The second half of my DQ love fest!
Fri, 23 June 2006
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In the first part of this 2 part review, I covered the graphics and sounds of Journey of the Cursed King. The presentation doesn't amount to much with a game, however, if it isn't any fun to play. That's a huge cliché in game reviews, but that's because it is also a matter of fact and therefore somewhat unnavoidable. Dragon Quest's style of play is not going to maintain every gamer's rapture. Frankly, not even all RPG fans will love this game as much as me. This is a "traditional Japanese style console RPG" through and through, which uses a "back to basics" approach to the genre (there's a couple more unavoidable clichés, when it comes to describing this one). Essentially, it is the usual RPG drill that most gamers have been through many times before:
You have a party of different characters (in DQ's case, there are six characters travelling together, but only four of them are actually "playable", when it comes to the action). You engage in a humongous number of turn based battles, against all sorts of strange and wonderful foes - this is, by far, what you spend the most amount of time doing in the game and it operates in exactly the same way as so many other games of this kind.
The majority of the battles are randomly generated, meaning the monsters attack without warning and you do most of the fighting whilst travelling from place to place. Emerging victorious in these conflicts earns both money and Experience Points (EXP), aka Skill Points. The money is used to purchase weapons, equipment and items for your characters. Accumulating EXP enables you to "level up" your crew, improving their stats and allowing them to acquire new skills, magical abilities, more powerful attack techniques and so forth.
|A Yangus action figure - I want one! |
Journey of the Cursed King's random fights are what I could see as being the most off-putting aspect of the game to some. The frequency of the attacks is at an extremely high level. Sometimes you really just want to get to the next section of the game, only to wind up getting in about a gazillion battles on the way there. It is certainly a repetitious exercise and it can get annoying. The other thing about these fights that can be a drag is, early on, they're just not too thrilling. Until you reach the more powerful enemies and have some better skills to use in battle, it initially feels like a bit of a chore. This is really nothing new though; the same thing could be said of many (or most) RPGs and it is also in keeping with previous games in the DQ series.
DQ's turn based encounters are lacking the sheer scale of options that RPG fans have grown more and more accustomed to over the years. The array of different techniques available to learn and use in these fights doesn't seem as extensive as that of other titles in the genre. Some may consider this disappointing and find that it adds to the monotony. This, I suppose, is not an unreasonable opinion, though it is not entirely correct either.
My take on it is far more positive. Again, the more powerful your characters get and the further into the game you are, the more enjoyable the fights become. Once I'd progressed enough to start really caring about my characters, I was keen to keep engaging in all the skirmishes. I became eager to make my gang stronger and play around with the different skills they'd learn. That's a typical feeling for me when playing these kinds of games, but the compulsion was even stronger with this one. Many of the attacks, skills and spells you learn in DQ are very charming. Some of them are unique. Others are unusual and/or downright hysterical. All of them are well animated and look really cool.
I don't believe the game truly lacks variety of skills, attacks etc. either. While other RPGs might have more to choose from, how many of them are you really ever going to use? As far as I'm concerned, there are still more than enough different styles to try out in DQ VIII. Judging by the ones I've tried out thus far - from the still plentiful array on offer - they all seem to have enough going for them to be enjoyable in their own ways and worth using. You'd be able to spend months (probably even years) mastering all of 'em. You can also find all kinds of little secret ways to better kick monster arse. Lacking depth? Nay, I say.
Dragon Quest's combat system may initially seem simplistic (compared to some other RPGs), but I'd say that's mostly because it is more straight forward than average. In actuality it allows a high level of experimentation, for those who take the time to explore it properly. One of the battle techniques I really dig is the "psyche up". When given this command your character will increase his "tension" rather than attack. You can try to build tension levels up further and further, the higher the tension level the more damage you'll do when you finally use an offensive move.
