I consider Yuji Horii partially responsible for my upbringing. Not that I've ever met the man, or that my parents were lacking in any way. But from the time I got my hands on Dragon Warrior III (to avoid trademark infringement, the series was known as "Dragon Warrior" in North America through the seventh title) in second grade, I've been a votary of the series. How else was I to know what the word "troglodyte" meant when I was nine years old?
I bought Dragon Quest VIII when it was released in '05, but at the time was in school and working, so didn't plunge in until August of last year. Yesterday, I finally completed the epic, logging 110 hours. Contemplating that, I'm reminded of why spending entertainment dollars at the movie theater or the mall is not only less enjoyable (in my opinion) than gaming, it is also much more expensive.
I'm also struck by how completing the story has left me feeling bittersweet. The game's universe is attaching. It's created lots of memories and was a lot of fun.
What follows is something akin to a movie review (of the game, not a movie, of course--though the trailer is just below!) but with a focus on some individual elements of the story rather than the overarching theme. For while the characters comprising the story, and the allusions that are laced throughout, are quite 'sophisticated', the larger story is (charmingly, in my opinion) simple and traditional--an evil force has corrupted many souls in its effort to attain miserable world domination. An unassuming hero, with the aid of his friends, must travel that world in a valiant effort to thwart this evil and revert things to the happy state they were in prior to the Evil One's undertaking:
The Hero is chivalrous, stoic, abstentious, demuring, humble, courageous, indefatigable, strong--in other words, he is all the things many rpgamers are, er, at least aspire to be! This doesn't always get the babes in real life (though it tends to work in the games), but it does give you, as the Hero, a view from the top of the moral mountain. At least one character in the universe can reliably distinguish between good and evil!
In this way, DQ8 is a traditional RPG. The staple of the Good Hero is changing in part out of necessity for the MMO world, where players are pitted against one another and so cannot all be objectively good, and partly because of the progress that is allowing games to be more and more open-ended (although there will always be a significant market for structured stories), to the point that in choosing your own adventure you might in fact choose to go the Grand Theft Auto route instead of the more heroic one.
The DQ series has always favored grounding the Hero's greatness in auctoritas, influence gained through moral uprightness, fame, and glory in battle rather than through divine birthright. Yet it is usually revealed throughout the course of the story that the Hero is indeed the Chosen One. There is a Protestant pleasure in this--the Hero is not performing magnanimous and valiant acts to attain greatness, but it is natural for one as great as he to perform all of these things. The eighth installment doesn't sway from this.
Yangus is the game's most charming character. The voice overs are good throughout, but, just like political speeches, the rate of words per minute is low, probably below 100. This allows for full articulation and emphasis. Routine readers, however, are usually able to comfortably read 200 words per minute. Thus, it's tempting during less climactic cutscenes to force through the dialogue by reading it without letting it be audibly completed. Not for Yangus, though (he starts talking at about 1:50 in). I never moved on until he'd finished saying his piece in its entirety. I never tired of his Cockney in the least.
He's from Pickham, an obvious allusion to Peckham, a multicultural 'working class' area of southern central London. He's scrappy, honest, and not too bright. He's certainly not vicious, but he's not smart enough to come to philosophical conclusions or make sound decisions on his own.
He demonstrates the potential positives of a dogmatic belief system (religious or otherwise) in ways that those who believe everyone is capable of becoming little Socrates are blind to. When the Hero and Trode run into him, he's a wandering vagabond. His attempt to shakedown the wagon falters when the Hero outmaneuvers him, leaving him hanging from a broken bridge. Trode is happy to let him die, but the Hero rescues him. And so your votary is born. He has a new belief system--aid the Hero in whatever way he can. Encouraging him to think critically and skeptically about all that unfolds would lead him back down the path to perdition he was on before his propitious meeting with "the guv" (starting at about 3:45):
Jessica is molded with the innuendo that Hori's DQ team loves--suggestive humor, but rarely anything explicit. Personally, she is about as asexual as they come, never showing romantic interest in anyone. Yet references and allusions to her attractiveness are a recurring theme, from your uncle's "VAH-VAH-VOOM" remark to her special abilities, under the skill tree "Sex Appeal".
I've always been amused by the stats of female characters in RPGs. Occasionally, there is the she-male brute like Alena from DQ4 or Ayla from Chrono Trigger, but those are exceptions to the rule. Females are like males with different stats tilts. They usually have higher agility and greater magic capabilities at the expense of strength and endurance (the virtual world tends to treat agility and strength as though they belong on opposite ends of the athletic spectrum, when in reality the two attributes tend to go together), but their personalities are rarely feminine. I have not yet played any Final Fantasy titles past VI, but the only character coming to my mind is Rosa from FFIV.
