The next one may be coming to the DS, but Dragon Quest VIII certainly managed to do the PS2 proud. 2006 has been a good sendoff for Sony’s retiree with some of the most impressive games in the console’s history, and this is certainly up there.
Rather than reinventing the wheel as the Final Fantasy series is wont to do, DQVIII takes quite the opposite path. This is about as traditionalist as can be. The admittedly stunning graphics are essentially a flashy wrapper for gameplay that has been all but unchanged since the beginning. No ATB, minimal battle animations, random battles coming out of its arse, and a blank expression when quizzed about anything as elaborate as a job system.
The basics are as solid as can be after so much refinement, but it’s the setting and visuals that provide the biggest step forward. Let nobody tell you that cel-shading is dead, because this game is one of the best showpieces yet. The game takes place in a beautiful fantasy world painted mainly in primary colours, as far from the dystopian future/steampunk settings of many contemporaries as can be. It’s one of those games that can visually transcend the HD barrier that newer consoles are hastily building over the past.
Too bad that such a top game couldn’t forge a market outside Japan like the Final Fantasy series could. Maybe that’s what they’re hoping for with IX.
The announcement that Dragon Quest IX would be a DS game, despite the size of its new host platform, could end up being one of the biggest news stories of recent years. It represents a huge shift in development trends right up there with the mass exodus of Nintendo’s oppressed minions to Sony circa 1995.
The movement of Dragon Quest back to Nintendo – for this instalment, at least – comes over a decade since the last ‘proper’ Nintendo Dragon Quest and may not have the impact of Final Fantasy in the West, but in Japan this is, infamously, the game that cannot legally be released on a school day because of the effect it has on productivity. It’s second only to Final Fantasy and, when coupled with the insane popularity of the DS in Japan, has the potential to smash sales records. I was in Japan when the FFIII DS remake came out and the only units I saw on sale were expensive import models from Europe. This should be even bigger.
More than anything this is a slap in the face to Sony. One of their bigs guns has gone portable, and it’s not on theirs. This is going to put even more distance between the DS and PSP, in fact. And if this is as big of a success as it should be I’d bet money that Dragon Quest X turns up on DS or Wii. Low development costs and colossal sales are an irresistible combination for any company, and I’m sure they’re quite aware of how much a game on the scale of DQVIII would cost to develop on the PS3.
I’ve seen the complaints the people expecting this to be a PS3 game and can understand them (although I think the DQIX screenshots look great), but Square Enix won’t be able to hear them. They’re too busy filling up a swimming pool with money.