That Time Dragon Quest VIII Brought Video Games Back To My Life

While I often give a sickening amount of love to The Legend of Zelda as my favorite game series and, more recently, gush about my love of Mass Effect despite the roleplaying portion of it having gone away, there is another series that only recently found its way into my heart. You see, a few years ago, I mostly had stopped playing games. During the previous generation of consoles, I owned a PS2 for the occasional romp of Gran Turismo, an Xbox for Panzer Dragoon Orta, and a Gamecube for Zelda (pimped out with a set of component cables, Gameboy Player, and broadband adapter for my 2 week PSO bender). While I didn’t have anything in particular against gaming, I had gotten deep into a few other things that occupied my time, so gaming seemed to have fallen by the wayside. I had pondered mostly giving the hobby up. That is until Christmas of 2005 rolled around.

A couple of the guys I worked with and I had a tradition of buying each other something for Christmas. Working graveyard together for a few years, we had a fairly tight bond with one another. We hung out on our nights off, covered one another’s bar tabs, and even covered one another’s asses when needed. I don’t recall what I gave out to Chris and Aaron that year, but I recall very vividly what Aaron decided to get me: Dragon Quest VIII.

I was a little shocked at this. The game had just come out, so it was a bit pricey still. Also, I hadn’t played a Dragon Quest/Warrior game since I was in my early teens, trying to get through Dragon Quest IV on my NES to no avail. Why the holy hell had he decided this was a good idea for me? I think he saw my shock and confusion on my face and went on to say to just trust him on it and give it a fair try. I went home and checked out info on it online. Some strong reviews and all the extra work that went into it for the US release had me mildly impressed. Then I saw the game length: over 80 hours. How in the hell is a game going to keep my interested for that long? Even my longest play of Final Fantasy VI was about 70 hours.

With some hesitation I decided to start it. I had just bought my first HDTV at the time and was quite impressed with the visuals. It was a graphical style I hadn’t seen outside of Jet Grind Radio and Wind Waker (yes, I realize cel shading had become fairly popular at that point, but let’s remember I wasn’t playing very much) and it really struck a chord with me. After playing it for a couple of hours that day, I went about my business and didn’t pick it up again for a week.

The holiday rush over, I decided to take some vacation. I thought I could play Dragon Quest VIII a bit while I tweaked my car over my week away from the grind. Little did I expect what this week would lead towards. As the disc spun away in my PS2, I saw the first day of vacation ending without me having left the front of my TV. “No big deal, I’ll just make up the time tomorrow tweaking my suspension on my Eight Six tomorrow.” I awoke that morning and looked over at my PS2 as I got changed into my “car clothes” and thought I’d finish up the quest I was on so I didn’t forget what I was doing if I didn’t touch it again during the rest of my vacation. The next thing I know, the sun was going down. Somehow I had lost nearly 8 hours of my day playing this.

I wasn’t really sure what was happening. I couldn’t stop myself from playing the game. Each time I went to save to stop, I noticed one character would be close to leveling up. I would get them to the next level and then find a nifty piece of equipment I couldn’t afford. Back out of town I would go to go grind for money. This cycle looped for hours until my need for food overwhelmed my desire to play. I couldn’t keep doing this. I had a lot of things I wanted to finish on my car. I took the Eight Six out and went out to Best Buy to go look around. As my wandering ended, I looked over in the video game section and noticed something I didn’t know existed up until that point: the Dragon Quest VIII strategy guide. The guide was insanely meaty. While not very comprehensive, it had the alchemy recipes in it, so I purchased it. On my way out of the store, I remembered that Dragon Quest VIII had support for progressive scan, so I dropped the guide off in my car and went back in for a set of component cables for my PS2. Arriving home, I opened up a beer and figured I was in for the night, so why not take out my cables and see how much difference they made. This was the end of it all.

The game was simply beautiful. I couldn’t believe the world of difference it made. From the beautiful scenery to Jessica’s bouncing bosom, everything was better in progressive scan.

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As my week drew to a close, I had sunk in over 70 hours into Dragon Quest VIII and had not done a thing with my car aside from drive it to what ended up being a trip for the game’s guide and component cables to Best Buy. A few more weeks would pass by and I would finally complete Dragon Quest VIII with the total game clock hitting 147 hours.

With it complete, my desire to play something else was nearly insatiable. I found myself going into a Gamestop for the first time in a long time for anything outside of anime (don’t judge me, I’m not the only one who went through an “anime is so deep” phase).  I ended up picking up Shadow of the Colossus on that trip on a whim. Shadow of the Colossus would ultimately end up being one of my favorite games ever, despite it nearly taking the PS2’s innards to a nuclear meltdown with how hard it pushed the hardware and causing the framerate to drop to the single digit levels.

What are the odds that two fluke purchases for me would end up rekindling a love affair with a hobby I thought I had outgrown? Apparently, pretty good. I don’t often give Dragon Quest VIII the love and credit I should. This game single-handedly sparked something inside of me that had been dormant. Within a few weeks of finishing Shadow of the Colossus, I had applied at the very Gamestop I had purchased it from and went on to work for that company for nearly three years. I made some great friends and my gaming experience and knowledge expanded by an insane amount.

Is Dragon Quest VIII a game that would make my top ten favorite games list, even after reflecting on it in this piece? No, sadly it isn’t. Do I think it might be the game that influenced my passion for video games more than any other that doesn’t have the word “Zelda” in its title? Absolutely. I owe Dragon Quest VIII a great many thanks. Without it, I wouldn’t have many of the friends I have and the passion for games that it brought out in me once again.

So yes, Dragon Quest, my game has been saved. Would I like to continue playing? Yes, why yes I would.

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