Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (3DS) Review

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (3DS) Review

The Dragon Warriors Return

The Dragon Quest franchise has always been a hot commodity in Japan, with each entry selling millions of copies. The series hadn’t been as popular in the West until Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King shipped for the Sony PlayStation 2 in 2005. DQVIII captivated audiences with its beautifully animated 3D world, compelling storyline, and stellar fully-voiced cutscenes. Square Enix went on to re-release most of the mainline entries on modern systems, garnering fans on both sides of the globe. Hot on the heels of the Nintendo 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII, the company has finally released the 3DS port of DQVIII, bringing the series’ Western renown full circle.

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Say hello to your silent protagonist. He won’t say hello back though.
DQVIII’s story follows your silent Hero and his thief-turned-ally Yangus as they seek the evil jester Dhoulmagus, who has transformed Trodain Castle’s Princess Medea and King Trode into a horse and a hideous troll toad. The story starts out fairly simple and grows increasingly complex as you meet others who seek Dhoulmagus’ head, including the sassy mage Jessica and the charming knight Angelo. The characters are likable and ooze charm, whether Angelo hits on Jessica to her dismay, or Yangus freaks out and utters his trademark “Cor blimey!” Voiced cutscenes help sell the characters’ unique personalities.

In typical Dragon Quest fashion, each step in the journey involves a typical loop: the party enters a town, goes through a dungeon, and solves the town’s problems. Unlike other DQ games, most of the vignettes here are important to the overall plot, either giving a character significant development or providing a quest item, like the boat. The world map is vast, and traversal eventually becomes open-ended, creating a truly engaging journey.

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DQVIII uses a very traditional menu interface.
Throughout your voyage, you engage with hundreds of enemies in traditional turn-based battle. DQVIII retains almost the exact same battle system as every game before it. You set your party’s commands, such as attacking or casting spells, and watch the fight pan out. An additional “tension” mechanic allows your characters to charge up to deal heavy damage the following turn, in a Dragon Ball Z-esque fashion, which is appropriate considering the artstyle. When used effectively, psyching up for high tension works wonders. However, most bosses can easily take away tension bonuses with a single move, so the mechanic falls flat.

The otherwise familiar battle system lends itself to fun strategic face-offs against tough bosses. During these encounters where bosses can deplete your entire party’s HP in one fell swoop, every move counts. The game is quite difficult, and unless you get lucky, you might have to grind to defeat some foes. This is an unfortunate reality of the series, and it’s tedious to retread familiar ground just to level up. In my case, I only had to grind significantly during several endgame bosses, so at least DQVIII is fair in character progression. In addition, the majority of bouts against weak monsters are quick, and are even faster with the new option that speeds up battle animations. The game’s skill point system helps you appreciate your growth throughout, and each party member has several skill trees that you can deposit points into. Each upgrade goes towards buffed weapon proficiency or unique character abilities. For instance, the Hero can wield swords, spears, or multi-hit boomerangs. Meanwhile, Yangus has an exclusive ability where he can dance with his underpants… Cor blimey!

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Oh look, a slime!
While battles are unchanged, how you encounter enemies is largely different in the 3DS port. You can now see enemies roaming around on the world map, which is a huge contrast to the original PS2 version’s random battles. This upgrade brings the series into modern times, allowing you to choose your battles and even retreat when times are tough. This makes dungeon traversal a little easier, but if you avoid most battles, you’ll be underleveled and will need to grind anyway. The numerous enemies inhabiting the varied continents brings the world to life, and strong foes will even chase you, forcing you into battle. Likewise, weaker enemies will run away upon seeing you, making the world feel immersive.

Square Enix has added nice bells and whistles to the 3DS version. There are two novel playable party members who were but minor characters in the original game. Although they arrive late, they add variety to the fabulous foursome. You can also now take pictures of your party anywhere in the world. You can give them funny poses and even embellish the photo with stickers and frames. Any of these fun photos can be sent and received online or via StreetPass. However, the highlight is arguably the new picture sidequest, in which you photograph specific areas or enemies to earn prizes. This adds an entertaining scavenger hunt element to exploration and helps you appreciate the intricate world.

