1st of a 2 part review. This game has my full geek love!
Sun, 11 June 2006
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So, I've mostly put my new Xbox 360 system and the review titles for it on the sidelines for a while. I hope to get back into it/them in a huge way real soon though. There are many reasons for that (I won't bore you with all of 'em), one of which is because I've been spending so much of my gaming time playing Dragon Quest on PS2. As I said in one of my Editorials, any title that can make you ignore a shiny new "next gen" system (especially after it wound up being such a hassle to get hold of to begin with!) must be pretty special. Yeah, Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King is something special indeed.
I'm sure I'll be labelled, by some, as a gushing fanboy here, to which I retort - yes, I probably am one, so what? This is my honest and sincere opinion; Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King is one of the greatest games ever made. It has easily joined my all time favourites list. Not just for the Role Playing Game genre, but for any kind of game. I've spent weeks and weeks blissfully playing this one and I fully intend to come back to it and do that again many times over. While this is not, of course, a "perfect game" (you probably couldn't truthfully ever get one of those), it really is very close to being the "perfect game for a dude like me". So, if you have similar (good) taste to me (and haven't bought and/or played this one already) oh baby, you're in for a treat!
There are many, many reasons why I adore this game. I'll do my best to explain them all. There's a huge amount to talk about and (being that this is now one of my favourite games ever) I want to do give it all my full attention. Therefore, this'll wind up being one long arse review. That's why I chose to split it into 2 parts. Those unable to concentrate on lots of words at once can take it in a couple of easier to swallow doses. Plus, as I've mentioned before, I try to post multi-part articles every now and then, as they usually bring me the most reader feedback. Unlike most my multi-parters though, I'll be posting the second Dragon Quest article very closely to the first (because this is essentially still intended as a "standard review", rather than an ongoing column). I can say that for sure this time too, since I've already written the whole thing.
Here's a mildly amusing aside (at least, I reckon so). In reaching Buttonhole HQ (and the land down under in general), Journey of the Cursed King had something of a cursed journey of its own. As most Buttonholers would know (since you're all so damn clever), DQVIII is a Square Enix title. However, the game is distributed in Australia by Ubisoft. Through no fault whatsoever of their own, Ubisoft's review copies were held up by distribution delays (at one point they were informed that the review copy discs were "currently somewhere between Austria and Australia" - which I found hilarious). I kept bugging the poor buggers about it so much, they eventually just sent me the retail version to shut me up (contrary to the norm, the game hit the retail shelves before the review copies arrived, due to that hold up I just mentioned). So, thanks again for looking after me Ubisoft. I'm glad to say I love the game every bit as much as I'd expected and I hope my praise leads to some sales for you.
Of course, this is also the first Dragon Quest game to ever get an official Australian release. If there is any justice left in the world (and most indications would lead me to doubt that), it will not be the last. While this is the 8th game in the series, which began on the NES, the roman numerals VIII are not to be found in the title on the Aussie version's box. I think that's a sensible choice, as it seems a bit silly to call the game part 8 when it is the first one you can actually purchase here. Another name difference of note - in the USA, the Dragon Quest series used to go by the name Dragon Warrior, but this latest one is called Dragon Quest, even in the States. Confusing? Yes, a little bit. Oh well.
I haven't played the instalment before this, which was for the PlayStation 1, so I can't say how the two compare. I have, however, played Dragon Quest VI on SNES (though that game too, never got a western release). If you search around the internet, you can find the sweet English translated ROM of that one. I often fire up my SNES emulator and DQ VI is one the games I play on it the most. There are so many amazing RPGs for the old SNES and Dragon Quest VI is certainly in the upper echelon. Track it down and give it a run, you won't regret it. In fact, some people even say that the Super Nintendo's DQ VI is still a superior game to Journey of the Cursed King. I'm not sure about that, but it really is a kick arse game. Anyway, back to the PS2 DQ review:
Let's start with the graphics (yeah, big shock that is, eh?). Unless you're some sort of freak who enjoys playing games with your eyes closed, the first thing you generally notice about a game is how it looks. Dragon Quest is one pretty PlayStation 2 game. In fact, the graphics are so well done, I find DQ more visually pleasing then most of the initial Xbox 360 titles. That's due to a combination of a technically impressive engine and the obvious amount of care and attention that's gone into every aspect of the game's aesthetic design.
The Dragon Quest characters are all designed by Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragon Ball. Buttonhole's own Australian Ninja is just one of the legions of Dragon Ball fans out there. I've never really been into that series (though I've got nothing against it either) but I've always liked Toriyama's character designs. And now, I dig them even more!
|The scary truth is - I've spent way more time lately with these guys than any real people! |
Many of the characters in DQVIII have extremely noticeable visual similarities to those from Dragon Ball. It is a look which suits them beautifully, so I definitely mean that as a compliment. The graphics engine uses cell -shading techniques, a style that works for some games better than others. It works perfectly here. I'd go as far as saying this is the new champion of the cel-shaded games world and the most expertly implemented use of that technique I've ever seen (yes, even better than Jet Set/Grind Radio).
