The Dragon Quest series has had an odd relationship with western gamers. It's a bonafide cultural icon in its home country of Japan in a way few games have managed to become anywhere. I mean, as I type this review, I can hear the theme being played by a school band at the local elementary school, and that's hardly a rare occurrence. However, it's never quite taken in the west, and it's certainly not for lack of trying. Nintendo gave the first game a massive push, overhauling the graphics, interface, and save system, and featuring it prominently in their magazine Nintendo Power, only to be left with so many unsold cartridges they ended up giving them away with subscriptions. Enix of America quietly translated and released the other three NES games, then disappeared shortly into the 16-bit generation before they could release Dragon Quest 5 and 6. Enix of America then briefly reappeared in the PlayStation 1 era, translating the massive Dragon Quest 7. Unfortunately, that game was about as pretty as the south end of a northbound mule, and it released almost a year after the PlayStation 2 released, so it wasn't exactly a big hit.

Photo 2014-05-29, 13 18 24After Square and Enix merged, the company clearly decided they wanted to make a strong effort to establish Dragon Quest outside of Japan with the release of Dragon Quest 8. It helped that the Japanese version was already a gorgeous game, in sharp contrast to Dragon Quest 7. The publisher went the extra mile for the English release, adding excellent voice acting, extra animations, an overhauled menu system, and an orchestrated version of the soundtrack. This game was also the first release of the main series in Europe. Just for extra mustard, Square Enix packed in a demo disc for Final Fantasy XII. The game ended up a critical and commercial hit, and it finally seemed like Dragon Quest was overseas to stay. In the next few years, Square Enix would translate several spin-offs and remakes, releasing almost every game without fail.

Perhaps they went to the paint a bit too hard, though, since by the time Dragon Quest 5 DS released, sales had greatly tapered off. Square Enix took a step back from English releases, handed the car keys to Nintendo (who also seem to have cooled on localizations), and wouldn't handle Dragon Quest again themselves outside Japan until, well, today. It seems the series is getting another chance with the English release of the iOS version of Dragon Quest 8 [$19.99]. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be nearly as much gusto behind this game as there was last time, and the results might be a little underwhelming for English fans.

Let's talk about the game itself, first, though. While other RPG series had reduced their scope and backed away from world-spanning adventures across open environments due to the rise in costs of realizing such an ambition, Dragon Quest 8 represented the full, glorious 3D realization of the JRPG in its purest form. It has big towns and cities filled with NPCs who give you vague advice and don't care if you steal stuff out of their dresser and a huge, treasure-packed overworld map that's in scale with your character's dimensions. It has cool forms of transportation, dungeons with branching paths that lead to treasures for some reason. There are animated 3D battles with a menagerie of interesting creatures, epic boss fights, and a twisty story with lots of memorable vignettes. You can gamble in casinos, create a monster team to battle in a coliseum, hunt unique monsters, and craft a veritable arsenal of weapons and armor. You'll travel the seas, fly through the air, fight evil wizards and dragons, and save the world through the power of friendship and love. It's a wonderful, charming game that any fan of JRPGs will find something to love about.

Photo 2014-05-29, 13 18 29You play as the nameless hero, as he travels with his companions trying to lift the curse that has befallen his kingdom. As usual for a Dragon Quest game, on the way to reaching your goal, you'll end up mixed up in a whole bunch of other situations along the way. Some of these side-stories end happily, others not so much, but they're all quite interesting. One of the reasons why I love this series is its bittersweet nature. Sometimes you're too late to save the day, and all you can do is help people find closure. Sometimes, you can't even do that, and you're left to just reflect on what happened. A cursory glance at Square Enix's two main franchises would probably have you peg Dragon Quest as the more childish series, but there's actually a sort of maturity to the storytelling that you rarely see in games.

More unusual for the series, the party members in Dragon Quest 8 are quite fleshed-out and very memorable. The boisterous thief Yangus is the clear star of the show, and his constant feuding with King Trode is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny at times. Jessica's slightly spoiled yet kind-hearted personality and Angelo's pompous self-adoration round out the main cast nicely. Even the mute hero gets quite the backstory, though you have to go digging into the post-game to unveil it completely. There are lots of other memorable characters you'll meet along the way, including the awful Prince Charmles, the colorful (in more ways than one) Morrie, and the mysterious thief Red.