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Dragon Quest: Photobooth Edition
There are multiple gameplay enhancements that improve the experience. Aside from the faster fight speeds and removal of random battles, the alchemy system has been upgraded. Alchemy allows you to create items by mixing them together in a pot. In the original version, you had to walk around for a predetermined amount of time just to produce an item. In the 3DS version, alchemy produces instant results. Also, you can no longer fail an experiment by mixing (and wasting) two incompatible items. The game guides you to ensure success in this confusing but high-yield system. Other quality-of-life improvements include health restoration upon level-up, a menu display of how many experience points you need to level up, the ability to withhold skill allocation, and a quick-save that functions like a save-state.

Despite every upgrade, the graphics and music are a distinct downgrade. The 3DS version’s visuals don’t quite live up to the PS2 version’s. There is some pop-in, and the textures aren’t as pretty. To the game’s credit, the graphics still look great, considering it’s a handheld port of a PS2 game with real-time rendered enemies on the world map. Akira Toriyama, of Dragon Ball Z fame, breathes his signature charming artstyle and character design into the game. Likewise, the music is no longer orchestrated in the Western release. Nevertheless, the 3DS’s synthesized soundtrack still sounds amazing, thanks to Koichi Sugiyama’s utterly beautiful score. The overworld theme alone is breathtaking and sells the adventure. The voice acting sounds great as well, with some new rerecorded parts and additional lines to reflect the game’s new cutscenes.

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The Dragon Warriors are back and better than ever!

Conclusion

Dragon Quest VIII is a fun RPG that will attract fans looking for that traditional experience. The game is on the lengthy side, and the main story took me roughly 60 hours, not including sidequest completion or the new postgame content. Either way, the game’s rich narrative and polished traditional battle system will keep RPG fans engaged throughout. This is one of the most accessible Dragon Quest titles, offering an epic story with fully-voiced cutscenes and likable characters. While the graphics and music may not be the most ideal, Square Enix makes up for it by removing random battles and improving quality-of-life. New characters, cutscenes, and sidequests may even entice veterans to journey on a second time. With all of its upgrades and additions, the 3DS port of Dragon Quest VIII is the definitive version of the classic RPG.

Score: 9/10

Note: This review was originally posted on Darkstation in March 2017.

What are your thoughts on Dragon Quest VIII? What do you think of the Dragon Quest series, and which games are your favorite? What are your favorite RPGs on the Nintendo 3DS? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!

Bye-Bye BoxBoy! (3DS) Review

Bye-Bye BoxBoy! (3DS) Review

So Long, Farewell

The time has come to bid farewell to our beloved BoxBoy. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know there was a BoxBoy to say bye-bye to. After all, his first two games arrived on the Nintendo 3DS eShop with little fanfare. Developed by HAL Laboratories of Kirby fame, Bye-Bye BoxBoy! marks the finale of this 2D puzzle platformer’s trilogy and is just as enjoyable as its predecessors.

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The 3rd game stars our heroes, BoxBoy, BoxGirl, and… TallBoxMan?

The story picks up where the second left off, as we find our hero Qbby and his rectangular comrades traveling to new planets to fend off a mysterious black smoke. Although the story plays second-fiddle to the puzzle platforming, it tells a surprisingly thoughtful tale about what it takes to save the universe.

The square BoxBoy Qbby has the ability to sprout blocks from his body. Though you can only produce a limited number at a time, you can arrange them to produce connected shapes, like straight lines or Tetris-esque L-figures. Knowing how to utilize these blocks to reach the exit door is the crux of the gameplay; drop them to make stepstools, throw them across gaps to create makeshift bridges, or form hooks to latch onto high ledges. You can only make one set of blocks at a time, forcing you to design shapes carefully. There is some light platforming involved, thanks to Qbby’s jump ability, but the majority is mastering the art of block-making.

