Dragon Quest VIII Review: Classic RPG, Inturrupted
Dragon Quest is a premier Japanese RPG series that has slightly less name recognition outside of that country. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is widely considered one of the better entries in the series, and that reputation is well earned as anyone who’s played it on another platform can attest. On iOS however, this otherwise great game gets stilted with some porting problems.
The game itself is a model of everything you’d expect from a JRPG. It’s a bold medieval fantasy with swords and sorcery and dungeons and dragons. You play an unnamed guardsman who is on a quest to save a king and the king’s daughter from an ignoble curse; and of course along the way you fight plenty of monsters, uncover a world-threatening plot, and try to stop it.
Game play is also very much built on the JRPG standard. As you wander the overworld and the dungeon locales you are ambushed randomly by monsters — almost excessively so at times — and your goals usually involve a boss monster or two. Combat is turn-based and almost exactly like the kind of combat you’d encounter in Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, or even iOS’s own Chaos Rings. As you go, you develop your heroes and equip them with powerful arms & armor.
Everything good about DQVIII comes from the original — the plot, the characters, the combat, etc. Where this version stumbles is in nearly everything having to do with the port to iOS.
First, let’s talk orientation. As in: this game is locked in Portrait orientation. There’s no way to play this in Landscape, which is what the game was originally designed for and, let’s face it, how most people would expect to play it. Locking the game in Portrait is easily my biggest complaint here. This game is clearly designed assuming you’ll be playing it one-handed, as though on a phone. By pushing players towards the casual play of the iPhone, I felt distanced from any real story depth or nuance. I just don’t pay attention to games in my pocket the way I do games on my tablet, and a one-handed game is easier to play in small but disconnected bursts than in the kind of immersion a good RPG requires. Strike one for playing on an iPad.
This orientation issue also means the touch controls are a bit wonky, especially on the bigger screen. It’s actually easier to play one-handed than it is in a typical iPad grip. I tried it both ways and was surprised at how much easier it was to do everything in the palm of my hand. Strike two for playing on an iPad.
Finally, there’s a graphics issue. One good thing that the iPhone does for the game is make the graphics look better. On the iPad Air these graphics could look downright blurry at times, clearly not rezzed for large Retina displays (especially cinematics). Strike three for playing on an iPad.
Don’t get me wrong — Dragon Quest VIII is a spectacular game, a real hallmark of the Japanese RPG style. Unfortunately, this port is clearly oriented more towards casual iPhone gaming than it is more serious iPad gaming. That’s great for Japan, but it mean the rest of the world is going to struggle a bit to embrace this RPG classic. Whether you choose to drop $20 for this game may depend largely on your love of the genre.
Our Score: 4 out of 5