I played this game multiple times in its PlayStation 2 release, and curiosity got the better of me for the 3DS release. I hadn't played the game in nearly 10 years, and I had to know how it translated in its port. I'm really impressed -- a few corners had to be cut, but for the most part, it's the PS2 classic in handheld form. It looks and runs great. I found myself sucked right back into the game's world.
Dragon Quest VIII shines by giving you a wonderfully charismatic cast of characters (with voice acting that's pretty decent overall) without piling on too many faces. There's joyful music at every turn, and most enemies take a turn for the silly. Having a mascot resembling a small blob of goo with a cute face, Dragon Quest is a series that almost never takes itself seriously (except when the opportunity in the story arises.) The story is pretty linear and cut-and-dry, but this is one of those rare RPGs where I didn't mind the story taking a backseat. Everything else -- characters, gameplay in and out of battle, music -- carries the game much further than story alone. And in the wake of some more recent JRPGs, a bad (or otherwise overwrought) story can do more harm than good.
The 3DS version of the game adds a little content to entice people who've already played the PS2 version. Camera mode (complete with cheesy purikura stickers and effects,) a new dungeon I've yet to see, and two new playable characters. I've noticed some other quality of life improvements as well, namely, being able to quick save anywhere in the world (plus the always-useful suspending of 3DS games), the alchemy pot is easier to use now, and you've always got a map ready on the lower screen. I've gotten a surprising amount of mileage out of camera mode. There's a new NPC in the game that gives you challenges to take pictures of specific landmarks, plus the fun of simply creating a photo log of your journey. Final Fantasy XV recently did this a little better, but it's still a clever idea put to good use.
Negatives are pretty minor. The soundtrack is downgraded to a MIDI arrangement (apparently, from the original Japanese release of this game) and is mixed too high over the voice acting. Fortunately, this can be fixed in the settings (I set the music down to "2" out of "5") and the MIDI tracks sound plenty good. The voice acting quality is hit or miss. Certain areas of the game are a pain to slog through, now that monster encounters show up in the world -- namely, narrow hallways where it's difficult to get past enemies without fighting them. There's only a few areas like this, though.
Controlling the camera with the New 3DS C-nub is a pain, but this applies to any game that uses the awful C-nub. If you don't have a New 3DS (or just don't like using the C-nub,) you can still control the camera with L+R and the D-pad just fine. I mainly use L+R to rotate on the X-axis so I don't have to take my thumb off of the circle pad for movement.
Dragon Quest VIII is a great, great game (GGG.) One of my favorite JRPGs of all time (my personal favorites, in no particular order: Tales of Phantasia, Persona 3, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Dragon Quest V and VIII, Final Fantasy III, VII, and X.) Any JRPG fan should pick this up, even if you've already played it on PS2 -- you know it's worth revisiting! I went in with a little buyer's remorse, since I still own the PS2 version and a PS2 to play it on, but this game's worth it. Here's to hoping we get more Dragon Quest on the Nintendo systems in the future.