I suppose they tend to be what feminists should want, but they're not made with Carol Gilligan in mind. They are the stuff of male players' dreams--a sexy female image of themselves, who likes the same things and has the same goals that they do. Feminine characters are rare because, well, epic journies to battle evil incarnate are typically better-suited for strong men, not delicate women.
Xena and Lara Croft just can't be taken seriously. Of course, there are ample male audiences for these women, but their performances gain through carnality what they lose in credulity. Plus, they're action-oriented enough that it can make for a good entertainment compromise when your trying to decide on what to watch with your own lady! Still, if I believe that I can cold cock the heroic protagonist in a matter of seconds, it's that much harder to suspend my disbelief and become enmeshed in the game's universe. Parenthetically, I'm no fan of the trend towards pre-pubescent, androgynous male characters that has apparently become standard fare in the FF series.
So the females have to be tomboyish and are given powerful magic abilities, since that can hardly be protested. In hand-to-hand combat, they're just not going to be able to cut it alongside male warriors. So they're casting spells. Magic proficiency isn't supposed to mesh with what you see in the real world, irrespective of who the caster is. It's magic, after all!
Yangus serves the Hero, the Hero serves Trode, Trode serves Medea, and Medea... well, Medea is a horse. So the telos for these folks are set. Angelo has the revenge of Francisco to pursue, and anyway he isn't materialistic nor is he enticed by power because he's repulsed by the responsibility that comes with it. S that leaves Jessica, with the void from her brother's death and the estrangement from her family, as the party member most susceptible to the lure of Rhapthorne's forbidden fruit--the sceptre, an all-powerful, all-corrupting One Ring (with a sharp edge for running people through).
Angelo is the game's most dynamic character. He's sort of a hedonistic, agnostic, Christian humanist. He doesn't take his religious or ceremonial roles at the abbey seriously (although his swordsmanship and bow proficiency are impressive enough for him to become a Templar knight). He's more interested in hustling the rubes at nearby Simpleton and chasing ladies than in carrying out the duties of his station.
Angelo marches to the beat of his own drum, but he's a good person. He goes to extraordinary lengths, outshining even the rising star, Marcello, to save Abbot Francisco. When things must be done, he rises to the occasion. The rest of the time, he wants to be carried around by his free spirit, as captured in one of his remarks prior to undertaking the Dragovian trials:
"If there's one thing I hate in this life, it's a trial. What kind of masochistic lunatic would come all the way up here to endure a gruelling, not to mention tedious, challenge?"
In contrast to Yangus, he illustrates the inhibitive rigidity of a dogmatic belief system imposed on high-IQ, existential types, the result of which is often resentment and rebellion by those who are being imposed upon. Not surprisingly, it is Angelo who spurs you to disrupt the wedding between Medea and Charmles, the political consequences of disrupting a marriage that ties two powerful kingdoms together be damned!
There are a few other characters worth remarking on. Marcello is a Hideyoshi-esque, peasant-to-king type of character with a zealous French Revolutionary hatred of the nobility. That, as the illegitimate son of one of his father's house servants, he was disowned by his aristocratic family imbues him with a desire to stick it to well-bred institutions--and their members--everywhere. He despises his half-brother Angelo, opens up the Templar ranks to the meanest elements of society, and promises to remake the Church into a populist institution, trampling all over its historical roles in the process. While he and Angelo are outwardly quite similar, the difference between what's in each of their hearts is enormous:
Red is an unscrupulous feminist. She strikes out on her own in Cap'n Crow's cave, using Yangus' obvious affection for her to beat the party to the treasure. But her charade is stopped when Crow's apparition beats her unconscious. At that point it's time for a real rumbler like Yangus to step in and get the job done! While Yangus might not appear to have all the qualities of a good mate, this is really a dad-cad relationship in reverse, with Yangus as the better half.
Rolo is sinfulness personified. He's power-hungry, corpulent, ornately adorned in jewelry, egotistical, and expectant of kickbacks from those he treats well from his position of authority as a High Priest in the Church hierarchy. He even has a 'cross' (to avoid being explicitly sacrilegious, the symbol looks more like the head of a trident than a traditional Christian cross) tatooed on his head, a la a scandalous clergyman named Baldwin, who was the first abbot of St Mary in Jerusalem after the Crusades began.
