Dragon Quest VIII

I was a long time holdout when it came to the Playstation 2 – I managed to not even buy one until after the Playstation 3 was on shelves! But eventually the PS2’s position as the greatest Console RPG platform since the Super Nintendo got to me and I could resist no more. There were many titles that I had seen or heard about on the PS2 that I just had to play so get one I did and the first title that I managed to get my grubby little hands onto was Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King.

I didn’t grow up with access to the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) so I wasn’t introduced to the Dragon Quest (aka Dragon Warrior) series until later in life when I played the released titles on the Game Boy Color. So Dragon Quest VIII was the first “new” DQ game that I got a chance to play (Dragon Quest IVVI were not released in North America and Dragon Quest VII is relatively rare.) I was drawn to DQ8 as my starting point on my Playstation 2 odyssey for several reasons.

The Dragon Quest series has long been one of the most popular in Japan where the genre has its home. The genre isn’t known as jRPG for nothing. And even here in the United States DQ8 has received some of the highest accolades for any game on the PS2. The reviews mostly echo the same sentiments: Dragon Quest VIII is the best traditional jRPG ever made – from gameplay to story to graphics to soundtrack to scale this game is well balanced, fun, paced and just “right”. With reviews like this you just have to try it out for yourself. So I did.

Dragon Quest VII and VIII are the first two “stand alone” titles in the Dragon Quest series. The first six games were grouped into two trilogies (Dragon Quest I-III and IV-VI) but these later games do not depend on earlier games in any way which is important because Dragon Quest VII was the only game of the series available on the Playstation and Dragon Quest VIII would appear to be the only one that will ever be available on the Playstation 2. The upcoming Dragon Quest IX is slated to only be released on the Nintendo DS.

Dragon Quest VIII supports old-school “standard definition” televisions but also has a widescreen setting so that it doesn’t look awful on modern monitors. It doesn’t support any advanced resolution settings though but the PS2 only has so much power so we take what we can get. DQ8 goes for the “cell shaded” style of graphics which I really enjoy. Cell shading provides the “living in the cartoon universe” feel that you just can’t get from other techniques. These graphics help to make the game even more engaging because they feel more “authentic” because of their similarity to hand shaded cell animation.

The story of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King begins outside the small rural village of Faebury where you, the Hero, are introduced (in the game) to your traveling companions. The game’s backstory involves a beautiful faery tale castle which is attacked by an evil jester who uses magic to curse the castle and to turn everyone living in it into a plant. The king and the princess manage to avoid the same fate as their subject but are turned into a little green monster (King Trode) and a pure white horse (Princess Medea.) The only subject of the entire kingdom who has avoided the curse entirely is you – a low ranking and young castle guard – but no one can explain why you were spared. Now you alone must track down this evil jester and reverse the curse laid upon your sovereign.

Everything that I had heard about Dragon Quest VIII was totally true – this very well may be the greatest jRPG ever made. There isn’t anything particularly ground breaking in this installment of the classic genre but what it does is it gets everything right. All of the pieces come together for a perfectly balanced game that is just a lot of fun to play and there aren’t any glaring weak spots. Traditionally a game will have lots of good parts and then some parts that are incredibly weak and ruin it for you. But definitely not in DQ8. This game is rock solid from beginning to end.

The game is long too. You can easily rack up ninety hours or more in this involved game world. I really appreciate the games open-ended feeling. You can run around and explore to your heart’s content once you are into the game. The landscape is designed to force you onto certain general paths without making the game feel overly linear but this drops away, for the most part, and eventually you can wander at will over the landscape. The world is big with lots of interesting places to explore and many characters to interact with.

One thing that I really appreciate about the Dragon Quest series is how child friendly it is. Instead of killing lots of monsters you simply “defeat” them and convince them that you aren’t worth attacking anymore. Even the “boss” battles always clearly end with the “boss” being defeated but definitely not dead. Normally a significant victory triggers a conversation with the defeated enemy. This makes for a lighter, happier style of gameplay. There are some dark sections of the game and a few characters will die in movie sequences but not by your hand and the deaths are important parts of the plot and lend drama. While jRPGs have a tendency to be very child friendly in general this title is moreso than the average jRPG.

