So I was pretty late to the Dragon Quest party, first playing Dragon Quest IV on the DS in 2007, then going on to play V, VI, and IX on the DS. I had never played VII or VIII before, so I can't comment a whole lot on how they compare to the originals.
Dragon Quest VII is a good game - not a great one IMO - and is definitely not for a casual JRPG fan. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone wanting to jump into the Dragon Quest franchise. However, that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. My big problem with it is that it's way too damn long. I had always heard about how it's the longest game in the series and one of the longest JRPGs in general, and it didn't disappoint. My game clock came in around 80 hours, and that's without doing much grinding or any post-game content. The basic premise of the game is piecing together the present world by going back in time, city by city, continent by continent, and solving the problem each place has in the past to affect the present and bring back the entirety of the world. As a result, it became very formulaic and kind of a slog to get through. I didn't particularly enjoy the job system, as it almost forces you to grind away and level up each vocation in order to get the best skills. The music became repetitive as well, and the towns start to blend in after a while. Still, if you're a fan of the series I would still recommend it.
Dragon Quest VIII is isn't a good game - it's a masterpiece. Halfway through I felt the game was probably going to be one of my favorite JRPGs ever, and I can say now it sits right there with Persona 4, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger as the gold standards of JRPGs. It's essentially a simple revenge story, and not very complicated, but that allows the characters to shine through. What Dragon Quest as a series lacks in modern amenities, it makes up for it in charm and this game is no different. Each character is voice acted beautifully, and there's lots of humor added in. There's very little in the way of filler, which made it easier to keep my attention. The game did away with the job system and instead has five skills you dump points into, while you also gather skills from your character level as well. A little simpler perhaps, but I much prefer this to VII's system. Lastly, the music of the game is unbelievable. The 3DS doesn't have the symphonic music from the PS2, I assume due to space limitations, but every song is amazing. Many of them have different parts and layers that prevent them from getting stale, and I found myself humming them when I wasn't playing.
Each one also has quality of life improvements such as being able to see each enemy on the screen instead of random battles, the fast forward button for battles in VIII, streamlining in VII and a few others. Of the ones I've played, I'd probably rank them as follows: VIII, V, IV, VI, VII, and then IX. Dragon Quest has always been about tradition, and I think sticking to tradition has allowed it to surpass its other, flashier JRPG sibling Final Fantasy, which has transformed itself numerous times but is lacking the coherency of the Dragon Quest series.
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