But then he undergoes a powerful transformation that evinces the complexity with which Japanese games embellish themselves in religious themes. It's generally assumed that the take on religiosity is uniformly negative, but Rolo frustrates that lazy assumption. After being thrown in an underground prison, known as Purgatory Island, by Marcello, Rolo genuinely repents. He then becomes a Christ-like figure, sacrificing himself so that the rest of the party can escape (video in two parts):
Medea shares her name with a Greek character who also caused some ruckus in getting the one she loved to marry her. Fortunately, with Medea we don't get a continuation of the similarity after that marriage takes place. Unlike Jessica, she is the classical maiden. Consequently, she doesn't fight, nor is she dynamic--until the end of the story, she is merely a melancholy backdrop reminding you of the damage Rhapthorne has done.
Trode is the most memorable character you do not control (a brief time at Tryan Gully excepted). He's a good monarch, consumed with the well-being of his kingdom and especially of his daughter, but shows little concern for anything else. With his true identity masked, his pretentious attitude is a perpetual source of humor and his interactions with Yangus are enough to make you laugh out loud while you're sitting alone in front of the tube.
But the characters with whom I've become intimate with are dead to me now, a fate all figments of fantasy inevitably suffer. This separation is more intense than those in the past, though (more so, I'm ashamed to say, than was breaking things off with some past girlfriends!). The ability to converse with the party after virtually every geographical change or narrative trip (in first person no less) develops the characters in a way that no other entertainment medium save for novels can, with the benefit of a first/second-person relationship instead of the standard third person perspective books and movies give you. They react to the same stuff you're thinking about, enhancing the sense that they are real beings sharing your trials and tribulations with you, in real time.
Of course, I can (and no doubt will) play the game again, but I'll already know how it ends. It'll be like watching a historical documentary the second time through, while the initial epic was like living in the time and at the place that the history was being made, with a hand in it.
The graphics are engrossing, the battle system retains the tried and true fundamentals that have made the series so successful but adds new elements like the tension function and ability trees, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the legendary Koichi Sugiyama, produces some timeless pieces, like the world map track, as well as bringing back some old masterpieces, like Ramia. After completing the Dragovian trials and obtaining the alternate ending, I yen for it to be just beginning once more. To shake that sadness, I wasted no time stepping into Final Fantasy IX. The best way to get over the death of a beloved dog is to get a new puppy, right? Actually though, the game isn't exactly six feet under. I expect a couple of years down the road I'll immerse myself in it again, hopefully forgetting as much about it as possible.
Given that the attachment to virtual worlds can be made so strong now, it's unsettling to think what the future holds. Throughout the course of the game (and I only played a four or five hours a week), I'd joke to friends that at some point I'd be sucked in for good, venturing out only to work and go to the grocery store. After all, I have a good five years worth of great RPG backlog, and at the current rate of production, I might not ever get ahead even if I tried.
Anyway, Dragon Quest is Japan's series. Japanese law stipulates that DQ titles may only be released on Sundays or holidays, following Dragon Quest III's debut on a Wednesday that lead to severe truancy problems with school kids and absenteeism from work across the country. Unlike the Final Fantasy series, DQ games have less of a Hollywood cultural feel and more of an ecclectic Japanese tint to them. So DQ games, while still Tolkienesque in their universes, feature more of a uniquely Japanese take on Western society than FF games do.
The DQ stories also tend to give prominence to religious themes and institutions. Nintendo of America begrudingly accepts this now, but throughout the nineties, games coming stateside had to be altered to remove these potentially offensive references. The church provided healing services and allowed you to save your game, but that was about it. By Dragon Warrior VII, that was all in the past, as the final battle pitted you against none other than God.
Japan's religious fabric is syncretic. Buddhism and native Shintoism are the biggest players, but Christianity (especially around Christmas) is also present, and cultural remnants of Neo-Confucianism, introduced from the Chinese mainland and emphasized by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early 17th Century, are part of the cultural ethos. While there are a host of belief systems, by American standards, none of them are taken seriously.
And there is no problem with borrowing things from cultures that never directly influenced Japan and having fun with them as well. So in DQ8 we can have the following scenario:
Yangus prepares to administer a Yggdrasil [Norse] leaf to Jessica before an undead samurai [Japanese] with as many arms as Vishnu dispatches her, while she returns the favor by using the Caduceus [Greek] to heal his wounds. Erstwhile, the Hero has launched a mercurial [Roman] thrust with his partisan [generic middle ages], falling a belial [Hebraic] before it can interrupt Angelo from firing a Cherub's [Judeo-Christian] arrow at an approaching dullahan [Irish].
