Dragon Quest VIII is an exercise in the finest nostalgia. This is a bubbly adventure through green fields and brown dungeons that effortlessly bounces to a simpler JRPG rhythm than most of Square Enix's recent output.
But at the same time it's a port that takes chances. It's portrait rather than landscape, so technically you can play with a single hand. It doesn't pull its punches either, punishing the unprepared when they step into a dungeon without enough supplies.
There's a ridiculous amount of game to get your teeth into, if you're willing, but a quicksave system means if you have to drop out quickly you shouldn't lose too much progress.
The end product is an intriguing blend of the new and slightly less new. It can be beguiling and bewildering, simple and complex, tough but rewarding. And it manages to pretty much justify its high price tag.Middle school
The game meanders to begin with. You're part of a pack of travellers (including a monster and a horse who have been cursed by some great magician) who end up embroiled in a much larger plot.
The controls take a little getting used to. A joystick sits either in the centre, left, or right of the screen. You use this to move around. There are no buttons on-screen except for the one that opens the menu.
On a phone the controls work well, letting you trundle around the vast world as if you were making a phone call. On tablet it's a little more difficult to find a position that works, and you might find yourself resting it on your lap so you can play.
Everything works reasonably smoothly though. You can set your character to auto-run, swiping the screen to move the camera and change the direction he's jogging in. A tap on the screen makes him stop.
Conversations and other actions happen automatically when you stumble into someone or something, or you can jab a finger at the icons that hover over people's heads to instigate a chat.Portrait of violence
In scraps the portrait orientation works well too. You can be hands-off with the violence if you want, letting the AI dictate what's the best course of action by setting some routines for your characters to follow.
You might set one to concentrate on healing, for example, while giving others more damage-dealing, magic-using roles.
Alternatively you can dip a little deeper into the system, setting different actions each turn and forming your own strategies based on the monsters you're up against.
There are no easy battles though, and it's important to get your head around the strengths and weakness of your characters, and using them as a unit rather than a group of cel-shaded individuals.
Skill points let you micro-manage the sort of fighters and healers you want the cast to become, and getting down to the nitty gritty of levelling up and learning new skills is a real pleasure.Time drags on
Dragon Quest VIII certainly demands a lot of your time, and while its battle systems aren't as complex as some modern JRPGs, there's still a lot to learn, and even more to master. The Tension System adds an extra level of risk and reward, and balancing violence and healing is a tough trick.
This is still a console game at heart, and there are hours and hours of quests and adventures waiting if you're willing to to seek them out.
Dragon Quest VIII is a solid, if slightly strange fit on mobile devices, but it's worth persevering with. If you're looking for your next RPG escapade, then look no further.
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