2016 is not a year that will be looked back on in a particularly favourable light, but for 3DS owners, the sheer number of high profile RPGs for the handheld has been staggering. It was also a busy year for Dragon Quest, including a full remake of Dragon Quest VII which was a good effort. While Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is nowhere near as ambitious a transformation, it looks set to get 2017 off to a good start as well.
Having played the PlayStation 2 original, one of the major criticisms was that the first hours are punishing. In order to even get to the first boss, grinding is required to an almost sadistic degree. In the 3DS version however I managed to beat the first boss without the need to head back to town once, thanks to HP and MP recovering every level up and more generous experience gains. As a gamer with little time on my hands, an easier beginning on the go is more palatable than a brutal slog.
Combat in the new version of Dragon Quest VIII is the exact same as in the other versions that have been released; simple to understand and includes the tension gauge that revitalised the series. For those who don’t know, you can “psyche up” to spend a turn and power up temporarily. The more turns you sacrifice, the more powerful your next hit is. While it’s certainly advantageous for you, enemies can also tense up for more powerful hits, making defending against them imperative.
Compared to the PS2 version, the only thing that is missing is the wonderful orchestral music that was recorded for the localised versions. Everything else seems at this point present and accounted for, including rather surprisingly the voice acting.
The voice acting was praised at the time, but even in the light of modern performance capture, it’s amazing to see just how well it holds up. Diamond geezer Ricky Grover – otherwise known as that cockney actor you can never remember the name of – is a particular highlight as the former bandit Yangus. None of the voices have been re-recorded from what I can gather, but they stand the test of time.
Taking a leaf out of Dragon Quest VII’s book from earlier this year, enemies now appear in the world map and can be avoided by simply walking around them. Given how random battles have fallen out of favour considerably over the last couple of decades, it’s refreshing to see that this port has shed those particular shackles as well.
A big thing that was introduced to the series in Dragon Quest VIII was the ability to transform items collected into other items using a special pot. Alchemy is largely the same again in this remake, either taking a chance and making your own items or following a recipe found in the game to create new items. Certain items are either easier to acquire or can only be made via alchemy, so it’s an essential part of the game.
One thing I played around with that’s brand new for the 3DS version is the photography feature, but that’s all it really is from what I could gather. There was no evidence that this has gameplay ramifications at the moment though, which if true is a little disappointing, though it will be possible to share these via StreetPass once the game is released.
I’ll be spending a lot more time with the game from this point, as I’ve barely scratched the surface of the 3DS port. However I can safely say that the early signs are mostly positive and that 2017 should begin with another great RPG appearing on Nintendo’s handheld.