The first time I played a Dragon Quest game was the Nintendo Power giveaway where you got a free copy of Dragon Warrior with a renewal of your subscription. Win-win. I got more Nintendo goodness to read and a free game. Nice. And while this was at a time before I really got into RPGs (that would have to wait until Final Fantasy III/VI came out on the Super Nintendo), I played through Dragon Warrior simply because it was a gift from Nintendo. I can’t say that I enjoyed it like I did Ninja Gaiden or Bionic Commando. But I did complete it.
Fast forward to 2004 where college bound me bought his second Dragon Quest game, this time for the PS2. I was so ready to dive into this world since it looked gorgeous and had Akira Toriyama art. I mean, the last time a RPG had Toriyama art that really stuck with me was Chrono Trigger. And that was one of my favorite RPGs ever (not to mention my second after Final Fantasy III/VI). So, color me surprised when I stalled on it. I had just gotten to almost recruiting my fourth party member, but I couldn’t play it any more. I don’t know if it was the fact that I had to grind levels at that point or if I was just JRPG’d out at that point in my life. But after Final Fantasy X, Dragon Quest VIII just felt like more of the same.
So it became one of those games I kept on saying that “I’ll come back to it” but never did. At that point, JRPGs began to segue out of my life with the rise of “Western” RPGs. I tried Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but never finished them. I tried Skyrim and couldn’t finish it. Then, most recently, I tried Fallout 4, but couldn’t bring myself to finish it. Needless to say, “Western” RPGs only fell into my radar because everyone else kept on praising them. But the first person viewpoint never drew me in. I played RPGs for the story and the interaction between characters. I didn’t want myself inserted into the story. I just wanted a good ride. I guess that’s why The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt resonated so much with me when it came out, because it was the story of Geralt of Rivia and his quest to find his adopted daughter, Ciri (take notes, Fallout 4). The narrative drove me to get to the next story beat. Because that’s why I was there in the first place.
It’s because of the story, stupid!
But other than Wild Hunt, RPGs were few and far between for me after the PS2 Renaissance. However, it wasn’t until I bought a New 3DS XL for Fire Emblem Awakening that I would rediscover JRPGs. Awakening was the first SRPG that really resonated with me, and from there I started filling out my 3DS collection with mostly RPGs. I picked up DS copies of Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV along with 3DS copies of Fire Emblem Birthright and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. And while I enjoyed each of these games because of the handheld aspect and the bite size gaming options afforded to me, it wasn’t until Christmas 2016 that I renewed my love of JRPGs with Chrono Trigger DS. For whatever reason, I new game plus’d the hell out of it, returning to it for four of the eleven (or is it twelve, I lose count) endings.
It was at this point that I stumbled across Dragon Quest VIII being re-released for the 3DS and I thought, “Huh. I’ve been meaning to get back to that.”
Fast forward to today and my writing one of the few pieces I’ve contributed to TAY (the first few being Wild Hunt related; go figure). I started playing Dragon Quest VIII, not expecting too much other than eventual waves of nostalgia. So, it was a genuine surprise when I got absolutely swept up in the narrative. It’s gotten to the point that I try to get in an hour or so after work even though I really should be doing something more constructive with my time. I don’t know if it was the move to a portable format or if it was my recent time with Chrono Trigger or some other third factor that I can’t see clearly, but Dragon Quest VIII has taken over the majority of my gaming time.
My PS4 remains untouched, even though Yakuza 0 awaits in shrinkwrap. I love the Yakuza series (I even turned on my PS3 for Yakuza 5), but right now my attention is devoted to Hero, Yangus, Jessica, Angelo, King Trode, and Medea. And while the plot is straightforward RPG fare, it’s more about the journey (eh, eh?!) with these characters. The battle system is akin to coming home. It’s amazing how much one misses turn-based battles until they’re gone. And dialogue boxes. Man, dialogue boxes with errant capitalization to convey emotion? Remember that mechanic? Yeah, I forgot about that too.
But seriously, Dragon Quest VIII is simply a great JRPG that invokes the best of what makes JRPGs work. There’s the quest to end some unidentified evil. There are the sidequests to help people you meet along the way. There’s the growth between your party members and their relationships. And there’s the underlying love story between the main character and a horse. I mean, what else would you want from a JRPG?
It’s a shame that I don’t see too many people talking about Journey of the Cursed King ever since it’s release on the 3DS. But consider this my love letter to a game that I gave up on thirteen years ago. I’m sorry I gave up on you. But I promise that I will finish you this time around. Because you’ve got your tendrils in me. Nostalgia’s a hell of a drug.