Dragon Quest VI’s DS release came at a somewhat awkward time, following the release of its popular contemporary, Dragon Quest IX. While Dragon Quest VI was praised for its revamped, modern graphics on the Super Famicom, the fact that it looked identical to both DQIV and V on the DS meant it had to win American gamers over with its story and gameplay.
The game takes place across two rather large worlds. The relationship between these is a mystery you’ll be unraveling throughout the quest, but early on it’s clear that one realm is linked to the dreams of characters in the other realm. They also use this concept for a few interesting time-travel type things (i.e. you’ll hear stories of a place that’s now in ruins, then visit the dream world to see it thriving). This leads to a few interesting plot threads—such as an elderly couple who failed their quest in the past being given a second chance—and it’s enough to keep a player wondering where it’s all going.
Along the way, you’ll do the typical Dragon Quest march, taking down foes in a familiar battle system, gaining levels and so on. The best new wrinkle to the traditional approach here is the return (and expansion) of the job system from Dragon Quest III. After about a dozen hours into the game, players can assign any of their multiple human party members specific classes, which—in addition to stat changes—will determine which abilities and spells they’ll be learning as they level up. Unlike in some games of the series, every ability learned this way stays with that character regardless of their class. So it’s very feasible to have sword-wielding Warriors hurling Boom and Crackle spells willy-nilly, or to make a Priest who happens to have sticky fingers when it comes to enemy treasures. The combinations are many, and it never feels overwhelming since you’re always making forward progress.
Beyond that, some advanced classes are available once you meet specific “prerequisites” (which the game will make clear for you). For instance, if you’ve gotten both the Priest and Martial Artist classes leveled up to Master (which takes a couple of hours apiece), you can then graduate to the stronger Paladin class. It’s a straightforward and rewarding system that gives the battles that extra spice and helps the replay quite a bit to boot. You can assign all your playable characters to any class (provided they meet the requirements), and that includes your monster companions (while the monster recruitment system from DQV is gone, players can still befriend a handful of slime-types at key points in the story).
It’s fortunate that the gameplay has these extra layers, because this is a large game. In terms of area covered, the world maps of DQVI are at least twice—almost three times—the size of DQV. The game gets surprisingly open-ended at a certain point, and it works to its benefit to let players tackle a few different quests in the order that they choose. In fact, this is one of the most exploratory games of the series, and it rarely feels overwhelming (unlike DQII, for instance).
You'll find a fair amount of NPCs to enjoy helping out. Not this kid, though. He sucks.
When you aren’t mowing down foes, you’re visiting towns and helping to solve problems. The hit-to-miss ratio for these mini-tales is about on par with the rest of the series, with a few of them (like the greedy city, the castle with the sealed demon, or the pretty thrilling jail sequence) making bigger impressions than others. Along the way, there are some fun diversions—not only do you get the usual casinos and mini-medal quest, but a new Style rating that ties into a late-game fashion show, and a coliseum where you can pit your own home-grown Slime against other monsters.
This adventure has all the ingredients necessary to make a great game, but it ends up undercooking a few elements. For being a world based on dreams, the upper realm sure does feel a lot like the lower one. Nothing crazy or “dream-like” ever really happens, and while there’s early intrigue about the mystery of this world, the resolution sort of fizzles out and fails to really satisfy. What could’ve been a powerfully original concept ends up coming across as half-baked.
Beyond that, more character development would’ve been welcome. I was partial to Carver and Ashlynn mainly thanks to party chat, but most characters don’t seem to have a very good reason to join your party (or at least stay with you past a certain point), lowering that feeling of a true friendship between them. And almost none of them go through any real growth, as opposed to several of DQV’s characters.
A common problem with all the DS DQ remakes is the low number of NPC sprites. There are several named characters who’re part of the story that share sprites with dozens of other people across the game world (or in several cases, even other named characters). It breaks the immersion after a while whenever a main character’s father looks just like every other old man in the game. To make matters worse, the three DS DQ titles all share the same handful of sprites, so the issue carries over from one to the other!
The game reuses lots of assets, but the enemy art is almost entirely new.
The Sugiyama soundtrack is a little quirkier than usual. Might be one of the better OSTs of the series, although the lack of really emotional moments makes most of the music stick with me a bit less.
All in all, DQVI falls just short of greatness. It’s a solid RPG in all respects, but rarely rises to the top of what it could potentially do. The best aspects of the game are the fun class system and open world map, while the story has its moments but disappoints as often as it delivers. If you’re strapped for time and want to try out this series, you’d probably do better with V’s story or IX’s gameplay. Even so, this jack-of-all-trades of the series still delivers pretty of fun adventuring for those willing to overlook its issues.
Good review! VI seems like a worthwhile entry in the series, but it also sounds like I'd be better off playing some other Dragon Quest games before getting to this one. The large overworld, fun job system, and quality soundtrack might be enough to pull me in at some point.