Dragon Quest is well-known for being a very orthodox JRPG series, and its battles reflect that more than anything else. The encounters are invisible and random, and the battles are the stereotypical turn-based affairs associated with the genre. The only new thing Dragon Quest 8 added was the tension meter, which allows you to use a character's turn to charge up for a powerful attack. Tension actually makes this one of the easier Dragon Quest games, but you still have to remember to use buffs and debuffs to your advantage if you want the sailing to be smooth. They're very important in this series, and people ignoring them is what tends to lead to the mistaken notion that you have to grind in these games to win.

Photo 2014-05-29, 13 18 35Unlike the preceding and following installments, there isn't a job class system in Dragon Quest 8. Instead, when you level up, you get points that you can put towards any of five different categories. When a certain number of points are put into each category, your character will learn a new skill or ability. If it's your first time playing, my advice is to pick one or two categories and lean into them hard. While I miss the great customization the class system offers, the skill system still offers quite a bit of flexibility while making for a more balanced experience. It's almost impossible to screw yourself over by developing your character the wrong way, since there really is no wrong way to develop.

All told, the game's main quest will take the average player 60-70 hours to finish, and the side content and post-game will easily drive that to the 90-100 hour mark. The pacing gets a bit spotty in the middle, but for the most part, you'll be so absorbed that you won't notice the hours go by. The main quest takes the form of a road trip that helps keep things moving, while the focus on smaller side-stories means you can take the game in digestible bites if that's your speed. If you step away and forget what you were doing, you can talk to your party members. They'll bring you up to speed and make some amusing comments, to boot.

As for the iOS port, it's not quite as good as you might hope. Since this is just a translated version of the Japanese release, the orchestrated music and voice acting found only in the western PS2 release are out. The orchestrated music, I can live without, since it was recorded at low quality and bloated the game's loading times, but losing the voice acting hurts. Reading Yangus say "Cor Blimey!" just isn't the same as hearing it, and some of the jokes have a lot less punch in text, like the gags around Prince Charmles' name. Tailored for the train-faring Japanese population the game is played in portrait mode, which is going to seem like an odd choice for some people. I actually like being able to play one-handed, but there's no doubt the lack of horizontal space cuts down on the feeling of grandness in some of the game's environments. The controls themselves take a little getting used to, but after an adjustment period, I didn't have any problems with them. It's certainly a unique interface, but it ends up working out fine.

Photo 2014-05-29, 13 18 19The game only supports hardware with A5 chipsets or higher, but realistically, you really should have an A6 if you want to play without problems. This is a heinously inefficient port, suffering from framerate issues even on an iPhone 5S, so playing it on a 4S and its contemporaries is basically asking for trouble. Loading times are on par with the PS2 release, but not as well-hidden due to the loading screens. Apart from framerate problems, technical issues were minimal on the 5S, but it's apparently crash-prone on A5 devices. Dragon Quest 8 is a beautiful game, don't get me wrong, but there's really no reason modern mobile hardware should be struggling with it at all. Oh, and just to settle any fears you might have, there's no online connection required and Square Enix hasn't messed with the game at all, so there are no IAPs, either.

Although the loss of the voice acting and slightly more cramped view make for a lesser experience than the PS2 original, this is still an absolutely incredible game, provided you have the hardware to run it. Up until now, Square Enix has been content to deliver ports of their NES and SNES games, along with the odd DS game. This, however, is one of the genre kings of the PS2 generation, and as such, it feels like a much bigger and more advanced experience than virtually anything else available on the App Store. This is one of those games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic [$9.99], where it feels absolutely amazing to be playing this on my mobile device. Sure, it's expensive, but if any game could justify a higher price tag, Dragon Quest 8 is it.

