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Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Level 5
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 11/15/05
Japan 11/27/04



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It's freaking hot out here.
 
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Mike Wilson
Hands-On Preview
10/24/05
Mike Wilson

It's less than a month away from Dragon Quest VIII's release, and the tension grows greater each day. For many fans, the game's release couldn't come sooner. Will it be worth the wait? After spending a few hours with a preview build, the answer is obvious: yes.

The game starts in the town of Farebury when a strange cast of characters enter the town; a weird monster riding a horse-drawn carriage, a mountain man, and a silent boy. The monster is King Trode of Trodain, and the horse is his beloved princess, Medea. The mountain man is a guy named Yangus, and the silent boy is (wait for it) the protagonist. The motley crew is in search of a jester named Dhoulmagus, who cast the curse on the king and princess, giving them their awkward appearances. Unfortunately, Dhoulmagus is on the run, and those lucky enough to see him quickly end up dead. The story itself is actually very serious, although the game's comical tone would have you believe otherwise. It has been engaging so far and it is showing no signs of letting up.

The battle system is turn-based, which is becoming increasingly rare due to the rise of action RPGs lately. The battle menu is pretty self-explanatory, but there is an interesting feature called "Psyche Up," in which a character spends a turn focusing his/her energy in order to do double damage during the next. This is a great way to cripple your enemies, and it can be a lifesaver during boss battles. However, monsters can "Psyche Up," too, so be careful!

Speaking of monsters, let's talk about them for a second. They are some of the most innovative creatures that I've ever seen in an RPG. Some of the coolest include the series' trademark slimes, a fuzzy monster living in a boot, a frog that looks like an amphibian version of "Two-Face" from Batman, a wimpy gnome with a huge hammer, and a fencing fox. These monsters are so comical that you won't be able to help but laugh, which in this case is a good thing. They are a nice refreshment from the serious creatures we see so often.

When your party members level up, they receive "skill points", which can be allocated toward a certain weapon class (each character wields several different weapons). If you allocate enough skill points toward a certain class, then they will gain special skills and a stat boost for that weapon every time they use it. Each character also has a certain personality trait to which skill points can be allocated. For example, if you put points toward Yangus's "humanity" trait, he will learn support spells.

In terms of graphics, DQVIII looks fantastic. The screenshots don't do the game justice. The environments are stunning and have a great level of detail (especially a certain tower dungeon early in the game). If you enjoyed the cel-shading in games such as Dark Cloud 2 and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, then you won't be disappointed. The game's audio is solid as well. DQVIII features voice acting, but with a unique twist---the actors are British. Don't let that turn you off, though, because the acting is solid and seems to fit the game like a glove. The soundtrack also complements the game well, and so far, it has only enhanced the experience. For a full review of the soundtrack, check our Soundtracks section.

It's easy to see that a lot of time was spent refining the game since the previous iteration of the series. There are handfuls of little touches that have been added to the game. For example, when exploring a dark cave, the protagonist lights a torch. When you equip a character with a weapon, it appears both in battle and while exploring towns. When you read a book, the protagonist actually takes the book from the shelf and thumbs through it. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, and there is much more for RPG fans to drool over.

Overall, Dragon Quest VIII is shaping up to be a serious contender. Its engaging story, fun battle system, and superb sound will make it a must-have this holiday season. It is scheduled for release on November 15th, and is shipping with a playable demo of Final Fantasy XII. Stay tuned for our full review of the game next month.

Chris Winkler
Preview Update
10/11/04
Chris Winkler

In a Japanese market that has been struggling with declining sales for years, and where major series like Super Mario, Zelda and SaGa have long seen their sales per installment drop well below the one million (platinum) mark, only a few series still manage to convince people in large numbers to spend their hard-earned yen on a new installment. The most successful one among these select few remaining platinum series is still Dragon Quest. Square Enix's second flagship series behind Final Fantasy still enjoys unrivaled popularity in Japan, and accordingly the demo booths of Dragon Quest VIII - Sora to Umi to Daichi to Norowareshi Himegimi at last month's Tokyo Game Show were easily among the most frequented ones on the show floor.

Similar to Final Fantasy VII seven years ago, Dragon Quest VIII marks the beginning of a new era for a series whose popularity so far has been limited to Japan. With its third title, Level 5 is once again displaying their developers' impressive skills in generating highly detailed and colorful cel-shaded visuals on the PlayStation 2. The series' eighth installment will shine in full 3D, and unlike Final Fantasy X, will feature a fully rotatable camera as well as a very detailed field map (taking the place of the simplified overworld map) to connect the game's various locations with each other.

Said field map will hold plenty of life, ranging from horses enjoying their bite of fresh grass to more hostile inhabitants. The various environments will include sandy beaches, snowy mountain ranges, forests and rivers. These field maps will also alter their looks over the course of day and night. While Level 5 has not done away with random battle encounters, some enemies, such as the green dragons equipped with spears, will be visible on the field map and thus can be avoided.

Towns will feature two classic features well known to any series veteran: The churches offering rest and the opportunity to restore fallen characters, and hidden treasure chests. On the field map and in towns, players will be able to engage in conversations with other characters by using the "nakama" (fellow) command.

System-wise, the traditional system of increasing a character's statistics once his or her level increases, has been updated as well. The game will allow players to distribute the skill points gained upon leveling-up in order to enhance certain skills, thereby furthering characters' customization. If the player decides to use the available skill points to level up a character's boomerang skill, the attack power of all boomerang weapons equipped by the respective character will increase. The continuous upgrading of your skill portfolio will eventually reap a reward worth the effort: The powerful special skills.

