I've been playing Dragon Quest VIII on and off for about two years now, picking it up most recently this past weekend. It didn't take long to remind me why I stopped the last time.
I had never played a Dragon Quest title before, as my impression of them had been mostly negative based on things I'd heard. Even seven installments in, the simple mechanics and grind-heavy structure had apparently remained almost entirely unaltered. With Final Fantasy constantly reinventing itself, and games like the Star Ocean and Tales franchises managing to implement more progressive gameplay on top of traditional storylines, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to go back to the most primitive JRPG around.
With Dragon Quest VIII being the first installment from then recently-formed powerhouse Square-Enix, however, it looked like the series was headed in a new direction. The visuals were stunning--Akira Toriyama's distinctive artwork had never been so perfectly realized in 3D. And the archaic gameplay looked to be streamlined, no longer requiring selecting from a menu just to talk or use stairs. Most significantly, the globally-minded Square-Enix was really pushing the U.S. release, even implementing several improvements just for the English version, making me think that maybe they had more than just hardcore Japanese fans in mind.
My initial impressions were mixed, but leaning toward positive. The mechanics were still extremely primitive, with most of the many random encounters settled with just the "Fight" command, but I was able to overlook that as long as I was winning. The real highlight came in the storytelling. There was a genuine sense of adventure, with the party constantly heading to new destinations and meeting colorful characters as they explored the truly vast overworld, all without ever losing sight of the main objective that drove the journey in the first place. It made me better appreciate the extent of Yuuji Horii's contribution to Chrono Trigger, which, without him and Toriyama, might as well have been a Final Fantasy game.
The crucial turning point in my experience came when I reached a particular climactic boss fight. After several failed attempts, I eventually won by the very slimmest of margins. I was down to my last character, with no means of healing, facing an enemy who got several turns per round and could have slain me with any one of its many attacks. Having no idea how close I was, I input what I knew would be my last "Fight" command and was shocked when the enemy fell defeated. This all would have made for quite a thrilling story, if indeed that had been the final boss, as I had believed. To my shock and horror, not only was the game not over, but, on further research, I found that I was only about halfway through.
Since then, the situation has become desperate. I barely made it through another boss fight, and, upon checking the in-game progress report, I was explicitly told that I was at too low a level for that point in the story. I simply don't have the energy to grind for the hours that it takes to level up in this game, so my options are limited. During the last session, I decided to consult some guides for help on the item synthesis, a feature I've pretty much hated in every game that's had it. After some headache-inducing hours spent just trying to itemize my extremely limited budget for all the purchases I would need to make to even begin synthesizing, I had to take a break. I do hate to leave things unfinished, so I still intend to beat the game, but, the more I play, the less realistic that seems.