At some point--though not exactly revealed yet--players will get a boat for water-based travel. But watch might run into frightening monsters such as the poisonous "Pugfish" or the strong "Killer Anchor" while cruising the waters.

A new installment in the series means a new cast and story. The game's hero is unnamed and leads a cast of quirky adventurers on a mammoth journey. The purpose for the DQ8 version of this is that a wicked jester has stolen a cursed scepter and used it to bind an entire kingdom. The jester's evil magic has turned the king and his daughter into animals (the king into a monster, princess into a horse), and all the other citizens into thorns. The only member of the kingdom to escape is the aforementioned hero.

Other cast members are more talkative and have names of their own. Here are a few:

  • Gerda: This female thief loves nothing more than her worldly possessions, and makes no hesitation in showing them off.
  • Yangus: A friend of the hero who is not afraid to charge into battle to protect his allies. He comes from the mountains and wears a spikey hat. He and Gerda have some sort of history together....
  • Jessica: The leading lady sports red hair on her head and a whip in her hand.
  • Luniello: A fortune teller with a mysterious background. (Did you expect anything but a mysterious background from a fortune teller?) Luniello has a yet-unrevealed connection to the hero.

Of course, there are many others as well. A most notable non-playable character that will be helping the party during the game is the cursed king himself, Trode. Trode generally hangs out near the party's carriage and manages supplies and things. One thing he can do is use alchemy for the group. By placing two items from the inventory into Trode's "alchemic kettle," players can make new ones. Acting like the king he truly is, Trode is also full of useful advice for his followers. He keeps a bestiary, records of what the player has done in battle, items lists, and other neat stuff. If you're having trouble with certain enemies, you can ask King Trode for help, and he'll give you a tip.

The battle system starts off as the common turn-based fighting any RPG player has experienced. Just like previous Dragon Quest games, entering commands will be done while in a first-person view of the opponents. From there, the camera gets much more action-oriented and gives player different angles of the attacks, more similar to something like one of the last handful of Final Fantasy titles. Unlike previous games that did not allow selection of a specific target, this one does; so when a group of enemies is present, you don't have to all attack the same thing till it's dead and then move on, but you can pick different techs to use against different enemies. To my recollection, this was not around in earlier DQ games.

Something a lot of media is making a big deal about is the "Tension" feature of the combat. This allows characters to spend a turn intensifying their adrenaline instead of taking another action. Characters doing this then start glowing and put on an angry face, while being blessed with greater attack power and accuracy. If characters want to strengthen again, they can eventually obtain "Super High Tension" after 3 uses of the Strengthen command. A character's tension status is marked by a percentage meter on the screen.

Skill points are awarded as characters level up, including Weapon skills, Ability skills, and one normal overall skill that is unique to the character receiving it. These can be distributed any way the player chooses, though the points cannot transfer from one character to another. In the hero's case, his "Bravery" stat plays a big part in how fast he learns new techniques. Using points on powering up that skill will make him learn them faster.

Monsters play a bigger part in Dragon Quest VIII than they do in your typical RPG, adding a slight Pokemon-like aspect with the one-two punch of "Scouting" and "Monster Battle Road." After you kill an enemy in battle, other enemies of that type can be scouted and used for your benefit later on. One help they lend is that they can be summoned to help you fight other enemies, and another is that they can be put into groups of 3 and taken into combat in "Monster Battle Road." This place isn't really a road--it's an arena. Players enter their captured creatures into a match, then just sort of chill in the building until the ring announcer calls out the team's name (given by you, the player). Players then take control of their newly-formed monster party and get to fight against other teams with spiffy prizes on the line. It's in your best interest to use some strategic thinking in these fights, because some combinations of monsters may work better than others, since those who have something in common can perform special group attacks. One example would be placing three sword-bearing monsters in a party, enabling the deadly "Triple Sword" maneuver.

Another little side-item is the casino. Games such as slots, bingo, and roulette will be available to players. Of course, there is more incentive than simple amusement, as useful prizes can be won by doing well in the games. For example, the speed in which one obtains "B-I-N-G-O" determines the quality of the prize received.

These days, it seems like almost every game looks good. Dragon Quest VIII is no exception. The cel-shading, as mentioned above, was done by Level 5, whose works include the well-received Dark Cloud 2, which is to say (and I'm sorry that I sound so excited in this preview) that the game looks great. The graphics look even smoother than Dark Cloud 2, which didn't have any big problems to begin with. The day-and-night time passage will let gamers see the environments in two different ways, to boot. And with Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball) lending his skills to the character designs, the game gains more appeal to series fans as well as newcomers.

The North American version will include updates. Namely, voice-overs, a fully orchestrated soundtrack, a completely renovated GUI menu system, new battle abilities, and improved animations.

With all the features mentioned in this very long preview, it's easy to see why the Dragon Quest series is so popular. How will this one end up? You'll have to wait until November 22nd and put down $49.99 to find out.



-Eric Emerson