It's interesting how the English language release of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the Nintendo 3DS symbolizes a circle closing – a dragon biting its own tail, if you will. 2005's iteration of Dragon Quest VIII for the PlayStation 2 marked the debut of consistent localization efforts from Plus Alpha, and we've enjoyed a somewhat steady stream of high-quality Dragon Quest translations ever since.
What's more, western Dragon Quest fans can finally catch up on obscure releases thanks to Nintendo (3)DS and mobile updates of NES and Super Famicom games. You can find, play, and buy Dragon Quests I through VII without breaking a sweat.
The last Dragon Quest game to receive a massive makeover was Dragon Quest VII, which came to the Nintendo 3DS last year with a visual overhaul and a Plus Alpha-flavored translation. And now that we've received the 3DS release of Dragon Quest VIII, it feels like all the vital gaps in Dragon Quest's western history have finally been patched up.
(Minus the Dragon Quest X MMO, of course.)
So here we are, and just two vital questions remain: Is Dragon Quest VIII for the 3DS worth picking up even though it's essentially the same game you (probably) played on the PlayStation 2 over a decade ago? And what about Dragon Quest VIII for iOS? Should you opt for the cheaper mobile port instead of the 3DS experience?
These are easy answers. First, yes, it is. Second, no, you shouldn't.
I learned as far back as the year 2000 that portable Dragon Quest is an unparalleled pleasure. I used to do a lot of custodial work, which offered me a lot of (ahem) freedom to kind of tuck away into a corner for a few minutes, pull out my Game Boy Color, and take in a mouthful of my Dragon Warrior I and II cartridge (followed up in 2001 with an excellent Game Boy Color remake of Dragon Warrior III). What was true 17 years ago is true today: Dragon Quest is an RPG series that takes its time, making it a perfect fit for playing on planes, buses, or at bedtime.
Dragon Quest VIII is still a marvelous RPG on the PlayStation 2, but it's probably been some years since you gave it a good playthrough – if you've played it at all. Having it on your Nintendo 3DS isn't just convenient; it's a hassle-free way to get your fix of one of the greatest RPGs ever made.
It's not like Dragon Quest VIII 3DS is lacking in surprises, either. There are two new playable characters, new challenge dungeons, new boss fights, and a camera sub-game that I've already poured way too much time into. Oh, the evil Dhoulmagus is barbequing the innocent? I'll put a stop to that. Just ... just give me a minute to find Port Prospect's hidden Golden Slime and snap a picture.
The most welcome addition to – well, subtraction from – Dragon Quest VIII 3DS is the elimination of random encounters. As in Dragon Quest VII 3DS, your sources of gold and EXP are free-range. They roam across the land and you can choose to engage or run. Of course, some monsters will attempt to zero in on you and goad you into a fight, but it's quite easy to give them the slip, especially on the overworld. Having the ability to opt out of fights is super, but seeing all those critters milling around the world as you travel gives obvious life to Dragon Quest VIII's epic scale.
But even though Dragon Quest VIII 3DS giveth generously, it taketh away, too. The orchestrated soundtrack from the western release of the original Dragon Quest VIII is gone, and that's a shame. Not to suggest the soundtrack doesn't shine without those strings, but the orchestra was really something special.
The voice acting is all intact, and it's still great (long live Yangus). Jessica's lines have been redubbed with a new actress, and that's sure to cause a bit of a stir, but she delivers her dialogue well. The voices sound a bit compressed, unsurprisingly, but they're perfectly comprehensible.
Similarly, the character and monster models look a little less smooth and spectacular than they did on the PlayStation 2, your field of vision is smaller, and the pop-up for secondary field effects (some trees, fences, tufts of grass) is noticeable. I haven't encountered any slowdown, but I'm not through the game yet. She's a big'un.
Dragon Quest VIII 3DS's flaws are pretty much what you'd expect from a legendary game that's had to be squished down into a compact format. Said flaws don't diminish the still-wonderful experience in any regard. Unless the elimination of the orchestrated soundtrack has you paralyzed with grief, go ahead an consider the 3DS version Dragon Quest VIII's definitive release. If you've never played Dragon Quest VIII and are a Dragon Quest fan, get it. If you're a JRPG fan who's never played Dragon Quest VIII, you'll probably love it. And if you're a long-time Dragon Quest VIII fan, well, play it again.
("But Nadia! What about Dragon Quest VIII on mobile?")
I've gone to bat for Dragon Quest VIII on iOS, but I also figured I'd go back on that recommendation once the west received the 3DS version of the game. Shocking update: If you have your druthers, play Dragon Quest VIII on the 3DS and / or the PlayStation 2 before grabbing the mobile version, which lacks voices, orchestrated music, visible enemy triggers, and the 3DS version's bonus content. It's cheaper at $19.99 USD (Dragon Quest VIII 3DS is 39.99 USD), but the 3DS version's higher price point is hardly unfair.
If you lack a PlayStation 2 and a 3DS and you want to play Dragon Quest VIII in some format, though? Sure. The mobile port of Dragon Quest VIII isn't a disaster by any means. Go for it, champ.