Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
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The very first Dragon Quest game (released as Dragon Warrior on the NES in 1989) played an immeasurable role in shaping console-based role-playing games. In Japan, the Dragon Quest nameis practically revered for its history and continued celebration of traditional RPG mechanics. In the West, however, the series' popularity is lukewarm at best.
Nevertheless, more than a few Dragon Quest games have received English translations - not the least of which is 2004's Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, originally released for the PlayStation 2. So when Square-Enix announced a mobile adaptation of this huge, lovely game, fans in all corners of the world sat up and took notice. Dragon Quest VIII? On mobile phones? How is that even supposed to work?
To my surprise, it does. Nicely, in fact.
Like its source material, Dragon Quest VIII for mobile is, at its heart, a pretty basic RPG. A small band of heroes travels across the land on a world-saving quest (this time, an evil jester named Dhoulmagus is up to no good). Along the way they get pulled into random encounters with enemies, explore caves and dungeons, visit towns, and battle it out with monsters through menu commands. But Dragon Quest games are rarely about innovation. Instead, they polish the traditional mechanics to a mirror shine, and Dragon Quest VIII is no exception. The enemies and characters (designed by famous 'Dragon Ball' manga artist Akira Toriyama) look and animate wonderfully, the battles are quick-paced and offer a solid challenge, and the sprawling world provides a real sense of exploration. There's always something cool around the next corner.
Dragon Quest VIII is, frankly, one of the best RPGs ever released. This is already scientific fact. The question on most people's minds is, "How does the mobile port hold up?"
I can't recommend it over the original PlayStation 2 game, but Square-Enix has done an okay job packing (almost) everything into the new phone/tablet modes. There are some odd quirks: The game plays in portrait view, for instance, and there's no option to turn things on their side. I got used to it pretty quickly. The eight-directional "thumbstick" sits at the bottom of the screen, along with the action button. When the player approaches people, they engage automatically (and can just walk away from the conversation at any time - as the squat, nose-picking hero Yangus points out, it ain't gonna hurt their feelings none). And most random encounters can be conquered with the single-touch "Fight Wisely" command. There's also a camera icon under the thumbstick that can be used to swivel the camera back and forth, or re-align it directly behind the party with a single touch. It's a bit more of a hassle to use than the PlayStation 2's trusty second analogue stick, but it's certainly functional.
Unsurprisingly, something's got to go when stuffing a PlayStation 2 game into a phone, and in Dragon Quest VIII's case, there are two notable features MIA: The voice acting (no more charming British accents!) and the orchestrated music. Though both of these features weren't present in the original Japanese release to begin with, and the non-orchestrated music is still great. A word of warning, however: don't attempt to download the game for anything below an iPhone 5 or a third-generation iPad. The game's frame rate already suffers a bit on the iPhone 5 (and even on the Nexus 7.2, according to some user reviews), and there's no guarantee it'll run properly on the iPhone 4S or below.
In short, Dragon Quest VIII for mobile shouldn't cause established fans to retch in disgust, and newcomers will enjoy it. It's certainly nice to have a version of the game that is pocket-sized, and the gameplay is still stellar despite being ten years old. If you're lacking the mobile hardware but want to play Dragon Quest VIII regardless? Now's a good time to hunt down a PlayStation 2 version. However you choose to play the game, it's worth your time.