Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King. Not only is this the first installment to get the "Quest" name right in North America, the "VIII" is also dropped in the European version because it's simply the first DQ game officially released here. Of course, compared to the FF III/VI mess, it's hardly worth mentioning, but I'm no good at starting reviews with mentioning the important stuff right from the start.
Anyway, what much is there to say about this game that hasn't already been covered here? Well, quite a bit, actually. In fact, there are plenty of admittedly small problems, but they just keep adding up, detoriating what could be a real killer.
But let's start off with the basics first. Dragon Quest is a console RPG, and it's not pretending to be anything else. Random battles, boss battles, towns, dungeons, it's all there. The one thing that's hardly in there are dragons, though, which feels a bit strange.
Now, the plot is about as RPGish as they come, with an evil jester chock full of magic threatening the world. And so the world must be rescued by our gang of adventurers that include a non-descript hero, a low-cut-dressing female black mage, a not-so-devout "monk" with healing spells, and a fat thief; as well as a cursed king and his daughter, currently transformed into a toad and a horse respectively. Now, this is where the main problem kicks in. Most of these characters are well-developed, sometimes having surprising depths, but the hero is as non-descript as they come, because he doesn't actually have a single line in the entire adventure. That's right, he just never talks, and it's just weird considering he's the one that is supposed to take centre stage, on accounts of, you know, being the real hero here. The reason we can live with Link not talking is that at least nobody else is there to steal his glory.
And while the other characters are thankfully rounded out, and while their voice acting is initially quite above average in the console RPG world, they often talk slowly. Painfully slowly. Very much so. It makes the conversations in Final Fantasy X seem like it's flowing naturally along, and that's never a good sign.
And slow is in fact, the name of this game. During battle - a battle system taken from the NES era, with inputting the commands of all four characters and then watch it all being acted out in a semi-random order - it frequently spends a little time each time a special attack is used. Heck, if you equip certain weapons to a character, such as the bow to Angelo, even ordinary attacks require that extra half-second of waiting until the animation executes. But it gets even worse outside of battle. Using a stop-watch, I've found that sometimes, loading certain sub-menus (such as the alchemy pot menu) from inside the menu can take as long as 5 seconds to load. This reeks of sloppy programming, and there's simply no excuse for it.
Another sloppy thing is how you switch characters. As in Wild Arms 3, having a different character in front may mean some different dialogue with certain NPCs. But Wild Arms 3 made this -easy-, by doing two things right: Keeping the front character during walking separate from the battle line, and also assigning a button to change characters, which happened -instantly-. Whereas here, I'm forced to go into a submenu, change the line of characters, wait a few seconds for the new front character to load, get out of the menu, and then see if NPC #65 has something different to say to Jessica. And since Jessica is having a low Def stat, I don't want her at the top position in battle, because the enemies attack that position more often. So, repeat this as soon as I get out of town again.
I really have no idea at all who thought this was the best way to change characters. Heck, I have no idea who even thought it was an acceptable idea.
Going back to the combat itself, it's as classic as they come. Your four characters are all given orders in one big swoop, and then they execute them as the enemies execute theirs. Leveling up allows one to put a certain amount of points into one of 5 skill sets. Some of the skills can be quite useful, but others can be a complete waste of time. Such as the Steal Sickle, which is to date, the least effective steal command I've ever seen in a game. When it can take more than 70 attempts for a successful steal (and again, I kept notes for this), then it's just not worth it. Especially not with that half-second break that just disrupts the flow.
Moving on to the minigames and sidequests, we have a small collection of standard casino games, including a horribly slow (again) bingo, an acceptable roulette, and of course the one-armed bandit. I think there should be a law against putting something so fantastically uninspired as non-modded casino games into a full video game.
There is also the Alchemy Pot, which is used to combine items and make new items, but it too functions very slowly. In fact, the trial-and-error routing I'd normally advise you too won't do much good here. What you should instead do is to play through the game, collect all the recipes found in books and by talking to people, and then play through it again and create all those items. It's about as quick. I'm serious, it really is.
Finally, let's mention the graphics and music. The music is by all means acceptable, and it mostly does the job, keeping it mainly in a rather baroque style. The graphics are also quite acceptable, but one cannot help that the cel-shading is sometimes rather wasted. Especially on Hero, who's got a total of four expressions: Neutral, shocked, battle, and battle with low health or status infliction. Why bother using otherwise nice cel-shading on a main person that might as well could have been a polygon face for a PS1 game?
And all in all, I feel that this game could have been so much better with but a few steps taken to ensure a more fluid feeling, a proper hero with a personality, and perhaps just a tiny bit of innovation. But as it is, if you've played a few console RPGs, there is absolutely nothing here you haven't seen before, and most of it, apart from having a little sense of humour, as well as fairly good sidekick characters, have been done better elsewhere. Not to mention quicker.