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Think outside the box. There, I said it.

As inventive as Qbby’s powers are, it’s the ingenious level design that drives the gameplay. Each world introduces a new gimmick that you must learn to work around to complete each level. Gravity-defying inverted spaces, forceful wind currents, and destructive black smoke are but a few of the new elements that spice puzzles up. Though a few classic obstacles return from previous titles like spikes, lasers, and falling platforms, I’m floored by how many novel ideas HAL Labs has included in this package, providing a constant variety that keeps block creation fresh throughout the game.

HAL also added new types of levels, including box baby (Qbaby) escort missions and special block powers. The former has you guiding a miniature Qbaby to the exit, which sounds worse than it actually is. Borrowing elements from Lemmings and Mario vs. Donkey Kong, you create platforms, which the Qbaby automatically travels through. In turn, they also activate switches that help you cross, adding a surprising layer of cooperative action.

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Bye-Bye BoxBoy! introduces Box Babies!

Helping these box babies pays off in each planet’s final world, where they bestow you with new types of blocks, such as rocket-powered and explosive boxes. These powers are both fun to use and incredibly clever, tasking you to think several steps ahead before even setting the blocks. My only disappointment is that there aren’t more of these special powers, making me yearn for an unlikely sequel.

Although there are numerous new stage hazards and powers to learn, the majority of levels are fairly simple once you get used to them. Series veterans, especially, will find the puzzle design awfully familiar, since HAL borrows concepts and solutions from older entries. In addition, you generally only deal with one gimmick per world, preventing most levels from becoming too complex. It’s only in the final worlds where the game begins combining stage elements in devious placements to trip you up, offering a huge difficulty spike. You may even need to use the game’s helpful hints, which you can purchase with 3DS Play Coins, to guide the way. Luckily, checkpoints are generous, and retrying is as simple as pressing the shoulder buttons.

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The new block powers are fun!

The best challenge is collecting crowns scattered throughout the level. These collectibles are usually tough to reach. And if you use up too many boxes within the level, the crowns disappear, adding a resource management element for diehard collectors. Additional replay value comes in besting your own times and attempting to beat levels using as few boxes as possible. Your stats are all recorded, satisfying that arcade mindset of trying to outdo yourself. Finally, the game awards medals after each level based on performance, which you can use to purchase costumes, mini-comics, and music. You can also obtain challenge levels, special worlds that take away one of your abilities, such as jumping.

The game has a very clean, minimalist presentation, with a mostly monochromatic color palette and clean right angles everywhere. If you have save data from the older games, you’ll unlock options that let you filter the color scheme to resemble the Game Boy’s neon screen or the Game Boy Pocket’s grayscale. Additionally, scanning in amiibo from the Kirby series grants you box-versions of the pink puffball and his friends. The synth piano music is soft, giving a cosmic-sounding vibe. It’s pensive and never distracting, providing the perfect backdrop as you work your brain.

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So is Kirby part of the BoxBoy universe then? Or vice versa?

Conclusion

Bye-Bye BoxBoy! is an excellent sendoff to Nintendo’s underrated square mascot. With nearly two dozen worlds of 6-8 levels each, there are at least seven hours of gameplay, not including extras. If you’ve played the first two games, you know what you’re in for. Though the core concepts are identical, Qbabies and special powers keep the geometric puzzler fresh. If you haven’t experienced the BoxBoy! series and can only pick one, Bye-Bye BoxBoy! has the most variety, providing the most value. Otherwise, picking up the whole trilogy is a great solution for anyone seeking ingenious portable puzzles in bulk. Bye-Bye, BoxBoy! We’ll miss you!

Score: 8/10

Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was posted on Darkstation.

