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!

Pokémon Sun and Moon (3DS) Review

Pokémon Sun and Moon (3DS) Review

The Pokémon Series Evolves

The original Game Boy Pokémon games inspired a generation to be the very best like no one ever was. Worldwide, trainers set forth on an adventure to capture and raise the titular Pocket Monsters. Twenty years later, the series remains as strong as ever, spawning dozens of sequels and hundreds of Pokémon. Pokémon Sun and Moon cap off the series’ yearlong anniversary celebration and show us how far the franchise has come. Not only does Pokémon’s seventh generation provide a robust execution of the game’s ever-growing mechanics, but it also challenges the traditional structure of every other mainline entry, resulting in a fresh evolution of the series.

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Cue The Lion King

If you’ve ever donned a Pokémon trainer’s cap, Sun and Moon’s base gameplay won’t surprise you. For those uninitiated, you play as a young trainer and raise unique creatures known as Pokémon. By capturing them in Pokéballs, they are yours to train. As your Pokémon battle other trainers’ monsters, they become more powerful, sometimes even evolving to stronger, larger forms. Each Pokémon is distinct, sporting different elemental types (Fire, Water, Electric, etc.) and game-changing abilities. The joy of discovering new Pokémon and picking a team of six favorites still forms the backbone of these installments.

Fans have enjoyed this structure for decades, but the developers at Game Freak have wisely chosen to spruce up the formula. The biggest difference is there are no gyms in the new region of Alola. You may be crying blasphemy, but the new Island Challenge feels fresh while still holding on to the series’ beloved gameplay. Instead of gyms, you engage in Trials scattered throughout the four Alolan Islands. These Trials vary from gathering ingredients to taking a memory quiz. Upon completion, you fight against a buffed-up boss-like Totem Pokémon. After finishing the trials on an island, you are worthy to fight its Kahuna, essentially a gym leader.

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You can now see your opponent during battle.

The autonomous Totem Pokémon mark a shift of focus to the lovable creatures themselves. Sun and Moon remind us that Pokémon are the stars. The new Pokémon Refresh, an upgrade to Pokémon X/Y’s Pokémon-Amie, lets you pet and feed your creatures via the Nintendo 3DS’ touch screen. Through Refresh, you can heal status ailments after battles at no cost. Even better, as you take care of your Pokémon, they will return that favor in battle. Loved Pokémon gain more experience points, land more double-damage critical hits, and dodge attacks more often. I hardly used Amie back in X/Y, but here, Refresh is clearly displayed as an option post-battle. You can ignore it if you’d prefer as well. But when I see my Pokémon ruffled up, I can’t help but want to clean it.

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This Raticate is more than buffed-up.

The focus on Pokémon extends to your means of travel. Instead of a bike, you traverse the world on Pokémon like Lapras and Charizard. They aren’t yours, but you are free to summon them as soon as they unlock. By far, the best aspect is that the series has finally gotten rid of HMs (Hidden Machines). In the past, you had to teach your Pokémon these special moves to get around. The HMs wasted potential slots for a Pokémon’s limited four-move set, but were mandatory to beat the game. Now, you can teach simply call on the new PokéRide summons to push boulders or surf. It’s more intuitive and also purely fun to charge a Tauros into a blockade of rocks.

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Riding on Lapras

There is a downside to giving Pokémon more autonomy. Wild monsters now sometimes call for help during battle, transforming it into a two-on-one fight. These “SOS Battles” can lead to some bonuses with stronger and evolved Pokémon appearing. However, it is a hassle during regular gameplay, especially since you can’t capture until you defeat one of them. Even worse, there’s no penalty for a wild Pokémon to call for help, so it does so immediately after attacking you. It’s a neat idea, but one flawed by its inconveniences.

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Magikarp may call on Gyarados to battle.

The new Pokémon are high-quality and have a hint of tropical flavor. From the adorable owl, tiger, and seal starters to the majestic cover legendaries, each new creature breathes life into the world. There are new monsters based on Hawaiian leis, salamanders, red pandas, and sand castles, just to name a few. Additionally, new Alolan forms of old Pokémon allow you to see old favorites in a new light, for better or for worse. Though there are some amazing inclusions, like the fire-dancing Marowak and snowy Ninetales, there are also hilarious oddities like the awkwardly tall palm tree Exeggutor. While the effort to make old Pokémon new is appreciated, it would have been nice to see more novel creatures.

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Litten takes on the new Alolan Raichu.

Sun and Moon’s new major battle mechanic is the Z-Move. Although intended to follow up to last generation’s popular Mega Evolutions, it doesn’t garner as much hype. Like Mega Evolutions, you can only use one Z-Move per battle. However, your opponent can block or lessen the damage considerably, with a move like “Protect,” for instance. There is a corresponding Z-Move and Z-Crystal for each type, and you obtain each type’s Z-Crystal through the Island Challenge. They are incredibly flashy and are fun to use during the game. However, as far as battle mechanics go, it’s more style than substance.

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Pikachu performs the electric Z-move.

