Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the PS2 is, imo, a jrpg that boasts a lot of great design choices. Some design choices have been franchise staples, such as being respaned in the nearest church when dying in battle but with half of your money missing. This eliminated the frustration of gameover screen while maintaining extreme challenge and difficulty in gameplay.
Churches or cathedrals acted as save points and they were always easy to find. Also, traveling from this place to that place was made extremely easy because of all the different modes of transportation in the game: sabre cat tiger, magical boat, transforming into a flying golden bird, or the magic spell to teleport to anywhere you’ve already visited.
This design makes DQVIII a nearly perfect sandbox rpg as there is absolutely no frustration involved when exploring from this place to that place. There are so many other design aesthetics in this game that I can’t do anything but praise. Most of the poor design choices I mentioned in my two previous blogs, DQVIII is devoid of all of them except one (meaningless dialogue choices).
Think back to all the design flaws I mentioned. Here’s how DQVIII doesn’t contain any of those flaws:
1. important items can be easily bought and found and even be mixed in an alchemy pot to create new items
2. save system is extremely convenient, especially with no gameover
3. cutscenes are skippable, for the most part
4. most of the loot is worth it
5. strategic thinking and gear is much, much more important than grinding
6. only enemies on certain areas level up with you and only when certain story event is triggered do enemies in other areas get stronger
7. the game only features four playable characters, all of whom have deep background stories and extreme usefulness during gameplay
8. random encounters can be controlled with either special items or through abilities
9. the game doesn’t end after the main quest but allows you to keep questing and even features an extra hard dungeon to obtain the true ending to the game
In this sense, DQVIII is a game that has near-perfect design and is truly a masterpiece to behold. From the simple yet challenging psyche up feature to the variable level-up system to an over-arching plot that fits perfectly into DQVIII’s sandbox design, this game is awesome!
Except for two things…
Mini-games in rpgs are great and I encourage all devs to make some kind of diversions in their rpgs other than the main quest. But please don’t do what DQVIII does with its casino mini-games, which is to make these mini-games so important and so crucial for certain gears, that playing these mini-games is almost mandatory.
These mini-games were pretty cool at first but my final opinion after forcing myself to play 4 hours of it just to get enough (not to mention saving and reloading and reloading) for Falcon Sword and Liquid Metal Armor etc is that I hate them. I hate bingo, I hate Roulette, and I hate slot machines. Sure, saving and reloading when things go wrong ensures that I don’t ever lose, but it’s tiresome, repetitive, and eventually, incredibly boring. Mini-games are great, but not when they’re required.
THE ALCHEMY POT AND ITS SPEED
Jeanne D’Arc for the PSP was another RPG made by Level 5 and it featured a similar item combination system that is in Level 5’s DQVIII. And in both of these games, the idea to mix different items to get new cooler items was a good one, but one that was poorly, poorly executed, especially for DQVIII. In DQVIII, it’s pretty important to have good gear and items because it’s a really, really difficult game and it’s a game where stretegic thinking always precedes grinding (in fact, grinding really gets you nowhere in this game). So using the alchemy pot is a must if you want certain special items.
But here’s the problem. It takes forever for that item to be made! One time I had to wait two hours for the alchemy pot to have finished mixing three of my items to make a shield I wanted. Two hours for one item?! I have patience and all, but that’s too much. At the time, I wanted to make five special items with the alchemy pot but man, with one item taking two hours of waiting time (you can explore or do other stuff while items are being mixed of course), I just ended up going into extremely tough fights without the right gear.
These battles were extremely challenging but if the alchemy pot wasn’t so slow, I probably would have had a more fun time with them. Why they decided to make the alchemy pot so slow I have no idea, but if you ask me, it was a poor, poor design choice. Same goes for Jeanne D’Arc.
That’s pretty much all I have for rpgs and DQVIII. I love rpgs and I have great time playing them but there are some design choices that are always repeated in some rpgs that I wish would just not be used. I think more rpgs should have design choices that resemble DQVIII because it does almost everything correctly, except for those two things.
I’m sure some of you disagree with some (or all) of them and might actually think of more things that bug you in regards to rpgs and how they’re designed and I’m open to hear them. This is all I could think of and really, I personally think that all rpgs would be better if they didn’t have these design choices. That said, I’m probably going to tackle the fps genre next so wait for that. Thanks for your readership and feedback guys.