What are your thoughts on Bye-Bye BoxBoy! Did you know BoxBoy existed? What are your favorite puzzle platformers for 3DS? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) Review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) Review

Worth the Double Dip?

The popular mascot kart racer returns for the Nintendo Switch, but this time it’s an updated port of an older game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe takes the original 2014 Wii U title and spruces it up, including all the DLC characters and tracks while adding an improved Battle Mode on top of it. The question is if these new bells and whistles are enough to warrant a double dip.

Here is the video review for your viewing pleasure!

For this review, I will be focusing on what’s new in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. A large percentage is identical to its predecessor. You still participate in kart races of up to 12 participants, trying to earn the gold in a variety of beautiful tracks, made more remarkable due to logic-defying antigravity mechanics that send you twisting upside-down and on the walls. As in the original, you can customize your karts or bikes to most effectively burn rubber, dive underwater, and take to the skies. And in typical Mario Kart fashion, you can easily lose a race simply because everyone decided to bludgeon you with hard-hitting items moments before the finish line. All the fixings are in place, and if you’re new to Mario Kart 8, then the Deluxe version has everything and more.

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Everything is included in one beautiful package.

For anyone else acquainted with the original, this is a tougher sell. On the one hand, this full package includes all of the predecessor’s DLC packs. On top of that, MK8DX introduces five exclusive playable characters: Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, King Boo, and the Inkling kids (or are they squids) from Splatoon. Unfortunately, there aren’t any exclusive new racetracks. At least the ones from the DLC are among the most fun in recent history, coupling captivating settings with well-suited antigravity twists and turns. Truly interesting are the crossover tracks and characters, introducing assets from Nintendo’s other popular series, like The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing, into the once-exclusive Mushroom Kingdom kart races. Futuristic racer F-Zero even gets some tracks. In all, the game has a mouth-watering 42 playable characters and 48 racetracks.

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Because why not kart race as Link through Hyrule?

Everything is already unlocked, except for the customizable car parts, so you can play with anyone and do whatever you want from the get-go. You could even start with 200cc, the fastest engine class to date, if you wanted.

Beyond that, there are small but nice mechanic changes. Most notably, you can now hold two items at once à la Mario Kart: Double Dash. This makes it easier to reach and retain first place, though it also means an increase in red shells, lightning bolts, and everyone’s favorite, blue shells. The new “ultra turbo boost” helps veteran racers who have the need for speed. By holding a drift for an elongated period, you can now achieve a third level of turbo boost, denoted by purple sparks. Though this doesn’t drastically change the game, well-timed boosts can decide races or, at least, net you better records in Time Trials.

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Smart Steering can even the playing field in multiplayer.

The more meaningful mechanic changes actually make the game easier for players. The optional Smart Steering prevents players from falling off the course, automatically guiding you away from the edges if you get too close. Coupled with the Auto-Accelerate option that moves the kart for you, these accessibility features work wonders for less experienced racers, younger gamers, or players who benefit from special accommodations. This creates a more equal playing field, allowing more fun for everyone. Though these options can be used online, players need not fret since Smart Steering also removes the ability to take shortcuts or use the new ultra turbo boost, keeping it fair for more experienced gamers.

That’s it for the racing alterations, and that alone may not attract most Wii U adopters. Your purchase decision will likely depend on the biggest addition to MK8DX, its revamped Battle Mode. This classic playstyle pits racers against each other in a no-holds barred showdown where items are your weapons. You may recall the Wii U version’s Battle Mode, which limited you to duking it out on established racetracks. This made no sense since you were essentially running laps hoping you’d find someone else to attack.

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Somehow, I don’t feel right attacking Baby Peach as regular Peach.

MK8DX seeks to amend that mess with its eight new arenas, large battlefields stylized after existing tracks. One of my favorites is a stage based on the ink shooter, Splatoon. The other arenas are also well-designed, with multilayer levels and copious use of antigravity. You even get some items exclusive to the update such as Boo, which lets you steal items as you turn invisible, and the Feather, letting you jump over opponents or obstacles.