Consequently, in Japan it is not controversial to depict God as superhuman yet neither omniscient nor omnipotent (both attributes that three major monotheistic religions grant Him). After you've defeated Rhapthorne, Lord of Darkness (the Devil), Empyrea ('God') remarks, "You humans never cease to amaze me." That's after you've become more powerful than, well, anything else in the world, supernatural or otherwise (including Her).
Throughout the game, the Church and the Templars (the Church's military branch) feature prominently. Religion is ascribed a sort of ritualistically prominent but unserious ceremonial role--a presentation that Marx would have approved of--in the eyes of the game's movers and shakers. This misses the mark in the relatively pious US, in Europe where religion is accorded even less respect, and in the Middle Ages when religion was deadly serious indeed. This gives a mukokuseki (nationless/raceless) flavoring (which is also apparent in the ethnicities represented, as discussed later) that Japanese entertainment is famous for.
It is not all cynical, however. The world is also filled with pious 'extras' (like movie extras, I'm referring to the townspeople and travellers who you are able to talk to but who are insignificant in the overall scheme of things) who pray diligently and make the pilgrimage to the Holy Isle of Neos (located in a hostile desert and protected by a Templar contingent, the Isle is a rough allusion to Jerusalem during the 11th and 12 Centuries). And there are clearly genuinely good religious leaders, like Abbot Francisco and the first Pope who is murdered by Marcello.
Other historical allusions to Christianity exist. Maella Abbey, a castle under the control of the Templars, is more of a representation of the Hospitallers once the Order had fled Rhodes and was granted Malta. The Abbey is an "order state" located near the town of Simpleton, but the 'indigenous' folk are not allowed to join the Templar knighthood, at least not until Marcello becomes the Templar's "Grand Master" and, in accordance with his anti-aristrocratic strain, encourages them to join. Similarly, the Hospitaller ranks were closed to the native Matlese population.
The choice of a sceptre as an object of great power has biblical roots. Psalm 2: 9 reads:
You [that is, God] will break them with an iron scepter. You will smash them to pieces like pottery.Indeed, the sceptre turns out to be an instrument of (the) God(dess), but not before it's powers have been abusively used for destruction of much that is good.
Like other games in the DQ series, the sharpest criticism from a pious Christian's perspective is the tendency towards humanism, often attained through the Hero overcoming the putatively omnipotent in battle. In IV, you must do what the heavenly king of Zenithia cannot, in defeating Necrosaro. In V, the Lord of Darkness must be vanquished, and again so in VI. In VII, the highest achievement is to overcome God Himself in direct combat.
The eighth installment follows that trend, but less 'sacrilegiously'. To confront the Lord of the Dragovians, you ascend a glimmering stairway to arrive on the heavenly dais. That's clearly an allusion to the "stairway to heaven" Jacob dreams about on his way to Haran, at the top of which stands God. The Lord of the Dragovians is clearly more powerful than Rhapthorne, just as God is more powerful than Satan, but Jacob wasn't about to go mano-a-mano with God (and come out on top, no less)!
The relationship between Marcello and Angelo looks a lot like Augustine's view of the proper relationship between Jews and Christians. Marcello, the elder of the half-brothers, is chosen to lead God's earthly organization. Instead of using that station for good, he, with Rhapthorne's power, destroys the Holy Shrine at Neos. After battling with the party, he is found by Angelo grasping to the side of a precipice above the deep crater from which Rhapthorne has just risen. Resigned to die, Angelo saves Marcello nonetheless. In so doing, he says, "No, I won't let you die. You will go on living, knowing that the brother you despised your whole life took pity on you."
Well, Angelo doesn't exactly inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but he does destroy the Devil and bring peace to the world, which is impressive enough in itself!
The relationship might also be seen as pulling from the Cain-Abel and Ishmael-Isaac relationships as told in the book of Genesis. In the former, Kain becomes so jealous of Abel that he kills his younger brother. In the latter, the half-brothers aren't recorded as interacting much with one another, but the parental situations are the same--Ishmael (like Marcello) is the first-born child of an 'aristocratic' man (Abraham) and his servant (Hagar), while Isaac is the 'legitimate' child born later to the man and his wife (Sarah). Tying back into the Augustinian remarks, it's interesting to note that Paul, in Galatians, sees Ishmael as symbolizing the older but rejected Judaism and Isaac as the newly-favored Christianity.