The new optional battle format, the Battle Royal, is decent. Battle Royal pits four players into a free-for-all match. You earn points by landing the final blow on a Pokémon, and the game ends when one player has run out of usable Pokémon. This mode generates unique strategies as well as luck-based outcomes. Brought a Pokémon to a sliver of health but an opponent finished it off? Shame, you get nothing. Battle Royals can be entertaining as a party mode, but they’re not meant to be taken seriously.

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Four Pokémon go in…

There are other quality-of-life improvements that trainers will appreciate. You can now see which moves are “super effective” or “not very effective” from the move selection screen, eliminating the need to memorize the type chart. It only activates for Pokémon you have faced before to prevent spoiling your initial encounter. When you catch a Pokémon, but have a full team, the game now asks if you’d like to add it to your party. You can increase a Pokémon’s base stats with Hyper Training. Grid movement is also gone, allowing you to move freely in any direction with the circle pad. Finally, a map with objective markers on your bottom screen ensure that you will never get lost.

Both Sun and Moon are fundamentally identical, with the exception of version-exclusive Pokémon. Additionally, Pokémon Moon reverses day and night in-game, which means if you play during the day, it’s actually nighttime in the game. It’s a minor difference, but one to keep in mind.

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Would you hang out with these guys?

The story is a step up from previous generations with one of the most entertaining teams in recent history, the nogoodniks of Team Skull, and some of the most mold-breaking characters the series has to offer. The journey’s linearity is par for the course, but this game especially makes it clear by blocking you off from areas until you beat the Island Trial. Coupled with the slow opening, veterans may get disheartened. Worry not, for the game picks up after the first island.

What a journey it is! The Hawaii-inspired region of Alola comes alive through the impressive visuals and music. Thanks to a shift from the traditional overhead view to a more natural perspective, the world sucks you in with its vibrant colors and lush life. Each island is distinct and offers an array of environments. Even battle backgrounds display your current terrain. The animations during battle are as exciting as they’ve ever been, with some new ones added in. The only con is that the game chugs on an old 3DS, especially during battles with more than two Pokémon. There’s also a lack of 3D, aside from a new lackluster photography mode (it’s no Pokémon Snap!). For the first time, characters have realistic proportions. This complements the character customization tool, and your custom hairstyles and clothes will stand out.

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The Pokémon world has never felt so alive.

Relaxing island tunes comprise the soundtrack, and the trademark composition of battle music is familiar and energetic. Of particular note are the hip beatbox stylings of Team Skull’s themes, the futuristic Aether Foundation music, and the island chantings from the main Alola theme.

When you’re not journeying through Alola, you can also visit the new Poké Pelago. Here, you interact with your stored Pokémon in gradual increments, similar to how mobile games work. You can train your team, hatch eggs, send Pokémon on expeditions, and perform other tasks, provided you are willing to wait hours for them to finish. Its passive nature makes it super effective. While you are playing the game proper or even while not playing, everything continues moving in Poké Pelago. You then return and reap the rewards later.

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The Festival Plaza, your online Pokémon theme park

Festival Plaza is not as effective, and is actually a downgrade of a feature from Pokémon Black 2/White 2, Join Avenue. Within the plaza, you can interact with trainers who you’ve passed online or offline. By taking their requests, you gain Festival Coins which you can spend on any of the facilities in your specific plaza. Each facility has a different function, whether training your Pokémon, dyeing your clothes, or selling rare goods. However, unlike Join Avenue, you can’t upgrade your facilities. You either get a random new facility after earning coins or buy facilities from other trainers. While a great setup can go a long way, a barebones set of stores is only moderately useful.

More importantly, the Festival Plaza is where you engage in online multiplayer. Whereas previous games allowed you to always be online while playing the story, you are now limited within the confines of the plaza. That said, the online is fantastic. All the multiplayer options that have kept the community alive are present here. Battle with trainers around the world through the Battle Spot or official championship tournaments. Compete in singles, doubles, and Battle Royals online. Trade with anyone in the plaza, or test your luck with a random Wonder Trade. The Global Trade System (GTS) likely represents your best chance at catching ‘em all, with players depositing their Pokémon and requesting specific creatures in return. Even though it’s all limited to the plaza, it works. The extensive multiplayer and the everlasting desire to catch ‘em all and raise the best battle-ready Pokémon will keep your adventure going past the roughly 30+ hours of story and postgame.

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Welcome to Alola!

Conclusion

There is always an expectation for Game Freak to deliver the classic gameplay that has enamored us for years. With Pokémon Sun and Moon, I can safely say that they have not only accomplished this, but have also given us groundbreaking changes in how we perceive the traditional Pokémon journey. Whether there are gyms or trials in the next game is unforeseen, but this newest generation represents a radical shift and a wondrous excitement for the future. If you’ve somehow avoided the Pokémon series up until now, this is one of the best entry points the series has ever had. For those of you who already love the series, pack your bags for the Alolan Islands and embark on one of the freshest journeys to date. Alo-la!

Rating: 9.5/10

What are your thoughts on Pokémon Sun and Moon? Which version are you getting? What are your favorite new Pokémon and starters? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

Note: Both Pokémon Sun and Moon were used for this review, with Moon being the primary version played.