"A comic book come to life", is probably an overused description, but that's exactly the feel you get from this cast of characters. Be it the main playable crew in your party, the non-player characters, or the monsters you battle; all of them have been animated superbly and incorporate fantastic little details - such as their facial expressions, or their individually suitable mannerisms - that bring them to cartoonish life. There's a massive array of different enemy types in the game too and they're, by far, some of the most creatively imagined foes I've ever seen. Personally, I reckon the characters in Journey of the Cursed King actually look better than those in the Dragon Ball TV shows. Each of them is a true work of art and I never grow tired of observing them all.
The numerous environments in the game's world are rendered in equally gorgeous detail. While likewise cel-shaded, they also include more realistic overtones. Things like the torch flames flickering with life-like "heat blur" effects, the now fairly common "lens flare" when you look up at the sun, real time shadows cast by characters/objects, floors with reflective surfaces and a great many other fine points. I can't quite think of the most suitable way to describe it, but perhaps this example might work: Imagine the look of Zelda: Wind Waker's world, mixed with that of Ocarina of Time. This game basically looks like an ideal marriage of the best parts of those two visually fascinating Nintendo titles. So, DQ uses a superb blend of "heavily inked" Anime style imagery, with more true to life elements. That's a very tough mix to pull off. I don't think any other game has even attempted it really, let alone achieved it. So it is all the more impressive that Dragon Quest makes it seem so natural and effortless. The immaculate combination/contrast of visual styles used here is seamless and never jarring in the least.
After a while, you could fairly claim that Cursed King's environments begin to look rather similar. Most of the towns in the game look quite alike and the majority of landscapes you traverse don't differ much either. That's an extremely picky criticism though, as it is mainly just due to a consistency of design and the fact that the game is so fucking massnormgantic, it is only natural some of the visuals repeat themselves. However, when you reach some of the later sections, they get quite a bit more varied once more. Just as you might be starting to get over the game's excellent looks, it rewards your time and effort by giving you some new cool stuff to look at. All together the game has lush rainforest-like settings, desert regions, snowy mountains & ice caverns and a whole lot more. There is really a great deal of visual variety overall, but to see all of it requires plenty of patience.
Ah, yes, "patience"- that's the key word right there. You'll need an abundance of it, if you hope to enjoy Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King fully. If you're only into quick fix type games - fast pace style action that you can switch on, have an hour or two's fun with and move on to the next one - you needn't bother with this bad boy. I like many games of that kind as well, so I don't believe there's anything wrong with that. The fact of the matter is, though, DQ is the kind of game that is only truly great if you're willing to invest a whole shit load of time into playing it.
Before getting into the gameplay and mechanics of it all, I shall discuss the audio. Dragon Quest features a score by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Koichi Sugiyama. So, you'd expect it to be some quality stuff and indeed it is. Well, at first it is. After a while, though, it began to drive me nuts. Again due mainly to the size of the game, the same music gets repeated ad nauseam. No matter how well done it might be, hearing it over and over (especially the theme that plays during the game's exceedingly frequent battles) leads to it losing all charm.
My advice is this; turn the music down in the options, while keeping the voice and sound effects set to full. This way the same music still gets repeated over and over, but now as far less audible background tunes; which allows it to add to the atmosphere, while being much less irritating.
The sound effects for all the different moves in battle and all the effects of the environments (waterfalls, birds chirping and all of the usual RPG-ish stuff) are excellent.
The voice acting is great too. Apparently the Japanese version didn't include voices for the characters. Normally you'd rightfully find that a bit worrisome and suspect that perhaps we westerners would cop some tacked on craptacular displays of ill-fittingly spoken dialogue. But, no worries, the voices are so good here that I can't imagine the game working quite as well without them.
All the dialogue is delivered very nicely (using many different accents) and it all works exactly as it should for each individual character. The delightful Yangus is my favourite character in the game; he is a good hearted, reliable fellow, though a little dim and very rough around the edges. The voice work and cockney accent provided to Yangus really helps make the character shine.
|Yangus rules! |
The only times the voices are annoying is when they are trying to be (certain characters are meant to be obnoxious, or unpleasant, so it makes sense for them to sound that way). Well, okay, I must admit that there are some moments of hammy line-delivery present in the game, but I reckon a good 9 times out of 10 that was intentional. Regardless of whether or not I'm correct in that assumption, to me it just added to the game's whimsical charisma.
So that's got the presentation side of things covered. In the second part of my review, I'll go into the other stuff - such as controls/gameplay details, plot etc. You'll be able to check that out tomorrow. See you all then, bright and early (or not).
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