Review: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

Following the recent release of the gratefully received Dragon Quest VII for the 3DS mere months ago, we now have the spectacular sequel Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (DQVIII from this point for simplicity) which has seen the light of day in Europe before but never before on a Nintendo console, owing to it being a Playstation 2 exclusive classic for many years. Though I feel that it's only really more revered as the years go on, especially in the West as it was an early PS2 title yet so accomplished for its time, though even I must admit that despite owning the NTSC version of the original game for years (as with DQVII) I personally have never properly played it; until now that is where this newly released 3DS version is proving to be my redemption when it comes to mainline Dragon Quest patronage.     

The story begins when a jester, Dhoulmagus, comes to Castle Trodain and steals the King's sceptre. He then uses its power to turn his majesty into a troll, the Princess into a horse and the castle inhabitants into plants. The only one left unscathed from this attack is a castle guard who escaped the curse and must now step up to save the kingdom he's sworn to protect.

After a memorable intro where you're introduced to Yangus (a stout fellow who talks like a geezer) and Trode (who speaks like a nobleman, but now looks a little like Yoda) plus your little rodent friend Munchie who stays in your (the Hero's) pocket, you're in a forest left wondering where the Princess is when suddenly you're attacked by a band of slimes! Then the former King returns with Princess Medea who is King Trode's precious one and only daughter who appears as a horse following the curse, to which Yangus responds with "Aye-aye, the 'orse-princess is back!" which provides an entertaining moment before you set off for your first destination; welcome to the world of Dragon Quest VIII!


Your main party characters consist of; The Hero - A young castle guard and lone survivor of Dhoulmagus’ curse. Together with King Trode and other companions, he embarks on an adventure to save the kingdom. Yangus – This cunning chap claims to be a legendary bandit. He also has a habit of calling you “guv”… King Trode– A monarch with much wisdom to bestow. Unfortunately, as a result of Dhoulmagus’ curse, many mistake him for a monster! Princess Medea – It’s no wonder Princess Medea has a long face – she’s been turned into a horse by Dhoulmagus! Still, she doesn’t seem to mind pulling your caravan across the world. Jessica – A skilled mage who joins you on your journey. She is strong-minded and a bit selfish at times, but a good person at heart and beloved by her fellow villagers, too! Angelo – A member of the venerable Templar knights who has a fondness for gambling and beautiful women. Despite this, Angelo is known for his chivalrous spirit.

Then you have two popular NPC characters who become playable in this version; Morrie – The proprietor of the famous Monster Arena. He is known for his intoxicating passion and gusto! Red – A highly-skilled travelling bandit who harbours some sort of mystery history with your travelling ex-bandit, Yangus. While the focus in DQVII seemed to be less on the characters and the main story, more on discovering smaller stories which in turn unlocked more of the main world as you travelled through time solving problems; here the focus is definitely more on your characters, the quest they go on and that grand sense of adventure, which is why introducing two fan favourites as playable characters in addition to the already spectacular roster is a very smart thing to do indeed for this remake. 


Indeed the sheer scale of the world is nothing short of being as intimidating as it is impressive, all you need do to appreciate this any time is to zoom out on the overworld map to see that the already considerably large area you are in (which consequently I spent many hours exploring & levelling within) is but one of several masses of land, each seemingly larger than the one you start off in. Originally it was a large game for its time in world size alone, so to see it all on a modern day portable console is rather sobering; these aren't mere barren landscapes either as I found much of the overworld to be just as densely packed as it is overly expansive, there are secrets galore featuring treasure chests plus more, all of which implore you to go off and explore.

Eventually you'll come to one of the many inhabited areas, your first port of call is to the town of Farebury in search of Master Rylus who taught the evil Dhoulmagus the magic he seems to be now causing havoc with, I shall not spoil anything major about the plot but there's plenty going on in just this first major area alone, from the locals reacting rather harshly to King Trode's strange appearance to odd goings on around the local tavern - which has a fantastic atmosphere - which will lead you to going on a fetch quest of sorts to grab a Crystal Ball for a Fortune Teller by journeying to a nearby Waterfall Cavern which turns out to be your first practice dungeon in effect.    

By this point you'll have almost certainly partaken in numerous battles, contrary to in DQVII where hours could go by at the start without a single battle, here you are thrust straight into the action within minutes here helping you to learn the basics early on as you push onward with your quest. The story itself is nicely written, the plot while standard at times maintains your interest throughout thanks to the skill of Yuji Horii in creating a believable narrative which still shines through to this very day. It's both of these aspects which give you more of a reason to become invested in the world early on, with this feeling only building as you discover more of the beautifully created world around you. 


