There’s definitely something to be said for the modern era of porting. Previously console-exclusive games have been winding up on Steam, handhelds and mobile at a prodigious rate. That’s a good thing: more versions allow newcomers to try games they haven’t experienced before, not to mention it often offers vets a chance to replay old favorites with enhancements.
One recently-ported title that should appeal to both categories is the 3DS remaster of Square-Enix’s 2004 PS2-era masterpiece, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.
If you aren’t familiar with the original PlayStation 2 version of this classic, then here’s the lowdown. Our hero, a guard of the kingdom of Trodain, is cast out after the kingdom is cursed by the villainous Dhoulmagus; the king is turned into a goblin, the princess into a horse, and everyone else into thorns. Nobody’s really happy with this state of affairs, so the heroic guard, his friend Yangus, and the transformed royalty set out to find a means of breaking the curse. It’s a quest in the traditional Dragon Quest style, with plenty of dungeons to explore, monsters to slay, mysteries to solve and so on.
Dragon Quest VIII was interesting back when it launched because rather than attempting to iterate on the JRPG formula, it took a formula that had been known to work and polished the hell out of it. You might remember that this game originally launched when the genre was the whipping child of Western games criticism, but even those who stuck to the party line bent a little for DQVIII. It’s a great example of how solid game design trumps innovation for innovation’s sake; that’s a lesson that the industry could still do well to learn.
The key is that new features, where they’re present, are tweaks to existing systems rather than attempts at revolutionizing the genre. The turn-based combat is fairly standard, for instance, but there’s a simple skill tree system that allows for surprising amounts of customization and strategy. Dungeon crawling is much like dungeon crawling in most JRPGs, but the environments are gorgeous and battles are snappy enough that it doesn’t feel like a chore.
Meanwhile, an item-combination system makes both combat and exploration feel more rewarding, since you never know when you’ll come across a vital component for a new item. The 3DS version of the game adds a few new gameplay elements as well, including an engaging photography minigame and new playable party members.
The polish extends to the presentation as well; while the graphics suffer a bit on the smaller screen, DQVIII remains gorgeous, easily one of the best-looking games on the 3DS, and runs smoothly the vast majority of the time. If you’re really big on stereoscopic 3D, you’re going to be disappointed, since that feature isn’t available at all here – presumably a concession to keep the game’s framerate high. Meanwhile, DQVIII’s sound remains solidand intact, both in terms of the amazing music and the slightly-less-amazing-but-still-pretty-good voice acting.
I could go on, but there’s not a whole lot else to say about Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King that hasn’t been said elsewhere. The new content makes this the definitive version of a classic RPG that should be on everyone’s must-play list. It’s beautiful, polished and precisely designed, standing tall as one of the best JRPGs ever made.