There are five genuinely different battle rules that range from fair to fantastic. The most recognizable is Balloon Battle, in which you gain points from hitting others’ balloons while keeping your own intact. If you’re nostalgic for old-school survival battle modes as seen in Mario Kart 64, you’ll be disappointed to know that there’s no such “stock” mode here. Instead, it’s a time-based points affair, which is understandable considering online play would drag in a 12-player survival battle. I would have loved to see that classic style return in local multiplayer, but having 12 players frantically attacking each other over a three minute timespan is an acceptable substitute. There’s also a ruleset where only explosive Bob-ombs are allowed. Though this sounds chaotic, it isn’t as fun unless combatants are bundled together.

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Squid Life

My favorite battle ruleset, Shine Thief, is a game of keep away where the goal is to hold a Shine Sprite for 20 seconds while everyone barrages the “thief” for the chance to steal. It’s a hilarious case of one vs. the world, and effectively keeps everyone close together for added chaos. Similarly exciting is Coin Runners, a challenge to amass the most coins and arguably a better executed version of the standard time-based balloon battle. It’s fun to steal coins from other players while showing off the gigantic coin stack on your head.

The final battle style, Renegade Roundup, new to the series, is a decent team game based on cops and robbers. The cops use their installed Piranha Plants to eat the renegades and trap them in cages. Meanwhile, renegades must evade the law and push switches to free their captured teammates. Though the mode can get exciting, renegades can’t do anything while captured and the game too easily becomes one-sided against the cops. Thus, the mode isn’t particularly fun for either side, and a lack of voice chat prevents any kind of team discussion.

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Wii U Wii U!

Online play is smooth, and matchmaking is effective, whether worldwide or regional. As in the original, you can set up or join custom tournaments with any rulesets. I’ve occasionally had errors online, such as not finding other players in a tournament room or randomly disconnecting from a race. This only happens about one out of every 20 races, and online is otherwise solid with very few hiccups. You can even bring a second local player online. There isn’t any voice chat, which is to be expected, but overall makes no real difference outside its potential uses in Renegade Roundup.

Visually, the deluxe version looks amazing, displaying a crisp 1080p resolution at 60fps. I thought the original looked beautiful, but I am floored by how stunning these graphics look in such fast motion. The only time the frame rate even comes close to stuttering is when it drops to 30fps in 3-4 player split-screen. Though it’s noticeable at fast speeds, it still runs pretty well. Even more impressive is how sharp the visuals are on the Switch screen in portable mode. At 720p, the game is mind-blowingly gorgeous while still running smoothly; it’s definitely miles ahead of the Wii U GamePad’s off-TV play. Playing a race or even a grand prix while on-the-go is perfect for this game, especially if you’re looking to play against other Switch owners via local wireless or even LAN play. Finally, the music is phenomenal, with orchestrated and catchy tunes blazing as you speed down the track. As a bonus, remixes of other series’ themes appear in their respective crossover stages as well.

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Taste the Rainbow Road.

Conclusion

So what’s the verdict? Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is certainly an excellent upgrade to the original, not to mention a great game in its own right. That said, mileage will still vary depending on if you owned the original and how much you want the small, albeit effective, additions. If you have the original game plus its DLC, there isn’t much new in this port, especially considering its lack of new tracks. The racing adjustments are insignificant. Thus, it’s not worth it for racing alone unless you want the newest online-capable Mario Kart game in a portable form. The Battle Mode’s five rulesets and its accompanying arenas are excellent, but if you’re itching for the classic MK64-esque survival mode, you won’t find it here. But if you’ve never played the eighth installment or if you crave more of the original, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive version of the Wii U game and a strong contender for one of the best entries in the entire series.

Score: 9/10

What are your thoughts on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe? What do you think of the new and improved Battle Mode? What would you like to see in Mario Kart 9? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!