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A Brilliant RPG Sets the Stage
Published on January 3, 2006 By mittens In Playstation
A mood was to bound to hit me at some point in time that would require me to follow the flow of top ten lists at the end of the year, and although I had been lucky enough to avoid this trend for years, it has finally caught up with me. So, for the next twenty days, I will be writing about one game per day that will fall into the follow lists: Top Ten Games of 2005 and the Ten Most Appetizing Games of 2006 -- the title of the latter very much being a work-in-progress. The games will came at you from the side, in one installation per day, with me fleshing out the ten most badass games of 2005 to you first, and then following up such heresy with the top ten drool-worthy games of 2006. There is really no rhyme or reason to either list other than my subjective "Hey, this game was fun" factor.

This site wasn't particularly well-designed for this kind of thing, so bear with me for a bit and I'll eventually get a page dedicated to these two lists up. And, without further ado, let me bring to your eyes my tenth most favoritistest game of 2005.

Dragon Quest VIII -- Publisher: Square-Enix, Developer: Level 5
Back in the days of yore, when things like electricity and automobiles were in their infancy, games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior (as the series was known in the US) were the kind of games that got my young heart pumping. I have oh-so-fond memories of playing the original Final Fantasy on my Nintendo for hours upon end, weathering the dangerous wafts of heat generated by angry parents who tell tales of child chore-like responsibilities, for days, weeks even. This was back in the day when games still had the gusto to be difficult experiences only tailored to the hardcore elite of nerdy young men, before games felt the need to coddle their players in fear of emotionally scarring their impressionable young minds. This is a day and age where I got stuck in a wicked cave in the original Final Fantasy where I never had enough antidotes, nor money, to make it through a goddamn cave just to advance the story and eventually getting frustrated enough to the point where I started the game over with a pledge to become better, to become stronger.

Difficulty in RPGs has since become all but extinct, and the Final Fantasy series hasn't really been Final Fantasy since that last post-Playstation installment we here in the Land of the Free call Final Fantasy III. Sure, Final Fantasy VII was a whole hell of a lot of fun -- but it wasn't Final Fantasy, not really, anyway. These days, console RPGs have all copied that formula that Dragon Warriquest and Final Fantasy made popular, but for the most part, the good 'ol days of console RPGs died with the Super Nintendo. Today's games may be more complex, prettier, and with complicated stories that involve multi-planet corporations and fifty-minute cutscenes (Xenosaga, I'm looking at you), but they lack the heart and soul of the games that really pioneered the genre of the console RPG.

And then Dragon Quest VIII was released, and the villagers rejoiced. Here's a game that doesn't try to daunt the player in complicated battle tactics, strategic button-pressing for "extra" damage during a l337-phat-limitbreakz0rz, nor a really deep, emotastic main character with so many layers of hurt and pain that even the most tear-inducing onion would be jealous of -- but it doesn't matter. DQ8 brings to us old-school RPG gamers something we've been waiting for with the bad breath -- an honest-to-god game with that heart, soul, and light-hearted tone with only the most appropriate spots of melodrama which we've come to expect from our weeks of "simple" RPG game playing. The character designs are fresh and unique, the dialog is entertaining, and the characters have a personality that isn't cut from the kind of over-emotional, teenage angst-ridden notebook that Square's Final Fantasy games have over-dipped into for the last few years. Hell, there have been points in Dragon Quest VIII where I've actually laughed-out-loud at some of the cute little "inside jokes" or silly antics of the characters.

The only reason I'm ranking this game as number ten on my new-fangled list is because I'm only a mere twenty hours into the game, which seems like it is only about a third or a fourth through this massive gem of a game. It would be unfair to leave this game off the list, but I can't very well rank the game above a number of other games that I've played to death and beaten. If Dragon Quest VIII can continue the polish and fun that it hasn't lacked a single bit of for the first twenty hours, then this game would easily make number one -- so just know that.

Dragon Quest VIII's graphics are nothing short of spectacular, despite the fact that some lesser gamers would pawn the game's look off as "kiddy" and have nothing more of it. Level 5, developer of this game and previously of the stellar Dark Cloud 2, seem to have further refined their rendering engine from Dark Cloud 2 into what may in fact be the best looking cel-shaded graphics I've ever seen. The only potential rival the graphics in DQ8 may have is the fantastic-looking The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, which sported a similar look. The sound effects and voice acting are, actually, pretty good -- sure, the odd voice actor may grate the ears a bit, but overall it's very tolerable, even if the music is quite limited in the number of various tracks played.

The game itself is reported to have over one hundred hours of gameplay, which I'm sure is a fairly large "estimate" of the amount of time a player would spend in the game (though, given that some of DQ8's minigames are almost full games in their own right, it's very understandable). Though, to be honest, one of the game's biggest selling points for me is that while it's excellent fun to play, well-written, with tons of explorable areas as well as secrets to uncover is that Dragon Quest VIII is hard. Real hard. In the first three hours of gameplay I believe my party wiped in the first dungeon -- twice. And although my party hasn't wiped (despite losing to a boss or two, but that got an insta-reset out of me) since, that isn't for lack of trying. I've had to warp out of dungeons more times than I can count because of the realization that I just won't make it through the dungeon with the limited mana and healing items I had, not to even mention the really tough boss characters.

In closing, Dragon Warrior VIII really is the new console RPG by which future games should be measured. It's an all-around fantastic game which any console RPG is likely to be measured against for years to come. Level 5 definitely has a gem on their hands, and here's hoping they don't stop here.
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