I acknowledge this is a very long review, so for those of you who gave up and skipped down to the bottom, here's the short version. Dragon Quest 8 on iOS isn't quite up to the original English PS2 game, thanks to a lack of voice acting and some technical issues, but it is a largely faithful version of one of the best RPGs of the last decade. It's a grand adventure that no JRPG fan should miss, as long as your device can run it. Here's hoping this return is a successful one.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Bliquid

    Played the PS2 version and left it with fond memories.
    I'd buy it, but i'm on a 4S and i don't want to mess those memories with technical issues.
    Great review, it told me exactly what i needed to know.
    If you are on a device that can handle it, buy it.
    It's worth the price and then some.
    This is THE Jrpg series, VIII being one of the most refined and accessible among all.
    Lucky who can play this without issues, i'll dust off my PS2.

  • worldcitizen1919

    Hmmm. Cramped view. No orchestra & voice acting.. For my Ipad its a toss up. A lot to discourage me. Is there any sound then at all? What about special effects?

    • Pepelutin

      It's not really important. I understand it would better with it, but it's really not the first thing i seek in a game. Story is way more important, and controls. I think i'll try this one.

    • basil

      Cannot play this game without it's glorious soundtrack

  • worldcitizen1919

    Thanks very much for the review Shaun. It was very, very helpful.

  • terrence92

    So it's a no-go for an iPhone5 ? :(

    • Shaun Musgrave

      It works, the framerate's just kind of iffy. 4S is where it gets really dicey.

      • terrence92

        Just got the game, I must say it suprised me in a good way. No problems with frame drops or anything :) just getting used to the camera.

    • bigE1669

      I downloaded it and I haven't had any problems on my iPhone 5s. Don't know why Shaun is having a problem..

      • Shaun Musgrave

        I'm used to a much higher framerate on DQ8, I guess. I think the game is still very playable, but it's noticeably less smooth in general, and certain areas drop to sub-20 FPS.

      • speedyph

        GREAT REVIEW SHAUN

    • Goggles789

      I'm playing it on my iPhone 5 and I have no problems with it. It's not perfect, the frame rate issues are slight, and it doesn't detract from the overall experience. Like it's not super laggy or anything. I'm also enjoying playing it with one hand. More games need to have a one handed interface. I love it.

  • Morgan01

    And they wonder why Dragon Quest doesn't take well? Sounds like they put just enough effort to do an IOS release. Are they trying to sabotage the possible success? They downgrade the port, putting minimal effort into it, then list it for a higher price than any of the ever popular FF games. I think they are just shooting themselves in the foot and trying to alienate possible fans. With the number of IOS users worldwide, you want to appeal and draw more clientele, not just draw on die-hard fans. And they wonder why they have had financial issues....

    • curtisrshideler

      Or they decided that the American release wouldn't make it under Apple's 2GB requirement for apps and decided to translate the well-received Japanese release that they had already put out. I'm playing FFIX on my iPhone now and just the first disc is 800mb! And that's not even with voice acting!

      • Morgan01

        Valid point. Although, the App Store caps game download sizes, can't a developer have larger through add-ons and patches after a game has been downloaded? It is done with IAPs all the time. Just saying...

  • defunct32

    $26 bucks over here, I'm contemplating this purchase... Also, I have an iPod touch 5th Gen, will it work?

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Seems like it'd be in the danger zone where it would run, but not well. Sorry def.

  • CooleTeeps

    So only 8 and 9 are available in the US?

    • Shaun Musgrave

      1-9 have all been released on one system or another now. Only DQ8 is available on the English App Store, however.

  • visualplayer

    So is this worth the purchase price or should I invest in a desktop version, if I'm encountering this for the first time and own a mac?

    • visualplayer

      PS I have an iPad Air so should be without framerate issues, right?

      • Shaun Musgrave

        Not without framerate issues, since there are some hiccups even on a 5S, but you'd be as well off as anyone, I think.

    • venturedandgained

      I'm not sure what you mean "invest in a desktop version" - I didn't think there was a desktop port of Dragon Quest VIII. Your only choices are iOS, Android, or PS2, right?

      • DenzilofDojima

        The only desktop version would be via an emulator like pcsx2. By far the best version if you have the hardware to run it at the vastly increased resolutions.

      • visualplayer

        Thanks. Had the miscon that there was a desktop port somewhere. This and the fact the game is complete and doesn't require internet makes it perfect for evenings on my upcoming camping trip....

  • bigE1669

    Everyone complaining about voice acting and music are probably the same people who would complain about the game being 4gb if it had in it. Also, the Japanese version never had either one. That was added for the western release which was like a "deluxe release."

  • Taeles

    Back in the 90s enix was required to give advance notice of dragon quest releases because so many people would call out on launch day

  • Inaba-kun

    The lack of landscape mode is simply inexcusable and kills of any interest I had in this. Square's iOS efforts have always had problems (the dire frame rate in FF6 remains unresolved), but this looks like it takes the cake.

    • curtneedsaride

      Funny. The portrait mode sold me on this one! I'm tired of havingto turn my phone sideways to play games. That's why I loved Knights of Pen & Paper and FF: ATB.

  • Boobi

    Hmm read the review well done, for this title I will hold on. My fondness for dragon quest series stem from the early titles. Who knows maybe I'll break and get it.

  • slammajamma28

    Thanks for that last paragraph!

  • Mj1ggy

    Great review thanks. I wouldn't have time to play this now but looks like one to keep in mind.

  • max1357913

    Does anyone know whether this works on an iPad two?

    • {SQUEEK}

      It says ipad 3 or higher in the app store.

      • Jak Constantine

        It works for Ipad 2. Says it's compatible for it.

  • {SQUEEK}

    Just got more money for this. Will download this after work. Between this and SWTOR im very happy to pay.

  • Kenneth Cummings

    I really want to play this, but I'm unfamiliar with mobile gaming. How do I find out what chipset I have?

    • Phantom Bruiser

      Take a size 008-Torx wrench and lifting tool, and separate the back of your device from the casing. On the upper right area, next to the heat sink, you'll see the letters "CXW-" followed by a six digit number. The last two digits are the chipset number. You're welcome!

      • Kenneth Cummings

        Thank you for your very thorough answer!

    • visualplayer

      I think you can also check via settings, in the about section. Less messy and warranty-voiding. ;)

      • Kenneth Cummings

        Also a helpful answer!

  • DenzilofDojima

    This doesn't read much like a 4.5 star review. Dragon Quest 8 is an awesome game, but this sounds like a lazy port. The VA and orchestral soundtrack are desirable but I can live without them. Poor performance on the latest devices is pretty disappointing. And the lack of a landscape mode is puzzling. I would gladly pay £20 to play a full (and well optimized) version of DQVIII on iOS (would it be too much to ask that they actually enhanced it over the PS2 original?) but I can't support SE on this effort.

    • Goggles789

      The port is far from lazy. Been enjoying it since it's release the other day. It's beautiful to play a real game on my iPhone at last.

  • Nekku

    I think it's okay to play it in portrait mode on the iPhone one-handed but on the iPad I would prefer landscape mode.
    Framerate drops on A7 devices are unforgivable imo. If the 5S already have probs then how would it be on the Air/MiniR which have to push 4x the amount of pixels oO
    Guess I will find it out by tomorrow. Never played it and 80 hours for the story alone seems like very much content for 20$.

  • zarteksolutions

    For anyone playing the Android version... did they omit achievements this go-around? I heard they did.. a shame. Does this version have the Cloud-Saving feature the Japanese version got?

  • coolwhip

    I enjoyed this DQ game on the console it was designed for long long ago but given what I've read about the many bad decisions made in creating this lazy iOS port I can't justify the purchase price. I'll follow the comments and hopefully after a few updates this game might be worth considering. The fact that it came out in the same week as the jaw-dropping Battleheart Legacy game doesn't help matters.

    • Goggles789

      Haha after you play it you'll see it's not lazy in the slightest. It's actually extremely well polished, especially with regards to the simple control scheme. More ios games should follow suit.

    • Darkenroll

      It's actually pretty polished from what I've seen, and not too choppy(so far) on a 4S. The touch controls are pretty well designed to allow one handed control. For a game originally made to be played with two hands I'm actually impressed that it works, although not as smoothly as the old system. Music seems fine to me, and I miss the voice acting most of all, but with the rewritten controls tutorial it seems unlikely it'll be added. Honestly get the ps2 version if you want dq8, it's the full experience. This is something to play while on a bus or waiting at the DMV.