In addition to the two aforementioned types of skills, the game will also offer character-specific skills and general purpose skills such as barrel smashing. Players will have a wide array of choices ranging from genre-typical weapons, such as swords, daggers, bows and arrows; to boomerangs and iron balls; to punches and dropkicks.

Another new feature is the so-called tension system. By selecting tension during battle a character will skip his or her current turn and increase his or her tension level, only to release a more powerful attack or magic spell during his or her next turn. It will be possible to charge multiple times in a row. While the tension system does not affect a character's defense, a successfully connected charged up attack or magic spell will result in the respective character gaining more experience. However, the tension system won't be limited to your party, as certain monsters also possess the ability to charge up their attacks and will readily employ the system against you.

The new scout command will enable the player to add previously defeated enemies to his party and summon them in battle to fight in a party member's stead. After a player has successfully scouted several monsters, he is free to set up a Monster Team. This monster team can compete in the Monster Battle Road with other monster team and win a grand prize if it emerges victorious. However, before players can become scouts themselves, they have to find the profession's master, an odd man named Moree.

Dragon Quest VIII's red-capped protagonist will be joined by the female lead, Jessica, a whip-wielding, strong-willed girl. Despite hailing from a distinguished family, Jessica does not seem to be comfortable with her status. Yangus, a bold warrior from the mountains and the silver-haired Temple Knight Kukule will also be playable characters. Trode, who looks like a monster due to his green-colored skin, will not take part in battle, but will mainly act as a manager in charge of carriage and items.

Furthermore, a few non-playable characters have been revealed. Malchero, who is a member of the same unit of Temple Knights as Kukule, but wears blue clothes instead of Kukule's red-colored outfit, seems to occupy a very high position within the organization. Polk and Malk are a very fearsome pint-sized duo equipped with lethal weapons made of wood. The two boys seem to have a special relationship with Jessica.

Joining the cast is also Luineo, a skilled fortuneteller. This weirdly dressed man, who spends a lot of time sitting in front of his crystal ball, radiates an intimidating aura. Possibly because of this, the villagers are telling odd rumors about the fortuneteller.

Lastly, is the female thief, Gerda, who lives in a cottage featuring a luxurious interior consisting of such items as a bear fur carpet. She also seems to be an old acquaintance of Yangus'.

It looks like Square Enix and Level 5 have managed to strike a perfect balance between two worlds by giving the series a long overdue visual update, while retaining the traditional gameplay which made the series a fan favorite in Japan. In contrast to its prequel, Dragon Quest VII, Dragon Quest VIII might not only become the best selling title of the current hardware generation in Japan, but also has to potential to appeal to a western audience looking for solid RPG gameplay wrapped in state-of-the-art visuals. Dragon Quest VIII - Sora to Umi to Daichi to Norowareshi Himegimi will be released in Japan on November 27th. Square Enix has not officially confirmed a US release so far, but the eighth installment of the series should be on its way to American shores next year. Odds are that the reception will be more positive than ever for the series this time around.

Chris Winkler
Preview First-Look
09/02/03
Chris Winkler

Ending years of endless speculation, Enix finally announced the eighth installment of its flagship RPG series, Dragon Quest in November 2002. What had been a rumor, albeit a logical and convincing one, became certainty; following the lead of its main rival Final Fantasy, the saga will continue on PlayStation 2. Dragon Quest VIII's premise has two sides: Some things have remained unchanged (and we are not only talking about slimes appearing in the game), but its newest addition might steer one of the most traditional RPG franchises into an entirely new direction.

Not surprisingly, the infamous trio of game designer and scenario writer Yuuji Horii, character designer Akira Toriyama and composer Kouichi Sugiyama return to reprise their roles from the original Dragon Quest in 1986. Instead of Heartbeat, the development team that has worked on Dragon Quest VII and the PlayStation One remake of Dragon Quest IV, Level 5 is now in charge of the development. The Akihiro Hino-led studio renowned for its PlayStation 2 classics Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle (Dark Cloud 2 in the US) will implement its trademark cel-shaded visuals in Dragon Quest VIII. With their experience in working with Sony's hardware since the very beginning, Level 5 should ensure that one of major points of criticism mounted against Dragon Quest VII will most likely not be an issue with the new game. Judging from the first screenshots, Dragon Quest VIII will make players forget the outdated visuals of its predecessor. Cel-shaded environments sporting lush, vibrant colors have replaced the latter's mediocre visuals, which have been more reminiscent of a 16-bit rather than a 32-bit title being released in mid-2000ís.

While the series boasts an impressive sales record of more than 30 million units it has never enjoyed the popularity of its biggest competitor, Final Fantasy, outside Japan. Improving upon the visual side should be a key factor in ensuring that the new game won't share the same fate as previous installments. The merger with Square, whose titles have enjoyed continuing success in North America and Europe, may improve the standing of Enix titles like Dragon Quest VIII or Star Ocean: Till The End of Time in these territories.

The battle engine will also shine in complete 3D. Dungeons will hold the good old treasure chests waiting to be discovered, as well as barrels which the player can lift and then use their advantage. To enhance the feeling of time, Level 5 is implementing day and night phases into the game. There is little known at this point on the storyline, with the exception that the young lad with the red bandana is not surprisingly the protagonist.

Whatever the game's future outside Japan may be, Dragon Quest VIII is bound the become one of this console generation's best selling titles when it hits Japan sometime next year. Even though Dragon Quest VII was released six years after the PlayStation's launch, the game is one of the console's most successful titles in Japan (selling 4.11 million copies). So while Dragon Quest VIII's release will be four years after introduction of the PlayStation 2, the game shouldn't have much difficulty following in the large footsteps of its predecessor.



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© 2003-2005 ARMOR PROJECT/BIRD STUDIO/LEVEL-5/SQUARE ENIX.
All Rights Reserved.



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