Carrying over the well-established turn-based battle system, much here will seem familiar if you've already played the previous title, however there are a few noteworthy additions which switch things up a bit; of course you can still attack, defend, use spells and items but now you can also use the Psyche Up command which increases your tension level every time you use it, which in turn makes that character able to deal more damage when they finally go in for the attack which can be useful for trickier enemies as I discovered. There stood an Axoraptor with an icon of swords above its head, (denoting superior strength then your average monster) I went in using Dragon Slash with Edge as the creature was weak to it, while Yangus used Psyche-Up three times in a row because although the enemy was taking at least 22 HP per character each time it attacked, I was able to beat it in the end as Yangus smashed it for over 70 HP in damage; this is when the battle system in DQ VIII really clicked for me.

Of course the battles only get all the more enjoyable when you add in more party members, so when Jessica joins you really get into the rhythm of fighting efficiently, she might be slightly lower in level when first added to the mix but this is easily remedied within a few hours, each character has their own unique skills which they can bring to the table but more than that, you can tailor your own set of skills depeding on how you allocate your skill points which you acquire from advancing in level. For example, I ended up making my Hero (Edge... yes the name is now RPG tradition for me) skilled in Swords with almost as much in Fisticuffs (bare-handed fighting) plus a lot of courage, while Yangus was assigned mostly Axes along with a similar amount of Humanity plus some Fisticuffs for good measure and dear Jessica got given Staves and Sex Appeal in spades along with just a side-serving of Whips... oh my!   


Joking aside this is quite an intricate part of the game in which you can take a long time just agonsing over every skill point, or just randomly spread them out to go for the skills you like the sound of, some of them will prove more useful than others depending on which character learns them while other skills are exclusive to particular party members. Skills such as Thin Air will assist you in attacking multiple enemies at once, while Caduceus is useful for Jessica as that will get you free healing which you can't really put a price on in times of need; there are also other skills which are apparently useful for tackling certain bosses plus specific post-game challenges as well... see because the original game has been out a while and the bulk of it is still the same underneath it all there are many guides out there to assist you in how best to build up your party, these proved very useful to myself as otherwise I wouldn't have discovered certain things but if you want to go in without any assistance then you can but it is daunting as this is a huge game. 

Full disclosure here as well, I haven't finished the entire adventure but I feel like I've played enough to get a good feeling for the scale of it all, for what it's worth I am going to see this game through to the very end as it's fast becoming one of my favourite games of the genre I've ever had the pleasure of playing. It's always tough when you're against the clock reviewing a large title of such immense scale, many games would be done and dusted by the amount of time I've put into DQVIII already, yet this is the Dragon Quest title which keeps on giving it would seem; I'm more than grateful for having the chance to play it and although I would have loved to claim that I've seen the credits roll that is simply not the case as it would probably be released by the time I'd realistically finally finished it.

Being that I'm not going to be spoiling anything though this can only be a good thing, plus I can still give you my honest opinion on the improvements which have been made of which there are many; for starters you can now Quick Save anywhere which is always useful for portable play but of course if you want real proof of your progress then you'd best get down to the nearest Church for a confession to truly take the worry of losing progress off your conscience. Other areas where Quality of Life tweaks have been made are the No Random Encounters plus the Fast Forward battle speed which are both very welcome, as this way you can choose when to encounter monsters (also you can attack from behind) and when in battle you can get through the encounter quicker but still with all the attack animations intact, I switched on the Fast Forward from the start, never looking back which is just as well because I don't think I'd have even made as much progress if I was still playing at standard speed.

Having your HP & MP fully recover following a Level Up might seem like a small thing to some but from playing DQVII I can say that it is a welcome addition, surely one that many will be glad of when in the middle of a dungeon with both meters running dangerously low; being able to create items instantly using King Trode's famous Alchemy Pot is very welcome as well, again you can probably find recipe lists if you're ever struggling to make things but this definitely will come in more useful as you progress being able to access it from the Misc section of the menu. Another feature you can access any time is the photo mode which lets you take pictures of your hero (plus other party members) in various poses no matter where you are in the games world (aside from battle) but what's even better about this already impressive feature, when you get to a certain point in the game you'll meet Cameron Obscura who sets you challenges in Cameron's Codex which gives you tasks such as taking a picture of a certain enemy or a specific location, should you meet these requests then you'll fill up cards for each area which will get you rewards for effectively taking pictures of your adventure which adds an extra layer of enjoyment to things. You can even turn photos into postcards, send them to your friends or random adventurers using streetpass/spotpass, rate them and get extra items a limited number of times per day.