Speaking of Marcello, the one who is to become the spiritual leader of the Goddess' earthly Church, his corruption in harnessing the power of the sceptre housing Rhapthorne brings Martin Luther's writings to life: The Pope is indeed the antichrist!
I mentioned mukokuseki earlier with regard to where the fantastic elements are drawn. Well, it's really more of a tossed salad than the generic goop from a melting pot. Stuff is taken from a host of different mythical traditions. The same can be said about the 'demographics' of the DQ8 world. The vast majority of the characters hail from somewhere in the UK (it was localized for English audiences there), with the Queen's English and less well-bred British voices represented, in addition to more than a smattering of Scottish and Welsh accents.
There are a few exceptions to this, though. Orkutsk, which sounds Russian and can legitimately be argued to be inspired by a host of places throughout the Siberian region--my pick is Norilsk, one of the northernmost cities in the world, to the west of the unforgiving Putorana Plateau--is full of Russian-accented people. The Orkutsk region is inundated by a perennial snow and it's frigid--you remember the avalanche, don't you?--there's nowhere in Britain that comes close.
On Purgatory Island, the underground prison in the sea off the coast of the continent holding Savella Cathedral, the two brutish guards are clearly Aussies. Get it? You're "down under"! One of them even calls Rolo a "Galah"--a vocal, pink-crested cockatoo that is common in Australia and Tasmania.
Empycchu, near the portal to the dark world from whence Empyrea comes looks generically Amerindian enough that it's not a stretch to see it as a primitive village on the outskirts of Machu Picchu. To portray the most backwards people in the story--recall the priest who is a missionary trying to bring Truth to these superstitious villagers--as Peruvian-like might seem appropri--er, I mean, insulting, but then again Empyrea protects them, so maybe the joke's on everybody else!
Arcadia first brought Renaissance Italy, especially Venice, to my mind, with the presence of the artisan guilds and the fact that the town is built over water. But Dominico, who appears at first to be a descendant of one of the great sages, has a Greek accent and Arcadia is an actual prefecture along the Peloponnesian coast, so that's the better allusion. As Arcadia is the last stop before journeying into the Orkutsk region, the departure from 'British' lands serves to emphasize the point that you're heading into the rugged unknown.
Italy isn't left entirely out in the cold, though. Morrie of the Monster Arena, who constantly refers to the hero as ragazzo (which means "my boy") in Italian, has a very pronounced accent and wears goofy Renaissance attire.
Then there is Tryan Gully, the multicultural paradise where elves, humans, and monsters live in harmony. No one thought the place could exist, because presumably, just like in the real world, in the DQ8 universe such a society could not remain cohesive for long. All the denizens of the place indeed turn out to be friendly, but I had my hand on the hilt of my sword the entire time nonetheless. If things ever got ugly, it's clear that the humans and elves of the gully would be in dire trouble.
Finally, there are the Dragovians. The Japs of my Nintendo-laden childhood were pathetic. They were near the bottom in World Cup and produced the worst character in the Street Fighter series, E. Honda. But this unique race--which seems a blend of Chinese and Japanese--is the most powerful in the DQ8 universe (perhaps this is supposed to serve as social commentary, since Japan is one of the most homogenuous countries in the world). It had remained closed to the outside world until one of its women left, fell in love with the human prince of Argonia, and produced the Hero. The Hero's grandfather, Chui Mein (a Chinese name) who accompanies the party in the form of the adorable Munchie, has a Japanese accent. The Dragovian equipment won from the trials is stylistically Japanese as well.
As is usually the case with entertainment produced in Japan and destined for the US, some points of significance are missed and other things that might not be intended to be controversial become so. The games usually go through a "localization" process before being released outside of Japan to address these issues. This didn't happen in the usual way with DQ8--sound effects were edited and voice-actors were included with the North American release, but the story and gameplay remained identical. There is little reason to think it should have been otherwise, but a couple of things stand out as areas that in the past might have attracted some edits.
The story twice touches on the 'hot button' issue of abortion. When you reach Empyrea's eyrie in an attempt to save her egg from the gryphon Demon, his destruction of it is lamented by the Godbird as the death of her baby--not her fetus, her embryo, or her scrambled egg breakfast.
Xia, the Dragovian mother of the Hero, courageously decides not to terminate her pregnancy, even though the birth kills her. That baby ends up not only saving the Dragovian race, but destroying the Devil in combat. Talk about the argument of potentiality being used!
