First released in 2005 and old-fashioned for its time, Dragon Quest VIII is a lot of things that modern games aren’t: subtle, earnest, uncynical and unafraid to be small. Your character is silent and nameless and you can go through everyone’s drawers, but the cel-shaded graphics haven’t really aged at all. If you’re considering getting Dragon Quest VIII, you’ll have to ask yourself if a lengthy RPG with turn-based random battles on your mobile device is something you’re interested in. If the answer is yes, you’ll most likely enjoy Dragon Quest VIII quite a bit.
Dragon Quest VIII, like much of the rest of the Dragon Quest series, plays like the Platonic ideal of a JRPG. Its boldest gameplay decision is just how much fat it trims out of the usual formula: there are only four party members in a genre that sometimes gives you hundreds, and the featured mechanic of the battle system is the ability to store energy to deal extra damage on the next turn. The game’s subtitle, Journey of the Cursed King, is a perfect summary of the plot: the king has been cursed, and you go on a journey to lift the curse. That’s not to say that the game is generic: Dragon Quest VIII strives for minimalism and succeeds, thanks to a plot that focuses on character development and great art design by the incredible Akira Toriyama.
As a port, Dragon Quest VIII is a little strange and a decidedly different experience than playing it on the PS2 would be. In a very unusual move, the game is converted into portrait mode, so instead of turning your device sideways, you hold it up and play the game vertically. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: it makes the game feel surreal, dreamlike, and very distinct from its console original. However, it is one of a couple factors that make it difficult to navigate the overworld. The controls are fairly well done, but it’s still harder to round corners and search every nook and cranny than it would be with the Dual Shock. That, combined with the vertical screen, means that it can be hard to get your bearings at points. The game isn’t really reflex-based, so it doesn’t harm the gameplay, but it does make it trickier to explore for secrets and navigate the towns you come across. The voice acting, which is very well done and one of the highlights of the PS2 version, is also absent in the mobile version, which takes some power out of the cutscenes. So while playing this game on your phone in portrait mode is an interesting experience, you might have a better time with the console version if you were in a position to choose.
Also worth noting is that the Android port costs $20. That’s consistent with the higher prices that Square Enix puts on its Android ports, and there’s no problem with it in theory. However, it does further advance the argument that this particular port might not be the best way to experience this particular game. PS2 owners shouldn’t have much trouble picking up the superior version for cheaper than 20 dollars.
It’s refreshing to see a game that’s so unpretentious and comfortable in its own skin, even one that came out in a time when games like that were more common. Dragon Quest VIII is a soft-spoken game, and it’s conversion onto Android is not a perfect marriage, but if you like JRPGs and/or are looking for a lengthy, polished game on Android, it might be just what you’re looking for.
Dragon Quest VIII is a good JRPG from 2005, but the port is imperfect and the Android price is higher than the superior PS2 version. Still, don’t let that stop you from checking it out if you want an old-school 3D RPG in Android.