As someone who only really got into games (outside of Tomb Raider) relatively recently - our first console was the humble DS - there's an awful lot of classics we missed out on. With a penchant for role-playing games of the Japanese variety, it's perhaps the Playstation 2 that's the biggest hole in our back catalogue, with a veritable gold mine of great RPGs hitting the system over the course of its lifetime - including the much-loved Dragon Quest VIII.
A slime-tastic adventure from the folks behind the likes of puzzling Professor Layton and the Studio Ghibli-inspired Ni No Kuni, it's a game we've wanted to play for the longest time, even going as far as to look into buying an old PS2 just so we could play it - but now, there's no need, as we've finally been able to sink our teeth into Nintendo's faithful remaster on the trusty 3DS. Even if it did take a flipping long time to come out over here (the game hit the 3DS in mid 2015 in Japan), it's better late than never, as Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King certainly proved to be well worth the wait!
Dragon Quest VIII is a bright, colourful, anime style role playing game, set in a kingdom where an evil wizard has run rampant, leaving a trail of assassinated brothers, murdered mayors and angry sea monsters in his wake. As the hero of this tale, and seemingly a bit of a lucky blighter, you were the sole survivor of a castle he ravaged, turning everyone else into thorny statues, and transforming the king and his beautiful daughter into monsters. As a royal guard in the employ of King Trode, you set off on a journey to hunt down the nefarious Dhoulmagus and put an end to his reign of terror, whilst hopefully returning the royals to their original forms.
Along the way, you'll meet up with a traditionally fantastic supporting cast who'll join you on your adventure, from a rough and ready bandit, to a headstrong tomboy sorceress, and a womanising gambler and member of the Templar Knights, who'll provide plenty of funny moments - and witty jibes - along the way, each with their own unique personalities. Oh, and they're all fully voiced, too!
What follows is a traditionally Dragon Quest-y adventure full of monster-bashing, treasure-hunting and dungeon-crawling, as you explore the lands of Trodain, taking in sprawling green fields, dank dark caves and snow-capped mountains along the way. Travelling from town to town, hot on the heels of the mysterious 'jester' (aka Dhoulmagus) that's been causing trouble all across the kingdom, you always seem to find yourself turning up just a day too late, with the dastardly Dhoulmagus having passed through only moments before you arrived. While playing catch up, you'll meet all kinds of quirky, colourful folks who need your help, whether it's quieting a disgruntled sea monster so the ships can sail once more, or heading into some church ruins to check on a priest.
Between towns, you'll find many a monster lurking - from the trademark slimes, to dragons, skeletal soldiers and more - and the majority are desperate for a fight. Run into one (or have one run into you) and a battle will start, with you, your companions and your enemies taking it in turns to attack, defend and sling spells. Traditionally turn-based, you get to choose your actions from a list in your own time, without having to worry about quick reactions and button presses - instead taking all the time you need to plan your approach. Different characters fall into different broad categories of fighter, with burly mercenary Yangus the heavy hitter of the group, whilst the more fragile tomboy Jessica can do some serious damage with her spells - and deciding how best to make use of each character is key to victory.
Aside from his battle prowess, dashing good looks and stellar photography skills, the Hero has another trick up his sleeve - or rather, in his pocket. You see, his little mohicanned rat-like companion Munchie isn't just along for the ride - you'll need to make clever use of him to solve various puzzles during the course of the game.
Fairly early on in your adventure, before the aforementioned Jessica has officially joined the party, you'll find her shut in her bedroom, off having a bit of a sulk, with two guards placed on the door refusing you entry. However, a nearby mouse hole gives you a way to sneak in and find out what's going on, as you pilot Munchie through the hole, down some stairs and up onto her desk - which doesn't sound like a lot, but when you're the size of a mouse, it's quite a trek. During your travels, you'll also come across cheeses of various kinds that, when fed to your little friend, let him spit fire, freeze enemies or even revive fallen comrades too.
However, Dragon Quest VIII on the 3DS is more than just a straight port - there's a fair few funky new additions here too. One of the best is Cameron's Codex, a list of extra challenges thought up by Port Prospect's resident photography enthusiast, Cameron Obscura (groan!).
Asking you to take pictures of "special places and unusual monsters from around the world", because he's essentially too chicken to go and see them first hand, each region of Trodain has it's own set of unique picture-snapping missions to complete, and it's up to you to whip out your camera whenever you see fit, to snap the perfect pic. Whether it's finding the golden slime statue hidden in each town, catching a Jailcat enemy cleaning itself, or taking a quick selfie in front of a local landmark, it's a nice little distraction from the main game that also earns you various useful rewards for each one you complete.
Much like Cameron Obscura, the world of Dragon Quest VIII is full of puntastic names, whether it's the rural pub town of Simpleton; young, wannabe knights Bangerz and Mash; or formidable monster duo, the real Slime Shady and MCHammer. Banter between party members is another high point, particularly in the case of "sentimental old sausage" Yangus' insatiable chagrin, Angelo's flirtatious ways and King Trode… just being King Trode really. Add in some winning voice acting - Dragon Quest VIII being the first of the handheld games to do so - with a whole host of funky/funny regional accents, and you have one charmingly light-hearted adventure to sink your teeth into.
In all, Dragon Quest VIII is yet another stellar Dragon Quest adventure, and one that's stood the test of time well, remaining one of the very best entries in the series so far. With a great story and characters (now fully voiced!), a huge world to explore and addictive turn-based battles, it's a great addition to any Japanese role-playing game fan's library. New additions, such as photographic challenges only bolster the package further, giving you even more Dragon Quest-y goodness to get stuck into.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS