Dragon Quest VIII is the first in the series to go fully 3D and it’s impressive, even on a small iPhone screen. The storyline for this game is particularly fascinating and coherent: you’re travelling with a king and his daughter, who have been cursed and turned into a green troll and a horse (who conveniently pulls your cart for you). You have to walk, only the king travels in the cart, but later on you get sabretooth tigers to ride, and eventually the power of flight.
It can take a while to get your head around the 3D aspect, if you’re used to the older games. The iPhone may not be the optimal system for it (though it works pretty well) as there appear to be additional controls for console version of the game, such as in flight mode, which aren’t available in the iPhone version. But the 3D flight mode is spectacular: I first happened to take off at sunset which was beautiful.
As with all DQ games, it greatly helps to use a guide – I found this one excellent, although it’s for the 3DS and some of the features (eg having Red and Morrie as party members) aren’t available on the iOS version. A guide is particularly useful since this game includes crafting, many of the recipes for which are very obscure/secret. Being able to get better stuff earlier on is a huge help, particularly with DQ’s very frequent monster encounter rate. I also used a map to help find treasure chests (mini medals!) and a Monster Arena guide. It really is worth winning S-level at the Arena and if you follow this guide it’s an absolute breeze.
DQ VIII introduces a new Skills system which rather limits each character to 1-2 weapon specialities (if they weren’t limited enough already). Only the Hero can use boomerangs and only Jessica can use whips, and the best weapon you can get for most of the main game is a whip, from the Baccarat Casino.
Casino tip: Regarding the Casino: most guides suggest playing roulette, but it’s a chore on the iPhone as you have to manually increase bets coin-by-coin. My own tactic is to use the 100-token slot machine, and just keep saving as you nudge up bit by bit, reloading if you fall below your current threshold, hoping for big wins as you go. Eg if I had 5600 tokens, I would save if I reached 7000, and reload if I fell lower than 3000. It took probably 2-3 hours to get enough for the best whip and three best armours – I didn’t need four as the top Monster Arena prize was better.
I do have to note that I did find the portrayal of the character Jessica frustratingly sexist and sexed-up. She’s the only female character in your party, she’s depicted with huge, constantly heaving cleavage that wobbles as she moves (imagine Pamela Anderson wearing a tight-fitting Regency neckline) and her skill tree is “Sex Appeal” with “attacks” such as “Blow Kiss” “Hip Drop” and “Sexy Beam”.
This kind of shit is a perennial issue with JRPGs, constantly depicting female characters as wide-eyed knicker-flashing schoolgirls, and it’s disappointing that a major, successful series like Dragon Quest still feels the need to appeal to the lowest common denominator of male gamers.