At a full tension the characters "Hulk up" in size, begin glowing with power and sprout Dragon Ball style spiky hair. In this state they can dish out an awesomely strong attack. Deciding if you should risk building tension while the enemy attacks, or fight back immediately, with less power, is just one of the many optional tactics that maintain interest in battle.
|Is pink still in fashion for blokes? |
The other thing that allowed me not to lose interest in the constant fights was the look of the monsters themselves. As I said at the start of my review, they're all superbly designed and presented, but some of them are also utterly bizarre. I was always curious to see what kind of mind-bogglingly outlandish creature I was going to meet next.
Basically, DQ's battles are like most everything else in the game; not for everyone, but if you have plenty of patience you'll be rewarded with a real feeling of satisfaction as you progress.
Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King has a plethora of side quests, mini-games and secrets to get stuck into, again rewarding those who take the time to explore. You can gamble at casinos and do a whole heap of other things. Here are a couple of examples:
There's the Pokemon style Monster Arena, where you put a team of 3 together from certain monsters you've conquered in battle (some are harder to find than others), then you have them fight it out in a tournament against other teams. You get good pay offs for winning at the Monster Arena too - you can earn the right to own 2 teams and use them to fight enemies in regular battles outside the arena. Calling your monster teams in as back up provides a big advantage in getting through tougher fights more easily (particularly against some of the bosses), so that's something well worth doing.
The Alchemy pot is a cool thing to screw around with. Whack a few things in the pot and mix 'em up to make new weapons, armour, items etc. By finding the recipes, using trial and error, or cheating like me and looking on the internet, using the alchemy pot is the best way to go for providing your party with all the best gear.
With Role Playing Games a good storyline is more important and necessary than in most other game types. Dragon Quest has a great plot, but not all RPG fans will appreciate it, because the structure of the story is actually straightforward and you can understand it the whole time. Many console RPG fans seems to believe that, when it comes to plot, cluttered and confusing equals good. It usually goes something like this:
Features a bunch of poncy, angst ridden chick lookin' dudes. The boss characters burst into (seemingly unrelated) 20 minute monologues about unlocking the dark energies of the universe...or something. There are about 10 billion unnecessary plot twists that come out of nowhere, serving no purpose other than to throw you off. The whole thing is ludicrously melodramatic and convoluted & you have no fucking clue what any of it is supposed to mean.
Because such stories are hard to grasp, some people figure that means they must be really deep and clever. Well, not necessarily. Maybe the reason it was confusing is that it just plain doesn't make any sense. Perhaps the story got packed full of superfluous detail to try and distract you from how weak it really was underneath it all. I don't mind some abstract thinking within a game's world (or any other world), but with many games of this genre, it tends to be the same basic crap every time and I've grown tired of it. For RPG fanboys who love that kinda deal (which is perfectly fine - good for them) Dragon Quest's plot might seem too sparse (though it does still have a bit of the old "unlocking dark energies" caper, so at least they'll have that). It is constructed much like a Zelda game. The plot's beginning explains the game's main objective and, as you try to reach that goal, you meet other folks along the way who have little tales of their own and it all connects together.
Actually, DQ's story structure reminds me of the Kung Fu TV show and (even more strongly) the old Monkey series; a group, brought together by destiny, go travelling together to reach a shared ultimate goal. During their journey they bond and get to know each other. Along the way the meet numerous characters and get in all sorts of additional adventures. The tale this game tells is paced slowly, but it is not at all weak.
|Hey Harold, where is Kumar? |
There's a level of drama to it, but just enough to work well; it isn't overly dour and has some great comedic touches mixed in. There is some amusing social commentary and various messages included in the game's plot too, if you care to put the thought into it. It is all quite subtle though, it never gets preachy and often leaves it up to the player to choose how much attention to pay. I genuinely cared about the characters and was interested to see what would happen, unlike with many games, where I tend to drift off and lose track due to indifference.
I spilt this review into 2 halves, but you know what? I could have easily done 5 parts for it, because there's just so much to this huge game that deserves recognition. Still, I reckon it is time to take this sucka home, so let's just leave it here. Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King is an amazing game that offers enormous value for money. As far as I'm concerned, this one is a must for any PS2 collection. It is now sitting pretty as one of my favourite games of all time.
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Epic, challenging, artistically wonderful & fun! For those with enough patience for it, this is a true classic.