Dragon Quest is one of the biggest franchises in Japan, but it took much longer to catch on in North America. Americans did get access to the first four games, but after that, the series went into relative obscurity. We completely missed Dragon Quest V and VI. Were Dragon Quest games like largely unconnected Final Fantasy series, this would not be as big of a deal, but the Dragon Quest series is known for trilogies. The middle three games form what is known as the Zenithian trilogy, all telling a loosely connected tale about sacred equipment and the heroes that can use it. Despite coming third, Dragon Quest VI actually predates the others in the timeline and helps explain the origin of the myths that play such a central role in the set.
The game begins with four heroes camped out in the woods, preparing for an attack on a powerful demon who has his eyes on world domination.. As they make their way to defeat this abomination, they are caught in his trap. The heroes find their bodies being turned to stone and watch helplessly as their spirits are ripped away. At the next moment, your protagonist awakes safely in his bed in the village of Weaver’s Peak with no knowledge of the fierce battle. Thus begins a quest that will see him and his friends rid the world of evil, and save multiple worlds.
As a series, Dragon Quest is known for many things. First and foremost, it is known for its battle system, which has remained very consistent throughout its nine numbered entries. Battles are turn-based and composed of mobs of monsters. The players input their actions for the turn, and then players and monsters duke it out for one round with attack order based on agility. One twist on the formula that the series is known for is the way the game handles mobs of monsters. Two or more of the same monster can be part of a mob, and it is impossible to target individual monsters within the mob. Fortunately, the AI is pretty good at making sure your attacks are distributed in at least a semi-organized manner, so it’s rarely a major hassle.
Another aspect that the series is known for is the difficulty and subsequent grinding associated with it. Dragon Quest is somewhat unforgiving to players that fail to heal, and death is a serious matter. In other games, you may purchase a phoenix down for 100 gold to revive a fallen ally or spend a night at the inn, but this is not the case here. Early on, dead party members can only be revived in town churches for an exorbitant fee. Midway through the game, characters start learning spells to bring back the dead, but it’s not always effective. It is only at the end that you learn spells or get items that are guaranteed to revive allies. Should your entire party die, you are penalized by losing half of your current gold, and only the hero gets brought back. You’ll still have to find a way to bring your friends back to the land of the living. Considering that a lot of the game’s grinding is spent collecting gold, a slow process at best, the gold penalty is particularly harsh.
The only real addition to the mix this time around is the class system. Relatively early into the game, your party will gain the ability to change classes. Any character can become any class, so that means that with a little grinding, anyone can be a back-up healer or learn at least one or two decent fighting moves. Mastering classes opens up better classes, and by the time you finish the game, everyone will master at least three to four classes, so you’ll have a wide variety of attacks to pick from.
Graphically, the game is pretty, but it’s nothing that fans of the series have not seen before. Realms of Revelation uses the exact same engine as the previous three Dragon Quest games on the DS. The series has a signature look, but that comes at the expense of making every game look virtually identical to all of the other games in the series. There are are few new sprites here and there, but you will be fighting the same slimes, trolls, zombies, and giants you’ve been fighting since the 8-bit days. Is that a problem? Honestly, if you’re a fan of the series you’re probably used to the “change absolutely nothing” aspect of Dragon Quest by now. If you’re new, well, this is all new to you, so enjoy!
Aurally, the game delivers a decent mix of familiar tunes and a few new ones where it counts. The music is pleasing to listen to, so it never really gets old, even though you hear a lot of the same songs a few times before you finish the game. Ultimately, the music is probably one of the places where Dragon Quest shines the brightest, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming one of the songs, even when you’re not playing the game.
The one place where the game drops the ball is on plot. The game starts off strong, but towards the end, it kind of turns into fetch quest, boss, fetch quest, new town, grind, buy new equipment, fetch quest, boss, wash, rinse, and repeat. The plot peaks around twenty or thirty hours, and that would be absolutely stupendous if the game ended there, but this is a long game. The end of the game needs a certain something, and it’s decidedly lacking. This is most evident in the game’s finale, which feels like it’s missing something intangible. As mentioned before, this is a long game. Finishing it is going to take a minimum of 40 hours, and it might take you over 50. Like many games in the series, there is some post-game content, but don’t expect to take out the optional boss unless you feel like grinding another 40 hours to be strong enough to face it.
Being a remake, there are also a few new things. The only obvious one is a mini-game that is kind of like what you would get if you took the slingshot from Angry Birds, used it to shoot a slime in a DS version of shuffle board, and then used the stylus like curling brooms to steer your slime. Angry Shuffle Curling is a fun diversion, but it only lasts for an hour at best before you move on and start playing the rest of the game.
There is also one other point that doesn’t really fit anywhere else but bears mentioning. Most RPGs released in the last 15 years have had mini-games, and they are almost always either easy, optional, or both. Dragon Quest VI has a minigame that is required and is not exactly easy. At a certain point, your characters must compete in a best-dressed contest, and it’s one of the few times when you will pretty much have to bust out a walkthrough. Not only will you likely have a hard time finding it, but winning it requires some strategies that are not obvious without a little outside help. It’s not a bad minigame, but it would have been significantly better if it had been completely optional. It was almost annoying enough to derail my playthrough because I was tired of trying to find equipment with enough style to win. Give me a hard boss that kills me and then makes fun of me when I come back, sure. That’s Dragon Quest. I signed up for that when I popped the cartridge in. Mixing and matching armor to try to be more fashionable than a zombie? Not so much.
Ultimately, Dragon Quest VI is not a bad game, but it falls very short of its potential. Should you buy it? Well, that depends. Are you a series diehard? If so, you probably already have it and are well on your way to beating the optional boss in 20 turns or less. Do you like Dragon Quest but don’t have a collection of slime memorabilia scattered throughout your house? (Don’t judge me!) It is kind of nice to finish the trilogy, so get it when there’s a really good sale on Amazon. Are you new to the series and wondering if this is the time to start? No. Absolutely not. If you have a DS, get Dragon Quest V, and if you have a PS2, get Dragon Quest VIII. Those games are infinitely better. In fact, just go buy Dragon Quest VIII right now. I’ll wait 100 hours while you play it.