I think I had kind of forgotten how important Dragon Quest VIII was to me until I played the 3DS remake. I always remembered liking the game well enough, slotting it somewhere in the middle of the series when rating my enjoyment of them. I liked it better than the primitive DQ1 or the grindy DQ2 or DQ6, which I just don’t much care for, but I didn’t consider it a favorite like DQ 4 or 5 or even 9. It just wasn’t a game I thought much about. Playing the 3DS port/remake, which improves the game in several ways but is also hampered enough by technical issues to not be strictly the definitive version, really brought back how much I liked that game.
During what in hindsight appears to be something of a Golden Age during the heart of the PS2/GC/XBOX days, I largely drifted out of gaming. I owned a GameCube, but despite a steady stream of solid games, between Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker near the start of 2003 and Resident Evil 4 in early 2005, which was the last new GameCube game I bought before I got a PS2, I played maybe 5 new games. I bought Viewtiful Joe and Tales of Symphonia for myself, got Skies of Arcadia Legends and Lord of The Rings: Return of the King for Christmas, and my brother and I went in together to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Most of those are great games. Viewtiful Joe and Skies of Arcadia Legends are among my all-time favorites. Return of the King was a great co-op experience during Winter Break, but I have neither the time nor inclination to revisit it and see if it holds up. Tales of Symphonia was the right game at the right time in the summer of 2004. And Crystal Chronicles is at the very least interesting. While those were some great games, and there were plenty of great games hitting the GC and other systems, I found myself less and less interested. While the RPGs in that list took some time to play, none of the others are all that lengthy. Some of my disinterest is could be down to the GC not really having the RPGs that really interested me at the time, but I didn’t really feel a pull to get a PS2, where those games could be found. At least, I didn’t until I saw FFXII on the horizon.
The inexorable pull of Final Fantasy XII was enough to get me to finally take the plunge on a PS2. Since that game was the primary pull for me to get the system, before it was released late in 2006, I picked up a copy of Dragon Quest VIII, which came with a FFXII demo disc. I was interested, though not exactly excited, to play Dragon Quest VIII. The only game in the series I had played was Dragon Warrior on NES and while I had fond memories of it, I hadn’t played it in a decade or so. Dragon Quest 8 was a JRPG, which I like, with an appealing graphical style not unlike that in Wind Waker. I wasn’t ready for how much I would enjoy it.
The essence of the 3DS remake of DQ8 is the same as the PS2 original. That game charmed me with its aesthetics and is back to basics approach to the JRPG. Most of the games of that genre that I love emphasize a sense of adventure over strictly mechanical or storytelling concerns. That is why I love Skies of Arcadia and Lunar. While no Dragon Quest games are strictly complex, DQ8 rolls its mechanics back to the basics. There is a tiny amount of character customization, but otherwise the game is very simple. Neither is the story particularly innovative or original. It has a silent protagonist on a quest to save a princess, join by a trio of like-minded companions. That shouldn’t be the recipe for a beloved classic, but DQ8 shines in the execution of its very simple adventure.
One thing the game did better than any game before it how well it realized a world. Other PS2 games, like Final Fantasy X, eliminated the overworld in favor of linear pathways to follow. Dragon Quest 8 went the other way, creating a full sized world for the player to explore. Better than any other jrpg I had ever played, Dragon Quest 8 made me feel like I was in the world of the game. That feeling is greatly helped by its excellent graphics, which helps create a cohesive world.
The simple story, the impetuous for exploring the game’s excellent world, doesn’t work without solid characters and that is another area where the game shines. Both its playable and non-playable characters a delightful and memorable. Jessica and Angelo are simply well executed stock genre characters. Like the game itself, they break little new ground, but are perfect for what they are. Yangus, though, is the real star, with his cockney accent and general scruffiness. His interactions with King Trode are a constant delight. The 3DS adds his sometimes paramour Red as a playable characters, and she is likewise a lot of fun. Then there are the characters that make up the casts in each town the player visits. There are too many to mention.
Something about this game’s back to basics approach, stripping the genre down to its essence and concentrating on the presentation just worked for me, both in 2007 and in 2017. Back then, I was hoping that the forward thinking, groundbreaking Final Fantasy XII would be the game to make me love playing video games again. But Dragon Quest VIII isn’t the most complex game or the most original, but it is a perfectly executed take on the genre.