Whenever someone asks if there was anyone out there that didn’t like last year’s Dragon Quest IX, I make it a point to be the first one to raise my hand. I didn’t just not like it; I actively dislike it, and to this day when I hear about how people adore the game and how fun it is, I can’t help but wonder if the Dragon Quest IX I played was a different, utterly mediocre version of the game. I felt as if Squeenix concentrated more on the middling multiplayer aspect of the game, and not on the actual storytelling, which is almost always the strength of any Dragon Quest game.
When it was announced that Dragon Quest VI would finally be coming over to the States after a sixteen-year “delay”, I was cautiously optimistic for it. I’d heard great things about the last chapter of the Zenithia Trilogy, but my growing annoyance with IX left a bitter taste in my mouth when it came to the series as a whole. Would VI redeem the series for me, or confirm that I’d perhaps grown out of the charming world inhabited by Slimes?
Luckily, that isn’t the case. Dragon Quest VI is pretty much on par with the older games I’ve grown to love, for better or for worse. Plotwise, it’s leagues better than IX, although it’s not as good as that of the previous numerical iteration, V, but considering the brilliance of the fifth entry, it’s understandable. DQVI is your standard “humans vs. evil demons” fantasy story that most older games employ, except they change it up a bit with the addition of another world. Dubbed the “Dream World”, it’s an alternate dimension of sorts where peoples’ dreams from the real world become reality. It’s an intriguing element that’s used very effectively in the game; it not only makes the main plot a bit more compelling than just “go from point A to point B, save kingdom, rinse, repeat”, but it also makes the sidequests more of a fun experience than a chore.
For a game that’s over fifteen years old, there’s also little things that pop up in the narrative that you don’t even see in modern RPGs. For example, very early on in the game you must traverse a tower with four or five other recruits and be the first to beat the guy on top of it, as a test in order to join the army as a soldier. Of course, you manage to get up there first, and you’ll expectedly come up against the boss. If you were like me though, you got absolutely murdered by this guy, and ended up back at the church. You’d probably figure, “hey, I should go back up there and whoop that guy’s ass!”, but when you actually do that, you learn one of the other recruits has actually beat him first and passed the test, while you failed. Even though both outcomes lead to the same plot development shortly thereafter, it’s nonetheless a little touch that you wouldn’t ever expect in a “standard” JRPG from three generations ago.
Additionally, Dragon Quest VI still retains the signature DQ charm and likability that’s effective even today. While there are surprisingly mature developments in the game, in general it’s very light-hearted, and often never takes itself too seriously. I mean, how can you not love a game that actually has a drunk NPC pissing in a bar corner simply because he couldn’t hold it in, or a flying bed as a means of active transportation? You can’t forget the delightful Slimes as well, and their amazingly adorable way of talking.
The battle system is simplistic as always; if you’ve played a Dragon Quest game before, you know how it is. Whether that’s a flaw or a boon is completely up to you; personally, I’d much rather deal with a simple combat system than an overly complicated one. Dragon Quest VI also has the welcome addition of vocations, which benefits the versatility in the combat greatly by adding special moves and abilities your entire party. At any time you can switch jobs as well, with no real detriment beyond minor stat changes. It’s definitely a rudimentary class system, and by today’s standards would be quite shallow, but in this case, it works well enough.
Unfortunately, Dragon Quest VI definitely shows its age beyond the elementary class system as well. Random battles and extreme grinding sessions are the main offenders, further exacerbated by the fact that the level progression isn’t fluid or consistent at all. In one dungeon I’ll feel as if I’m overleveled, while the very next area I traverse, I’ll be battling random monsters that take off half my HP in one fell swoop, as if I hadn’t just spent over 20000 gold coins on new armor and weapons for one character alone. It’s a bit frustrating to have such a disjointed experience, and it definitely makes this one of the harder Dragon Quest games I’ve played, if not the hardest.
Still, DQ VI is nonetheless a solid time overall. The fun, seemingly carefree world and compelling story elements make it a little too easy to look past the standard RPG tropes of the past, even if you’re not the most patient guy in the world. It’s highly recommended for fans of the franchise, and maybe even for other gamers looking for an old-school JRPG that’ll keep them interested for hours. Now I can sit back, relax, and pray that Dragon Quest VIII somehow magically gets ported to the 3DS. A man can dream…