Jeremy Jastrzab
07 Jun, 2006

Dragon Quest: Journey of the Cursed King Review

PS2 Review | It's a big quest.
The Final Fantasy series is considered to be responsible for introducing the J-RPG to the west, or, at the very least, a mainstream audience. However, had it not been for the pioneering Dragon Quest series, no one would have any J-RPGs at all. Despite enjoying phenomenal success in Japan, the renowned series always played second fiddle in the west. While Final Fantasy hits its thirteenth (official) title soon, Dragon Quest is only up to number eight. Despite missing the digits (and the FFXII demo), Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King has finally reached PAL territories, having conquered the rest of the gaming world.

It seems a little odd that titles being adapted to PAL regions keep getting their numbers or subtitles chopped off. Some may consider Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King as something of a fresh start, but it’s not exactly a game that anyone who isn’t familiar with the games will be picking up. The title takes place in a fantasy world unbeknown to us and with something of a clichéd setting. A King and his princess have been cursed and turned into a green creature and horse respectively, after a rogue Jester steals a magic sceptre that’s meant to be sealed away, leaving the king's castle a cursed ruin and with only one of the castle guards remaining unscathed. This is the “hero” of the story, and he's accompanied by a slackjaw has-been crook, named Yangus.

Later on, you’ll be joined by two other companions, Jessica and Angelo. Despite a premise that may seem vaguely familiar to anyone who's played a lot of RPG’s, the story is both very big and very deep. It actually manages to be unique in its own right and it's packed with personality. Each character has a unique back-story that is gradually and intriguingly revealed as you play. Furthermore, the way that the story unfolds keeps the player interested, even as the quest drags into a large number of hours. Even though the story has a tendency to be told at irregular increments (and sometimes goes off on a total tangent), it produces some genuinely powerful, moving moments. These moments are what set the game apart from any old RPG. Despite being a bit on the simple side, the story is interesting and emotively captive enough to keep the player going for a long time.

Here's your crew; know them, love them.

Here's your crew; know them, love them.
In terms of gameplay, the Dragon Quest series is quite different from its Square Enix counterpart. There are no limit-breaks or fancy-shmancy summons to be found here. No, this is pure turn-based RPG gameplay, and it’s as traditional as you can possibly find these days. On the surface, it may seem like the game is very simple, but beneath, there's a deceptively deep system at work. Given that you’ll be spending a heavy majority of your time in battles, it’s fair to say that knowing the system is beneficial. At any one time, you’ll have the four main characters at your disposal in battle. Each of them carries similar traits and abilities, but there are enough variations between them and choices to be made to make for a strategically deep experience.

Wandering around the overworld will trigger battles in a traditionally random manner. The battle that ensues gives you four options: 'Fight', 'Flee', 'Intimidate' and 'Tactics'. 'Fight' opens up another six options, where as the middle two are self explanatory and only work on a chanced basis. 'Tactics' allows you to give orders to your party members, in place of you directly telling them what to do. For the most part, 'Fight' will be the necessary option and from there you can either 'Attack', 'Defend', 'Use Abilities', 'Use Spells', 'Use Items' or 'Psyche Up'. 'Attack' unleashes your character’s standard attack. and 'defend' tries to minimise damage from impending attacks. Each character has unique abilities and spell sets that grow as you progress through the game, and these become very handy, especially as the enemies get tougher. 'Psyche Up' raises the character’s tension level, meaning that in the next turn, you can raise it further and/or attack with a much more powerful strike.

It’s a simple system, but one packed with subtleties. There are silly and unique ailments that can affect characters (such as a player being unable to attack because they’ve “caught the dancing bug”), as well as several other nuances that allow the game to portray its own personality. Each monster is divided into categories, which all have their own weaknesses and strengths. It’s up to the player to figure them out but they’re quite intuitive. For example, a sword ability known as “flame sword” is very effective against the tree monsters. Upon levelling up, each character receives skill points, which you can put towards various (and unique) attributes. These attributes pertain to weapons and the potential strengths and skills that can be learned by whatever allocation you choose. It leaves open numerous paths and potential choices for the player. And what really makes Dragon Quest the game it is are the small differences and intricacies within the battle system. Other RPGs have done, copied and changed them, but at its core, Dragon Quest shows how it’s done.

Yangus lays the smackdown.

Yangus lays the smackdown.
People who have never played an RPG from the 16-bit era will be in for a shock. You see, the difficulty level can range from hard to downright brutal. Every time you enter a new area, the monsters are significantly stronger than they were in the previous area, and your party can be potentially eliminated in the blink of an eye. The game really does try to overpower you, and the AI isn't too shabby either, as it will target the weaker characters, with groups of enemies concentrating on only one of your group. It doesn’t help when the computer is very harsh on your characters when they’re affected by impairing ailments. Dungeons are particularly brutal, with a series of tough, random battles followed by an even tougher boss battle. A large point has been made of the fact that many random battles are just as tough as boss battles, and this is no lie. Some random battles will really leave the player reeling and rushing for the heal spells.

