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Dragon Quest VIII

by S. Ickes 12 months ago in adventure games

Epic Storytelling in the PS2 Era

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (Official Title Card)

In the early days of gaming, it was rare—if not impossible—to find a game with a rich and cohesive storyline. Then, at the height of its popularity, the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) attempted to fill this gap. Games like The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Warrior (Better known as Dragon Quest) all came about. And while they were all successful games, none are what I would call narratively cohesive.

The SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) was next in line, and with more memory came more storytelling ability. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was one of my favorite games at the time. The environment was rich and more interactive than ever! There was an overarching narrative that drove the action of the game! It was great! But all the characters fit into what I would call a cookie-cutter mold, assuming they had any personality to begin with.

We went through more consoles as the years rolled by. I remember my friends having a Gameboy Color and the Zelda and Pokémon games that went with it. I practically lived on the Nintendo 64 and the handful of games I owned. Storytelling had once again advanced with the new generation of console gaming, and I was loving it! I can remember mowing grass for months one year to save enough money to buy the Nintendo Gamecube all on my own! Again, the storytelling had improved!

Then, I managed to scrape together enough money to buy my first Playstation 2, and eventually I found the game that was everything I wanted and more. It was the Golden Age of RPGs, and I happened to stumble across Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.

I discovered what I had been missing all those years of gaming, and the sudden richness of the characters practically leapt off the screen at me! I’d never had much of that before this game and it was honestly so refreshing to see it as a consistency in the game as opposed to a rare instance here and there.

Right away, the player can see that each character is unique.

The Hero is honorable and steadfast. Yangus, who we later learn is an ex-bandit, is loyal and a bit rough around the edges. The goblin, later revealed to be named Trode, is prim, proper, and quick to anger. And Medea is a horse who is apparently a princess.

And that’s something I love. The characters feel so much more engaging to me that, instead of scoffing and putting the game down, I just sat back and said, “Okay. Sure. She’s a princess, I guess,” and left it at that. It’s something that’s given to you right away as a plot hook for later, and the characters just go with it so naturally that you can’t help but follow their example.

But what really sold this game to me was the opening. The characters leave the clearing they had stopped in and venture to the nearby town of Farebury before evening sets in. In any other game, no one would think twice about this group of misfits, but in this game the townsfolk are all quite stunned to see the group and the driver of their wagon. They whisper to each other, they point, and they stare. You can even speak to one of them after gameplay is given over, and he comments on the “monster” driving the wagon!

Later, you find the townsfolk throwing rocks at Trode and follow him out of town to regroup.

That was something! I had never played a game where blatant fear and racism played a role! I had never played a game where my party had been run out of town simply for one of our traveling companions looking a bit different! I was excited!

Then I met the story-relevant NPCs. And they were nearly as rich in character as the Hero and his party members. They had backstory. They had personal relationships. One of them had done something terrible and hated himself for it.

It was so human!

And I’m happy to say the entire game played like this! Everything was rich and believable and fun! There was so much that intertwined with elements either later or earlier in the story!

I loved every minute of it!

I get so excited just talking about it that I might just have to play the game again. Nothing went unexplained in this game, and I can wholeheartedly say it is one of my all-time favorites!

adventure games

S. Ickes

Mother. Gamer. Writer.

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