There’s an argument that smartphones and modern entertainment have caused our attention spans to… anyway, let’s talk about Dragon Quest VIII.
Unlike the majority of handheld titles, this is a game that requires your full attention. It’s an epic, sprawling, difficult adventure that frustrates and rewards in equal measure.
The story begins in the kingdom of Trodain, when the court jester Dhoulmagus uses an ancient, possessed staff to turn the king into a frog, the princess into a horse (nay!) and the courtesans into plants. The only person left unscathed is the silent protagonist, who must gather a party of heroes to find Dhoulmagus and break the spell.
That plot summary is short, unlike the game itself, but it encapsulates the spirit of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. The world of Trodain is a fairytale place of colour and whimsy, one of the greatest examples of such a world in the history of gaming.
There are countless towns, villages, dungeons and secrets to be uncovered on your journey, with a fantastic cast of likeable characters to find along the way.
There’s Yangus, the bandit with a Welsh accent who you save from a collapsing bridge; Jessica, a mage who is out to avenge a family member; and the rogue Angelo, a knight who gambles and flirts his way out of trouble. This isn’t just a cartoon film come to life – it’s a cartoon series.
The art design, music, exploration and writing are some of the best Nintendo’s 3DS has to offer. If things stopped there, then Dragon Quest VIII would be an easier sell. But things don’t stop there. They only get started.
Journey of the Cursed King is a quintessential Japanese role-playing game, which means progress is dictated through turn-based battles. These battles make up the majority of the game and this is where the real investment comes.
Every new area or dungeon in the game brings with it countless battles that require your characters to be powerful enough to fight through. This means ‘grinding’, repeating certain battles over and over in order to power up your characters, buy new equipment and feel comfortable taking on the next area.
This tradition has little place in modern gaming. While there’s huge satisfaction to be gained from investing time and effort into growing your party, which makes the ‘journey’ feel more fulfilling, not many people will find the patience to do this over a 60-hour game, especially if 30% of that time is spent grinding. On the other hand, would Dragon Quest VIII be as deeply rewarding without that investment and sense of progress?
That question is for each individual gamer to ask themselves. If you are willing to make the investment, Journey of the Cursed King is a rare and brilliant experience, a Japanese role-playing game in full glory, a large and challenging world to explore. But if your attention span tends to wander, then … oh, new YouTube upload. Nice.
A more accessible incarnation of the Japanese role-playing game is released next week, in Tales of Berseria. Unlike Dragon Quest VIII, the Tales series relies more on action for its combat, with the battles allowing for full control over characters and their attacks.
On the other hand, the Tales series tends to be slightly more linear, with fewer secrets to discover, less exploration and less ownership over character development.
If anime TV shows are appealing to you, then Tales of Berseria will be an essential purchase. Now in its 16th instalment, the Tales series excels in writing and character interaction. No other gaming series brings ‘anime characters’ to life with such depth and attention.
Finally, sticking with the theme of Japanese role-playing games, one of the few things Nintendo got right with the Wii U is being repeated with Switch. Xenoblade Chronicles, the Wii U’s best third-party game, is getting an exclusive sequel on Switch. Xenoblade Chronicles is this generation’s best example of Japanese role-playing games made modern.
The sense of exploration, scale and discovery is honoured in full, but the frustrations of the genre have all but disappeared. It’s an outstanding game that fully deserves all the attention it … oh, Facebook update!