The difficulty level in the game is something that cannot be sniffed at. Levelling up in the game is a rather lengthy process. Basically, you'll be going through a lot of tough and lengthy battles and, even when you go up a level, the game doesn't do you any favours. On top of that, most of the equipment and items in the game are really expensive, so you're often left with crummy and 'outdated' equipment when trying to overcome the stronger enemies. Less experienced players may get to a point where they'll have had enough and stop playing altogether, and we also had many occasions where our rear-ends were hanging out the seat of our pants [It's your eloquent use of imagery we admire most, Jastrzab - Ed]. But does that mean it should be held against the game? While at times it may border on being a 'fault', part of it is finding other ways to get around this problem. These ways include deeper exploration, the Alchemy Pot, and finding things in the game like the Bank, that will allow you to save your hard-earned coins. You're never truly stumped. Still, as games go, this is up there with the toughest.

One of the aspects that sets the game apart from other J-RPG’s is how seamlessly the game is able to introduce new things, the way in which the player is allowed to go about their business. Dragon Quest is probably the best example of how an RPG should introduce new items, with the game consistently serving up new abilities, spells and additions, something it does throughout the entire experience. The game leaves a lot open to the player, despite a linear progression overall. You literally feel like you’re on a quest, as you are given subtle clues on where to go, and it’s very easy to get lost but that’s just part of the fun. Outside battles and exploring the overworld, the game wouldn’t be complete without bumming around towns and deep item management. Dragon Quest provides this in spades, with the use of the Alchemy Pot being particularly intriguing to play with. The towns are full of interesting and colourful characters, and some have more than one line of speech. At the end of the day, Dragon Quest has pretty much everything that you’d want from an RPG. It excels in providing the little things, and excels in terms of the amount of polish that has been put into the final product. The little things that help bring the game to life or provide that tiny spark of magic.

Hmmm... we're lost, aren't we?

Hmmm... we're lost, aren't we?
However, the game is held back by certain issues also. As mentioned, the difficulty level will put the game out of reach for people who aren’t accustomed to this type of gaming. On top of that, the pacing of the game is rather pedestrian, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. Battles are reasonably paced but can take a long time. Rather than being able to save at any instant, players are left with an archaic (albeit, uniquely set) method of saving your game. Sometimes, it can get frustrating when you can’t find where you’re going, and there are other minor annoyances that will crop up here and there. That, and the game is not as endearing as past Dragon Quest titles have been.

For anyone disappointed in unsatisfyingly short games, Dragon Quest is unlikely to disappoint. With up to 80 hours of playtime, there is an incredible bang-for-your-buck value with this game. Infact, a lot of people might not even make it through the game till the end, despite the fact that the game does its utmost to keep the player hooked throughout. Even though your will to explore may wane as the game wears on, getting to the end is truly satisfying. It’s too bad that there's zero replay value once it’s done.

Graphically, the game is great but it does show signs of its age (it was originally released in 2004 in Japan). The cel-shading works particularly well when it comes to the characters, NPCs and monsters in the game. They all look great, are animated superbly and are full of personality. The famous style from Akira Toriyama shines through with incomparable zeal, and the townships look pretty damn fine as well, as each has its own flavour and unique traits. In battle, the game is very unique, in that it's one of the few Dragon Quest titles that lets you look at the characters from a third-person perspective, as opposed to a first-person perspective. While lacking absolute glamour, the battles are heavily animated affairs with a unique style and presentation. The general presentation of menus and the game looks good as well. However, the 3D environments in the overworld and in some of the dungeons are ordinary - the trees and fixtures don’t look good and the texture work is adequate at best. Despite this and an occasionally chugging frame-rate however, the game is a decent visual showcase.

Dude, relax.

Dude, relax.
Sound-wise, the game is undeniably brilliant. Several classical tunes make their way into the game, fully orchestrated and coupled with new ones. The sound effects are suitably wacky and fun to listen to, the character voicing is great and backed up by some great moments and sections of dialogue, and it's nice to see that the voices have a great contrast between characters, making them all the more personified. The sound truly captures the emotions that the game is trying to convey, and provides a distinctive setting and experience. It all blends in so seamlessly that there's very little that seems wrong about it. However, you may expect to hear a greater variety of tunes over the course of 80 hours.

Overall, Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King provides exactly what it ought to - a premium J-RPG experience for anyone who has been yearning for a true challenge, a riveting story and a long, satisfying quest. It may lack glitz, sparkle and a certain mainstream appeal, but it makes up for this with some hugely distinctive and unique traits, more personality and emotion than you can comprehend and one of the most refined experiences in a long time. Above all, the game builds on some unforgettable moments that truly define the experience. If this is what you’ve been waiting for and you’ve got the time to spare, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be already playing it. While it may not bring much new to the table, it definitely does its job damn well, and is proof that a game need not be revolutionary to be enjoyable. At the end of the day, Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King stands out as one of the best J-RPG titles in a long time.
The Score
Dragon Quest: The Journey of the Cursed King successfully provides the traditional and refined RPG that a lot of people have been waiting for.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 years ago
So our version doesn't have the FFXII demo?
Damn, I was thinking of renting it just for that.
7 years ago
I think the current Myer stocktake has it at 50% off
7 years ago
Took long enogh for a PALGN review to appear. At least mine was around to entertain people a while ago. icon_biggrin.gif I've had this game for ages now, I hope it sells well here!
7 years ago
troublemaker wrote
I think the current Myer stocktake has it at 50% off
Thanks for the tip. I think I might drop by and pick it up for a b'day present this afternoon icon_biggrin.gif

Top review also. Nice to see it's tougher than something like FFX - the biggest problem with that game was that 99% of the battles were mind-numbingly easy.
7 years ago
7 years ago
That's an awesome sale. I am going to Myer at lunch!
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