Abortion is technically illegal in Japan except under special circumstances (that appear to be pretty wide-ranging), and is illegal after 21 weeks of gestation, at the point when the fetus becomes viable outside of the womb. The official abortion rate in the US is almost 50% higher than in Japan, although apparently the Japanese number is believed by many to be much too low. It's not as contentious an issue as it is in the US (though nowhere is the issue as contentious as in the US, partly due to the fact the the US has the some of the most liberal laws on abortion in the world, surpassing even Western Europe). In any case, the story should make pro-lifers happy.
David, a descendant of one of the Great Sages who is the devoted, obsequious servant of Dominico, is supposed to be a sympathetic character. He eptomizes one of the five relationships Confucious considered crucial--that of a subject to his ruler. Even for me, a conservative Westerner, he comes across as pitiable and naive. That he tolerates such despicable treatment from Dominico indirectly leads to his murder by Leopold. Pledges be damned, man, stand up for yourself! Why die for one who'd just assume you be dead anyway?
Again, the blind devotion to a ruler rears in Ascantha. The king, who by all accounts is a warm-hearted and generally good man, has essentially shut down the country to mourn indefinitely for the loss of his beloved wife, the queen. That kind of self-indulgent pouting is hardly acceptable in a leader of the West today (though this may be changing). It's not until he is able to relive memories of his wife that he realizes she would be disappointed with him going on in such a way. Only then does he allow the kingdom a return to normalcy.
One other occasion along the same theme appears. After Marcello has thrown High Priest Rolo and the rest of the party into prison at Purgatory Island, Rolo is incredulous at the suggestion that Marcello might have axed the Pope. Even though Rolo epitomizes everything Zwingli, Calvin, and Luther blasted the Catholic Church for, he can't imagine anyone on the inside taking out the highest ranking person in the world. Needless to say, that sort of treachery isn't so unfathomable--or even always reprehensible--in the West.
Dragon Quest VIII is a wonderful experience. If you've stepped away from the RPG world of your early years, you won't be disappointed in coming back. It gave me a higher level of enjoyment than just about anything else I've undertaken ever has. Still, no commentary would be complete without a few complaints.
Beginning the names of so many of the castles and cities with the letter "A"--Ascantha, Arcadia, Argonia, Alexandria--makes it difficult to keep straight who's from where and how these places relate with other towns and especially with one another. That Ascantha is a fictional name, and that the localizers almost certainly thought Argonia was as well (it's actually the name of an obscure town with a population of around 500 people in the southern center of Kansas), helps somewhat, because Arcadia is a real place in Greece and Alexandria was the Hellenistic intellectual center of the world for several centuries and second only to Rome in its prominence during the Roman Empire.
The Japanese are fascinated with gambling. Religion does not have the prominence in the East that it does in the US, so the attention we might assign to following the guiding hand of Providence is replaced by an obsession with luck.
The consequence of this in the DQ world is the assured appearance of the casino, where rare and useful items can be purchased but only with tokens that are prohibitively expensive to buy and so must be won at the slots and card tables. I heard of tricks to bend the odds in your favor, but of course they included reseting the game when you hit a rough spot. That's not my cup of tea, so I skipped the casino entirely. Thus, I never acquired the falcon sword and had to settle for only one meteorite bracelet (though the timbrel of tension+acceleratle one-two punch at the beginning of battle was a fine substitute for the latter).
Along the same lines, the Monster Arena is frustrating in that randomness is its foundational element. I was able to beat all but Morrie's team on my own, at which point I had to consult an online walkthrough. After assembling the suggested team, I gave it three shots. And my team still fell through each time! I never actually experienced victory there. The fools were obsessed with hitting the metal babble, despite the fact that he is the most difficult to put out of commission and is far less threatening than the servant of darkness!
Of course, if as the player you were able to actually control your monsters, it'd be a cakewalk. But their staggeringly poor tactics set you up for lots of defeats. Spending fifteen minutes watching my powerful but idiotic threesome snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and coming out 1,000 gold pieces lighter, in addition to an elevated blood pressure, isn't particularly rewarding. Even when victories are had, there is little feeling of accomplishment, since it's more luck than anything done on your part that determines the outcome.
Ah, the pangs of DQ8 withdrawal are painful to bear. I cannot help but wonder how long it will be before I'm drawn into worlds like these forever. Opium destroys a man, but it sure would be a pleasurable destruction...