As ever there are plenty of varied monsters to fight against thanks to the great Akira Toriyama so of course you'll be fighting Slimes of all varieties, (even a rare Crème Caraslime) Lips, Candy Cats, Dracky, Fire Spirits, Bunnicorn, Bettleboy and many more besides including a couple of my new favourites which include Buffalo Bill & Automaton Aviator... but I must stress that there are many more, you've gotta battle 'em all!

If you've already experienced the game then there are other additions which will surely please you such as additional scenes where you can discover more about the story, plus there's even an entire aditional dungeon to explore, for me it just makes me glad to be experiencing the game for the first time properly though it's more about making ammends as I have been meaning to try out this fantastic adventure for a long time indeed. Of course there are surely difference between versions, probably even loading time differences depending on which model of 3DS you might be playing on, all I can tell you is that between each battle on a New 3DS XL I have experienced three seconds of loading going into a battle with a further two seconds upon exiting but it really doesn't seem like that much at all in the grand scheme of things, especially when you take into account the improved battle speed.

Musically this is on another plain altogether, thanks again to the sterling work of Koichi Sugiyama as the main theme is still spectacular as ever, all the time you're exploring the overworld there's a rousing theme which spurs you on to keep adventuring, while there are sombre moments in certain villages with Alexandria
really carrying that melancholic tone throughout. The battle theme is as up-tempo & punchy as you'd expect, constantly keeping you in that combatative state while fully embracing it, I even found myself timing attacks with the music when I was really in the moment; speaking of keeping you captivated the voice acting is superb as it has some of the original cast featuring Yangus, (Ricky Grover) Jessica, (Jaimi Barbakoff) Angelo, (Blake Ritson) Trode (Jon Glover) with Red (Mowenna Banks) and Morrie (Brian Bowles) who are the most notable credited voices. Obviously these won't mean a lot to me being that it's my first time playing but I certainly liked what I heard from the characters I've encountered, each one bringing something special to the mix with Yangus' Cockney accent, Trode's royal tone and Morrie who is... eccentric to say the least, each actor clearly gives a spirited performance though. 

Not to bring things down a peg but I should mention that if you're coming straight off the significantly upgraded DQVII in all of its 3D splendor then you might want to adjust your expectations a little bit, DQVIII has no 3D support in any of the game with the sole exception of the bestiary which shows off every creature in 3D but aside from that this title runs in 2D only. Personally I don't see it as much of a blow because frankly it seems nothing short of a miracle to see such a spectacular game running on the 3DS with an amazingly stable framerate; there really is so much detail to the surrounding world, dungeons, towns, each individual weapon, clothing and the level of interactivity is astonishing, it takes all of the mechanics used in DQVII but then expands upon them greatly to provide an experience which is even more immersive and detailed. Alas the lack of 3D might be important to some though, so there you are... oh and again the Soundtrack isn't fully orchestrated either but neither of these aspects affect the overall quality in this reviewer's humble opinion.

What you do get is astounding value for money whichever way you look at it, for here is what's quite possibly one of the finest games anyone could ever hope to purchase, providing you with countless hours of battling, exploration, adventure, brilliant humour, moving themes and stunningly likeable characters. All of which you can play to your hearts content on the little handheld machine that could, because at this point it's a wonder that there's anything the 3DS can't run and this is just another example of a top-tier RPG that's now available for you to enjoy; it's not just any game though, it's Dragon Quest VIII! Regarded as the finest in its own series which you really have to play to fully appreciate.

I have a feeling that I'll be appreciating this game and the series for a long time to come, if this is what can be done with a former 128 bit console game released in 2004 then just think how well the upcoming Dragon Quest XI will surely run on the 3DS let alone the Switch! Don't pass up this classic though, we live in a time where we are truely blessed as Nintendo gamers.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Dragon Quest VIII is without a doubt the finest game in the series I have played and will probably ever play. Exceptional in every way, this is a small yet perfectly formed port of an all-time classic. Essential.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability5
  • Visuals5
  • Audio5
  • Lifespan5
Final Score



Memorable characters and story
Immense sense of scale
Rousing soundtrack and Voices
Solid visual style


No 3D support, bestiary withstanding

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