I have to admit I have never been a great fan of role playing games. It's not that I think they are repetitive or tedious, it's not that I don't understand the somewhat overly complicated twists of some plots, but I just cannot get to grips with the battle systems. For example I have tried a few of the Final Fantasy series, beautiful environments, stunning graphics and absorbing storyline and it all starts off so well, I find that I get absorbed in the plot, I win a few battles and manage to last as long as it takes to upgrade my weapons from a wooden club to blunt sword, I even get to enlist the help of one or two recruits along the way, but then before I know it, I'm fighting my first big boss, only to find I have upgraded the wrong weapon, don't have enough health potions and haven't boosted my magic enough to defeat the enemy and I'm dead, over and over and over again!!! I don't understand that certain elements i.e. wind, earth, water or whatever counteract other elements, that only certain potions work against certain enemies or that I needed to be member of MENSA to play the game in the first place.

However with Dragon Quest VIII - Journey of the Cursed King I seem to have found an RPG that is relatively simple to play and having played for some 37 hours so far (not in one go I hasten to add - I do have a life!!) I find I am thoroughly enjoying playing to boot.

King Trode and his beautiful daughter Medea used to live blissfully in a castle called Trodius. Hidden in the castle was a powerful sceptre protected by a magic circle, the presence of the sceptre not only protected the castle but also all of its inhabitants from evil. One day a sinister jester like character called Dhoulmagus appeared and, as he proceeded to steal the sceptre from the castle, he turned the sceptre on King Trode and Medea who were attempting to stop him. Although Trodius was turned into a green monster like creature and Medea became a horse they both managed to survive, but as Dhoulmagus disappeared taking the sceptre with him the whole of Trodia was cast under a spell. The castle was encased in vines and thorns and all of the residents were turned into living statues unable to communicate or move. Mysteriously however the only person who was totally unharmed by the curse is a young castle guard, Hero (you).

Your journey starts in a field just outside the village of Farebury, you play the Hero of the tale (which you get to name) and you are accompanying King Trode and his daughter Medea. Medea having been turned into a horse is pulling her father around in a cart...!! Also accompanying the group is an ex thief by the name of Yangus. It appears that Hero, Trode and Medea were crossing a bridge one day when Yangus jumped out and demanded all of their money. However Yangus being more brawn than brains and exceptionally clumsy ended up loosing his footing and hanging off the bridge by a rope and clinging on for dear life. Trode was furious at the prospect of being robbed and was happy to leave the thief hanging there to fend for himself, Hero however pulled Yangus up to safety thereby saving his life. From that point on Yangus pledged to follow Hero and stand by him throughout his quest, it also explains the animosity that is shown between Trode and Yangus.

The party have camped in the field on their way to Farebury as Trodus believes that an old friend of his named Master Rylus who lives there may be able to tell them where they can find Dhoumagus. However Medea has roamed off and the rest of the party are searching for her when they are suddenly ambushed by three slimes. This is by way of a tutorial in the battle system and the slimes are very easy to defeat.

As I have said previous the battle system is relatively simple so that even I can understand it. Basically you get to conrtol the attack methods of Yangus and Hero in thenusual turn based system (Trode and Medea are never part of the fighting and do not need to be protected any way). Much later in the game you will be joined by two other members of the party but the battle system is exactly the same for them. As soon as you are attacked an options box will appear on the screen showing the following, fight, flee intimidate and tactics, the first three options are obvious the fourth is the only option you need to be familiar with. This is where you decide how you want your supporting character/s to fight. The options to choose from are:- show no mercy, fight wisely, focus on healing, don't use magic, get psyched up and follow orders. At the beginning of the journey you only need to consider Yangus, but you can choose how the other two members of the part fight in the same way as you recruit them. Each party member has different abilities so you might want them to maybe concentrate on healing other members of the party as their personal attack moves are less damaging to enemies. You can also use items that you collect or purchase from vendors along the way. It is worth noting hat each character can only carry a certain amount of items, however unlike some games where you may have to return to a location to retrieve an item you find you need later, in this game you carry all your items with you in a "bag", you can swap or retrieve items at any time other than during battles.

After this very brief battle the party members decide it would be safer to be inside Fareham rather then outside. On entering the village they split up with Hero and Yangus scouring the village in search of Master Rylus. It soon becomes clear that he was killed when a mysterious fire destroyed his house and some o the villagers noticed that the "accident" seemed to coincide with visit from a jester like character who appeared to be up to no good. The villagers suspicious of any new visitors believe that Trode is in fact a monster and want him out of the village, so the party leave Fareham only to be stopped just outside the gate by a young girl named Valentina. She has had a dream that showed some strangers would enter the village and one would appear to be a monster, the dream said that they would help her retrieve a crystal ball that her fortune teller father lost and therefore restore his abilities to him. Needless to say the party agree to help and this is where the story starts in earnest.

The are numerous towns, villages and destinations that open up to you as the game progresses. I each town you will find vendors that will sell you, healing potions, armour and weapons at varying costs. You will also find an inn, this is where you can restore you health and magic by staying overnight and a church is where you have the option to save your progress. At the church may also resurrect any of you characters that have come off worse in battle, and cure any ailments such at poison or paralysis for a small charge obviously to the church. If you are part way into the game and you think that you have missed some information from a previous location and you don't want to have to fight your way back there then you can buy a talisman from one of the vendors that will return you to any location you have been to before. It is also worth looking into any of the treasure chests, barrels, vases or hanging bags that you come across as they often have useful items hidden inside. Also if you take a look at any of the book cases you come across they often contain certain clues for your journey or recipes for combinations of items that may become useful along the way.

There is much, much more I could tell you about this game but it is all clearly explained as the story unfolds, needless to say there are also various side missions and items to collect should you choose to d so. The thing I like about this game is its simplicity. As you progress and fight your way through mini battles to your next goal/destination you should find that you have all of the abilities and weaponry needed to defeat the next big boss. I am not saying that you will kill it fist time every time, but if you do die then the game will start again from your last save point (so save often) but you should have picked up enough pointers to tell you where you went wrong and defeat it next time.

As I have said previously I have been playing this game for approximately 37 hours and I believe I am only about a third of the way through. So as far as value for money, with Dragon Quest VIII you certainly get every pennies worth. Each location is beautifully rendered and the twists in the plot keep you absorbed and wandering what will happen next. If all RPG games were like this I would certainly be a fanatic of the genre.