Grow a pair (of vocal chords) and spare yourself the curse of family gatherings

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (2006)

It’s a pretty obvious rule of social engagement – in this existence, you have to pick your battles wisely, otherwise you’ll live a life of stress and shame while everyone avoids you like the plague. It’s anything for an easy life, so sometimes you just have to ask yourself, is it worth the stress if I kick up a fuss here and do my own thing? It’s why I’m a pretty easy-going guy in general, happy to keep the old head down and avoid falling out with people. I’ve had to stick my head above the social parapet as it were though, and take a stand against that worst of social institutions – the family party.

Sends a shudder down your back, dunnit? Maybe you have a cool extended family, if your surname is Manson or something, but otherwise it’s a dreadful old affair. And of course, I did give it a chance, same as any social group I deign to spend time with, no matter how awful they may initially seem.

But God, do all families hate each other or what? Even as a young kid I was smelling a major rat, and every passing year at our annual Christmas party, the whole thing just got more and more painful to watch, the enmity all too palpable. Uncles and aunts all trying to outdo one another, thinly veiled brags, the worst acting and feigning of interest you’ve ever witnessed, and generally you’ve never seen insecurity like it. And you poor United Statesians out there have to do it at least twice, not just Christmas but Thanksgiving to be ruined as well. Land of liberty, what? Having to do that nonsense twice a year?

And you do have to do it, it’s an obligation. When you do quite rightly ask the question about why you have to go, you’re always told the same thing: it’s tradition. Oh, but we always do this. Well, I always sit around interfering with myself and playing Super Nintendo, but you won’t think twice about stopping me from doing that.

Now, the first time you protest, you will be told “oh, you don’t have to go”. That’s the key one to get over – of course, you’re thinking that your life wouldn’t be worth living if you took that statement at face value and didn’t go. But this is where you must be strong – all it takes is that one moment of bravery, courage and defiance, and you’ll have a hell of a monkey off your back for good. That’s the last time someone else’s traditions will be foisted upon you.

Feh. Traditions eh? Who needs ’em? Talk about something so awfully restrictive, constraining. If we did everything traditionally, we’d have made no progress, there’d be nothing new under the sun. We may still be in our caves, staring at the walls. Traditions and conventions are the enemies to innovation and progress. But some people are just so set in their ways, and indeed some franchises too, like good old Dragon Quest.

We wouldn’t have known it here in Europe, since this at number eight was the first game in the series they graced us with, but Dragon Quest, or Warrior, has been an absolute stickler for JRPG tradition – we’re talking pardoning turkeys, saluting magpies and shouting at the groundhog in Punxsutawney here.

But you know, if you take a quick gaming trip over to the States (on any day except Thanksgiving and Christmas), you can see the evolution of the Dragon Quest series for yourself: after the NES days and an absence of DQ5 and DQ6, Dragon Warrior 7 on PS1 was just laughably dated on its release. It couldn’t continue like this.

For the PS2, there was gonna have to be a bit of modernisation for Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, a spot of pulling the finger out, and thankfully the developers of this iconic series took the hint. And huzzah, it was the first mainline instalment of the Dragon Quest series released in Europe. Can you believe that?

I’ve often gotten at Final Fantasy VII for being the first one released here, the seventh in the series if you’re not up on your Roman numerals, but here we Europeans are on number eight before they decided to chance archaic RPGs and stylised anime on us. They even had the wherewithal not to number the title over here, because by that stage we all had the internet and we’d be asking some pretty awkward questions about it.

Dragon Quest 8 doesn’t mess about, let me tell you. Only a few hours in and you’re introduced to the impossibly buxom Jessica, who goes one better (two better?) by having exactly that type of refined posh English accent that’d make you chase her forever. The game really gets rolling from there, whether you’re on your PS2 (with a few creature comforts such as a move away from the old fashioned menus) or the 3DS.

I own both versions, and they’re both really good goers although I’d be much more inclined to play the game on 3DS. Actually, it’s not got anything to do with the gameplay but there was a significant barrier of entry to this game for me, and that’s that I bought it from Australia. No, I didn’t have to play the game upside down, and nor did every enemy monster have “dingo” or “galah” in its name – I’m talking about the 3DS case itself.

I don’t know what they put into those strangely thinner Aussie 3DS boxes but it’s a fierce workout getting them open, and anytime I go to pry the beast like I’m trying to split the atom, I fear I’m about to snap the whole thing in two – as if I’d have the strength. Next time I try to pick up a few Oz 3DS games, I might also hire Judas Priest to open them for me in a much calmer way, perhaps via electric guitar like how they got that safe open. I really couldn’t get over its sturdiness.

With the 3DS there’s really only a slight hit to the music and graphics, and you can even get around those via illicit means. You’ll also get portability, a suspend feature, and best of all a fast-forward capability for battles. You’ll wonder why you ever ground out Slimes in real-time. I suppose for completeness sake I should mention there’s also a mobile version, but who on earth would play that? The Japanese, in their absolute droves, I suppose – silly question.

But then, there’s a lot of hours to get through in this game, and Japanese plays won’t have encountered everything – such as another very positive feature of DQ8 which is, surprisingly, is the voice acting. I mentioned Jessica’s Royal Ascot accent, or maybe it’s a bit of Nigella Lawson, which must be wonderful to hear when you’re in bed with your balls feeling like concrete and she’s about to serve the nicest fry-up you’ve ever had. But the rest of the voice work is pretty top drawer as well, and it was something added for the Western versions.

Another great character in your party is a crafty Cockney, and to be ‘onest I’d have doin’ me nut if I were Japanese. Imagine you’d birthed and nurtured this series to becoming iconic, and then it’s the Westerners who get the definitive versions. Well, thankfully you won’t have voice actors nearly choking themselves while speaking, like you sometimes had in Final Fantasy X – this game takes some dodgy accents, farcical phrases and bizarre situations and melds them together very well into what’s ultimately a simple plot, and that’s by Dragon Quest’s own standards.

Ultimately the gameplay is the same old, same old, which is to say that it starts off slow and every level up and gold piece counts, but eventually you do get to mould your team into a well-oiled unit, that’ll be moreorless autobattling anyway. The usual high level of Dragon Quest fun, in other words, and this game along with DQXI, and to an extent DQIII and DQV, represents the best that the series has to offer.

The really good thing is that your playable characters do have personality, something not always a given in Dragon Quest games, and the aforementioned voice acting really helps with this. Though of course, your bandannaed hero stays forever silent. And it’s precisely because of this silence that he ends up in so much trouble all the time. Now do you see why you have to speak up for yourself and pick those social battles…?

3 February 2023

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s