I also appreciated that DQ8 tends to avoid “stumper” moments – those times in the game when you just have no idea what to do next. Instead there is almost always something useful that you can do to advance the story and move on to the next thing. And losing a big battle and having your entire adventuring party “expire” is not the most dramatic setback ever but is handled in a reasonable and balanced manner that keeps the game from becoming overly frustrating when things get tough. Casual gamers and younger gamers will appreciate these aspects more than the hardcore jRPG set but the overall feel of the game is light and fun. It draws you in and tells you a story. You want to complete the game because you want to uncover more and more about the characters.

One interesting aspect of the game that players can choose to explore or to ignore is the idea of the “alchemy pot.” A short way into the game King Trode introduces this item to the Hero and explains that by mixing different ingredients gathered during the course of the game together in the alchemy pot it is possible to create new items. This adds a level of complexity to the game that can be used casually, focused on heavily or ignored completely adding to the non-linear feel of the game. Throughout the game the player can discover recipes and half-recipes and suggestions for making new items using an alchemy pot. It is a fun twist making the game a little more unique.

The music in DQ8 is phenomenal although any music played over the course of one hundred hours will become monotonous. The soundtrack lends an air of sweeping epic and pastoral comedy. The overarching feel of the environment will almost make you feel like you have stepped into a Studio Ghibli animation like <em>Kiki’s Delivery Service</em>.

One interesting twist that DQ8 provides is a double ending feature.  You can first complete the game having skipped a large portion that includes a significant amount of backstory and does not tie up many of the “loose ends” of the game.  Once you have completed the game in this way you are able to go back and play more – about twelve hours more – to reach the true ending of the game.  This extended portion of the game includes the toughest villains and the most “filling in” of missing plot items.  In order to reach the very end of the game I put in approximately one hundred and twenty hours.

In the end Dragon Quest VIII is nearly flawless and must rank as a cornerstone of the jRPG / Console RPG genre. DQ8 clearly has earned its place on any “must play” list. It has my hardiest recommendation.

July 5, 2007: DQ and Snuggly Bostons

Dominica got to sleep in an extra hour this morning. She is only working a half day today. It just worked out perfectly that she has a morning interview on the day following a holiday so she gets the morning pretty much off. The real issues began when…

Dominica went into the bathroom and discovered that there is NO water. Eventually we figured out that some faucets are working and some are not. Our shower is totally and completely off. Not one drip is coming out of it. We have ice cold water available in the bathroom sink and the kitchen sink but not a drop of warm at all and the cold water is brown. Eww. So this poses a problem for Dominica trying to get to an interview this morning.

Dominica went down and discovered that the showers in the health club are working so she took a shower down there. Thank the Lord that those are working. She would have been in a total panic this morning otherwise. I had already instructed her to just walk over to the Robert Treat and to get a room if we didn’t have an immediate solution here. You can’t risk an interview because the building doesn’t have water.

It turns out that there was probably a lightning strike or something similar during the recent rash of electric storms that caused the electrical problems in the building that then lead to the water issues. They have been working on it continuously for the past two days.

Today was insanely slow at work – almost as if it was still a holiday. Oreo was very excited to have me home and he spent most of the day curled up with me on the loveseat as I played Dragon Quest VIII. It was a very relaxing day. I really appreciated the time with the dog to just relax. I did do some work but it was very light.

I went over to Food for Life with Abdul for lunch. Today is the last day that FFL is open for a week as the students all fly back to Kansas City, Kansas for their “mid-year” evaluations. So I definitely wanted to get a chance to eat there today.

Dominica got home and finished watching <em>Veronica Mars</em> Season One. She heard back from her professor today and Min is now done with her classes for this semester. There is nothing more that she has to wait on although she may do a little more “class discussion” stuff tomorrow night just to be thorough. She is very much relieved to finally be done with it. This was a tough class and really made her work. Although it should have as Systems Analysis and Design is often an IT capstone course and at ESC it is a two course sequence.