  • youngjoon

    Shaun, how did you know I'd skip to the bottom? ;) I'll go back and give this a proper read soon, but thanks for the great reviews as always.

  • Jolierougex

    I believe Square-Enix did't understand iOs Gaming very well. Why should i pay 20$ for a 10 years old game full of tecnical issues? I really liked it, but i won't buy it this way.

    • Goggles789

      I've been playing the game so far for over 4 hours and have had no technical issues whatsoever. iPhone 5 and iPad mini.

    • Satan's Taint

      Translation: "I'm a cheap ass gamer, and will justify it by bashing, and saying stuff I have no idea about.

      • Jolierougex

        Sorry kiddo. Din't mean to hurt your cheap sensibility.

  • mgs2ss

    Anyone have any idea how the Android version is? Usually games are better optimized for iOS, but my HTC One is my main phone, so I have that with me all the time, so it would make more sense for me to buy it for that.

  • Goggles789

    After spending a lot of time with this port, I must say, it is truly excellent and extremely well thought out. Playing in portrait mode is genius. I usually get tired holding my phone in land scape, and a lot of games feel cumbersome to play on touch screen. This port is amazing because it gives you the ability to play with one hand and it feels great. On my iPhone 5, I barely have any frame rate issues and I've been playing upwards of 4-5 hours. I think the review over exaggerated the technical issues. Don't let that stop you from enjoying this rich and lush RPG.

  • Vedran Jevtovic

    Was just recently thinking about connecting my ps2 just to play this game again (and Shin Megami Tensei Noctourne thats also great! (: ). Now I don't have to!

  • George Schaffer

    I always love Dragon Warior never knew it was flop. Makes sense why I had to wait until the emu scene allowed custom transalation to play the SNES version. Picked this up right off the bet,foward to other releases.

  • Dillon1337

    Does this game have iCloud saving? Meaning I can start on iPhone and pick up my save state later on iPad? Thanks

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Yes, it does.

  • smiffee666

    well i'm about 15 hours in now, on ip5 and so far i'm not really having any frame rate issues, there are slight annoyances with the one handed controls v ps2 dual stick control, but i absolutely believe this is the best product SEnix have put out on ios yet, am seriously taking my time playing this one, oh and spot on review Shaun, your reviews are spot on and extremely informative, i was getting this no matter what but am so stoked that it's a true gem ><
    ~

  • bigred447uk

    20 hours clocked and enjoying every fine minute of it with no sign of any technical issues so far (5S and IPad Mini R).

    The controls are awesome on both devices. I know I'm going to pour many more hours into this. I know I will finish it whereas many other IOS 'classics' lie untouched or deleted after a few minutes or a couple of hours play.

    I can't say give me FFVII in portrait solely because of the video cutscenes. Or actually no. Give me FFVII in this portrait format, I don't mind turning my device 90 degrees for the cutscenes when the controls are this good.

    Controversial :D

  • Endscrypt

    Never had time to play this, the first time around and I'm really enjoying it, I'm playing it on my ipad mini at the moment with no problems at all, don't get why some are having probs it's faultless.

  • Xexist

    So question. If I buy this and choose a path of upgrades, if I decide I want to try a different path, can I reset my skill points or do I have to start a 80 hour game over from the beginning?

    • bigred447uk

      I don't know a lot about the game but I think there's no level cap so maybe you can level all the skill trees given enough play after you've completed the story?

  • Hawaii Jeff

    Having played this on PS2 in widescreen, I simply can't imagine playing this without the wonderful soundtrack & charming voices.

    • Morgan01

      Watched the gameplay video and it is definitely noticeable that the voice acting and music is playing....a little disappointing.

  • AppStoreNinja

    Forced portrait mode? No sale. Come back with a fix/update then maybe.

  • Lennnny9

    Are they any other vertical medium-to-big scale RPGs/other genre games tailored for the "Japanese train fairing population"? I stand during my hour long train rides to work every day and it's much easier to play vertically with one hand. The only one I can think of is Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney . Any help would be appreciated!

  • Morgan01

    After reading numerous forums and reviews, the consensus is that this is a lackluster port of the PS2 version.

  • Quickmix

    Bought :)

DRAGON QUEST VIII Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4.5