Dragon Quest hasn't quite known the popularity of the Final Fantasy franchise in North America. For a variety of reasons, most of the big Dragon Quest games remained Japanese-only, at least until the PlayStation release of Dragon Quest VII. It wasn't until the PS2 release of Dragon Quest VIII, which was bundled along with a Final Fantasy XII demo, that the series really seemed to be reinvigorated. The stylish translation and lovely cel-shaded visuals really set the series apart from its more popular brethren. Since then, we've gotten high-quality DS re-releases of a number of Dragon Quest games. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation is the last of these, and for that reason alone, Dragon Quest die-hards will probably be eager to pick it up. Newcomers to the franchise will find that it is a good place to start.
Dragon Quest VI's story begins with your hero confronting a mysterious demon lord in his castle. The hero and his friends are seemingly defeated before the battle even begins. Later on, your hero awakens in a small village, and the entire incident seems to have been a dream. After being sent on a quest by the village elder, the hero accidentally stumbles into a second, seemingly identical version of the world. The beginning of the game is spent figuring out what is going on and finding the source of the evil that plagues both worlds. Along the way, you'll meet a colorful cast of characters and discover some rather surprising secrets about the lands and the people within them.
The plot is straightforward, but it also remains charming and interesting. A good part of this is the result of the high-quality translation that the Dragon Quest games have received. The entire game is dripping with personality, and characters are distinctive and memorable just from the way they talk or act. A lot of it also has to do with good pacing. The game never really slows down; from the moment the game begins, something is happening, and there are new characters or events or twists to discover. Experienced gamers will probably predict a lot of what happens, but it's still a solid, deeply enjoyable adventure story. The characters are fun to be around, and while the plot occasionally delves into some darker material, it's mostly a lighthearted and enjoyable romp through a fun fantasy world.
Dragon Quest VI has a very traditional JRPG-style combat system, with the players and enemies taking turns at beating one another until their HP runs out. It's well designed, and there's a lot of variety in the skirmishes. Players gain access to different classes with different abilities, and each tends to be useful in its own way, but it is hard to say that there is anything here that's unfamiliar or involves much thought. You hit enemies, heal and exploit the occasional elemental weaknesses and, as long as you're within the proper level range for the fight, you'll emerge victorious.
There are some very well-designed fights, and it's very satisfactory to pull off a victory. There isn't anything you haven't seen before or since, especially in the recent Dragon Quest IX. This trait makes it a very good game for casual players, though. There's some lack of information, particularly about how class-changing works, but overall, it's very easy to learn how to play the game. The basic strategies are pretty easy to pick up, and even novice players shouldn't have too much trouble synergizing their team's strategies.
Dragon Quest VI is an old-school kind of game. You spend a lot of time wandering around, trying to figure out where to go next, grinding for experience points to beat a tough boss, or simply running into unexpected roadblocks. It's nothing particularly overwhelming, but it may feel odd to people who are used to more modern games, which avoid these sorts of things. In particular, it can be reasonably easy to get lost and not be able to figure out where to go next. Usually, there's an NPC to guide you to your next goal, but you'll have to chat with everyone to find him, and it can be occasionally easy to miss the hint about your next destination.
The game can also be surprisingly difficult. As I mentioned, the game expects you to grind from time to time. It isn't always necessary, but trying to move from boss to boss without waiting will make the game incredibly difficult. You'll probably want to spend a little time between dungeons leveling up, buying new equipment and building up your job classes. Even if you do so, it's possible to find that the next area requires you to do it all again. The game is generally good about not making you do this to an excessive degree, but some grinding is definitely expected.
Dragon Quest VI's only real problem is that you've seen it before. Even if you've never touched a Dragon Quest game, they inspired everything else that followed in its footsteps. You've seen these characters, tropes, combat and everything else before. It's not fair to knock the game for that because when it was initially released, it was fresh and interesting. In the years since, we've seen it copied so much that, unfortunately, the original feels diluted. This doesn't make it a bad game — just an overly familiar one. It's a testament to the game's strength of design that despite being often-copied, the actual Dragon Quest VI stands up so well. It doesn't help, though, that Dragon Quest IX was released a short while ago. Dragon Quest IX feels the most similar in the franchise to this title. As you'd expect from a game that was released many years later, though, Dragon Quest IX is more streamlined and more instantly accessible than its processor. I enjoyed Dragon Quest VI a lot, but it's difficult to recommend it over Dragon Quest IX unless you've already grown tired of the other game. Dragon Quest VI's story is more enjoyable, but the mechanics feel more refined in Dragon Quest IX.
Dragon Quest VI is a charming-looking game. The sprite visuals are simple, but they work really well with the atmosphere. The Akira Toriyama designs seem to work better as sprites than they do in, say, Dragon Quest IX, and the backgrounds are colorful and memorable. It isn't hard to be disappointed by the lack of some of the fun features that are found in later Dragon Quest titles, but it's also perfectly understandable considering that Dragon Quest VI was original released in 1995. It's really enjoyable to watch and, although they're a bit dated, the visuals have more than enough charm to make up for it. The Koichi Sugiyama soundtrack is top-notch and meshes wonderfully with the rest of the game.
Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation does a lot of things right. Its only real problem is that it is overshadowed by things that have come both before and after. With Dragon Quest V or Dragon Quest IX available, it's tough to say what Dragon Quest VI has going for it. If you've already finished the previous games and are hankering for more Dragon Quest, there's a lot to like here. The characters are funny, the translation is top-notch, and the combat system easy to learn. You may get lost from time to time or be forced to grind to beat a boss, but the game is so well paced that this rarely feels like a roadblock. It's not the best of the series, but Dragon Quest VI is a great game and well worth your time and money.
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