I am almost done playing DQ8. So far I have racked up one hundred and three hours on the game clock! That is a lot of time for me to have spent on a single game. I used to be really bad about dedicating enough time to a single video game to actually be able to complete it but at some point during my adult life that changed and now I appear to be much better at it. Now it is much easier to see the value that I get out of a game like this. It was only $20 and I bought it new too. Video games are really a much better entertainment dollar value than movies are.

Weight Lost So Far: 24.5 lbs

July 4, 2007: A Dry Fourth

By dry I don’t mean alcohol free (it was that too) but water free.  Dominica and I woke up this morning and discovered that we had no water.  None.  Nada.  Thank goodness today is a holiday and neither of us are scheduled to be anywhere all day today.

I got up and went down to the front desk to make sure that they were aware that we had no water.  1180 Raymond Blvd. is pretty good about knowing that there are issues but if you don’t let people know things and they never get fixed you really have no one to blame but yourself.  So I went down to find out the skinny on the situation.  It turns out that there was a pump issue that caused a bunch of safeties to go so the water system has shut down.  This explains the degraded water performance last night and the resulting outage this morning.

I walked over to Subway, the one on Broad Street that is right next door to us, to get some breakfast.  I was the only person there.  Newark, apparently, really shuts down on the Fourth of July.  Even Dunkin Donuts was closed according to my neighbour who went out searching for food.  McDonald’s and Subway were the only local restaurants reported to be open this morning.  Fortunately Subway has the egg and cheese subs which are quite delicious.

My goal for today is to play lots and lots of Dragon Quest VIII.  Dominica has a bit of homework left to do so she is working on that today.  Her class ends on Friday so today is her last chance to get everything done.  Unfortunately she discovered today that one portion of her class is unavailable to her today because it only unlocks once other people have submitted their work so that they can collaborate.  This is an important part of the class.  But, as of tonight, Dominica is the only person to have worked on the final section of the class leaving her with only two worknights left until the course is over with no way to complete her work.  Of course, this means that no one else is even close to completing their work but they can complete at any moment as her work has unlocked that section for them.  So it is actually easier for other people to finish the class than it is for Dominica because she did the work and attempted to complete the class first!  Now she has to squeeze in time to watch for other people’s submittals to see if she has any chance of completing at all.  Online classes, supposedly designed to allow for schedule flexibility for working professionals, with ridiculous time scenarios like this cause real problems.  If she worked an evening job there is every possibility that the class would wrap up while she was working her final shift and even though she was the first to “complete” she could be left as the only person not having submitted all of the work.

Our water came back on this morning but the hot water has iron or something in it and it is really disgusting.  We were supposed to run the water for fifteen or twenty minutes to get the sediment out and then it was supposed to be okay.  No such luck.  Whatever got into the tank really got into the tank.  We ended up running the water in the bath all day – that is about twelve hours!  And after all that time the water never cleared up.  It got better but it never got clear.  Nor did it ever get warm.  By late evening it was tepid but never warm.  So no one in 1180 got to take showers last night or today.  Ewww.

Min finished her homework and then finished watching the first season of <em>Veronica Mars</em>.  Oreo slept all day like he has never slept before.  He was totally exhausted.  There was a birthday party at daycare yesterday and he got so worked up that he had to be put in time out.  He gets so excited about these parties that he just loses control. Today he migrated back and forth between the futon where he could watch Dominica working and the loveseat where he was snuggling with me.  It was a good day for little dogs.

For dinner we ate leftover Chinese food (General Tso’s Bean Curd) that we had ordered in last night.  Boy is that stuff good.

July 3, 2007: Can’t Talk Today

A nurse serving aboard an air-ambulance was partially sucked out of a window when the window blew out at 20,000 feet!

Hetty Green was born on this date, 1834. Hetty was known as the “Witch of Wall Street” and is famous for being one of the cheapest people to ever walk this earth while being one of the richest. So enamored of her money she refused to pay for her son’s broken leg and chose that it be amputated rather than to have it be seen by a doctor unless it was free.

I got up at seven and fed Oreo and got him ready to get off to school so that he can play with the other dogs. We are pretty sure that with Dominica’s contract wrapping up in a month (to the day) that Oreo will not be able to continue going to Doggie Paradise that he loves so much and we will have to find him another daycare provider as it is extremely unlikely for Min to find work in the area near where she works now.

My bronchitis doesn’t feel too bad today but my voice is totally gone. I had to do a conference call this morning at nine thirty and it was the first time that I had attempted talking all morning. It was quite funny. I was just barely audible on the phone.

I was pretty much under the weather today. I think that that sums it up pretty well. I can’t tell if they cut off the air conditioning in the office today or if I am just running a fever now or something.

I was reading about Bahrain today on Wikipedia and found it to be pretty funny that they compare its size as being slightly larger than the Isle of Man but slightly smaller than the nearby King Fahd International Airport.

I ended up getting stuck at work quite late tonight. Not the best day for that. Although I seem to be getting healthier as the day goes on I am very tired and would like to get started on my holiday. Tonight is supposed to be a night to relax.

I got home and we discovered that we have pretty much no water tonight.  Something is wrong but we are able to flush and brush our teeth so the world isn’t coming to an end.  Just one more issue at 1180 Raymond.  Thing go wrong so often here that you really don’t stop and think about it so much anymore.  Never before have I lived in an apartment where there are “day to day” disasters, changes and problems.  Normally you can go for months without having any need to interact with the management other than paying rent.  Sure things break but normally it is a long time in between things.  Here, building issues are a daily occurrence and everything requires the residents to manage the process very thoroughly.   Things are never “dealt with” automatically like they should be in a luxury apartment.

Dominica spent the evening watching <em>Veronica Mars</em> and I played some Dragon Quest VIII and went to bed early.  Tomorrow we both have the day off and are really looking forward to having a chance to really relax a little bit.

Weight Lost So Far: 26.5 lbs

Proposed Change to the English Language: Godly

It has recently occurred to me that the “correct” spelling of the word godly is not capitalized – ever.  There are a few different meanings of this word.  The first is “to be like a deity, of or pertaining to a god” and the second is “like unto God.”  The only real differentiation between these two meanings is in the capitalization of the definition and yet we have only one capitalization for the word godly itself and the implication of that spelling is towards the lesser used meaning of the word.

I propose that this is a flaw in the usage of the English language.  Thankfully our language is one that is flexible and malleable enough to be able to take on new meanings, allow for greater expression over time and to adapt as the need arises.  Throughout time English has arisen as a primary means for global communication because of these benefits where many “older” more rigid languages have fallen into disuse or have stagnated as overarching control of the language has kept them from adequately adapting to greater range of expression necessary in today’s highly advanced societal structure.

My proposition is that two words be formed: godly and Godly.  The uncapitalized form of the word will continue on to mean “of or like a deity, etc.” while the capitalized form can be used in any reference to the monotheistic form of the word.  This keeps literature from being unnecessarily ambiguous.  Take the following sentence as the dictionary would have us write today:

Lauren, being a godly woman, ran to work quickly.

Currently this sentence could mean that she was a good, Christian woman who fears God and follows in his commandments and loves her fellow man, etc.  It could be that the author simply wants to inform us that she is a “believer” who is faithful.  It is a statement about her character and her faith.  Her travel to the office could be incidental.

However, the same sentence could mean that she is actually a minor deity or, perhaps, a superhero (an actual example used in a dictionary entry that I checked.)  So maybe the implication is that she ran several miles in under a minute to work or that she tossed cars out of her way as she went.  Or maybe her job is dressing in spandex and using her super-stretchy arms to stop would-be jewel thieves.

Instead we can solve this issue by simply have these two different versions available to us when needed:

 Lauren, being a Godly woman, ran to work quickly.  (Religious meaning.)

Lauren, being a godly woman, ran to work quickly.  (Referring to superhuman x-ray vision.)

The point is, the word is pointlessly ambiguous.  But now I have pointed out the flaw, stated the need and shown how to use the word correctly.  Now we can move on.  Encourage your friends to use the new word.  Use it yourself.  With a simple, grassroots movement we can quickly correct this oversight in the language.