A journey 15 years in the making. Was it worth the trip?
Originally released on the Japanese Super Famicom in 1995, Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation, like its 16-bit sibling Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, was a victim of Enix’s frustration with cracking the mid-90’s US video game market, compared to the success its then-rival Squaresoft enjoyed with Final Fantasy VI. The original SFC versions of either game were never released outside of Japan. However, the Dragon Quest series has made quite a revival in the past decade thanks to Enix’s merger with the more America-savvy Square and to Nintendo’s continued support of the Dragon Quest franchise. Dragon Quest VI, the last holdout of the series, has finally made it to the USA via the DS.
In Dragon Quest VI, you play a nameless Akira Toriyama hero from a remote mountain town who is sent out to sell the town’s agricultural products on the market in exchange for a ceremonial crown. Nothing special… except that while searching for the crown-maker in a remote forest, your hero falls into a chasm and finds himself in a strange new world that he nevertheless recognizes from the dreams he has been having, where he and his friends are apparently seen as ghosts or shadows. King Somnia, the ruler of this world, sends the hero to obtain a magical relic called Ra’s Mirror and defeat Murdaw, the supreme manifestation of evil in this world.
Along the way, the hero runs into the usual cast of warriors, monks, and mages to help him do battle with Murdaw and his minions. There’s Carver, the boisterous brawler who joins the hero after both of them enlist in the Somnus army; Milly, who is the first person in the new world who is able to see the Hero and Carver; Ashlynn, a powerful sorceress; Nevan, the grandson of the patriarch of the holy city of Ghent; and Terry, Milly’s brother, who eventually got a spin-off game of his own (Dragon Quest Monsters on GBC).
In contrast to Dragon Quest V, which was largely driven by the strength of its unique narrative, Dragon Quest VI emphasizes exploration and game mechanics over narrative. Think Final Fantasy V. DQVI’s parallel-worlds concept is very similar to that of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and much like Nintendo’s 16-bit classic, progression in this world involves paying attention to both the similarities and the differences between the two worlds. What may appear to be a desolate ruin in one world may be a thriving city in the other.
Dragon Quest VI’s job system adds variety and strategy to the fighting. There are a plethora of unique classes to choose from once you unlock a certain location in the game world, each with their own set of skills and spells to learn. Like other games with a job system, skills and spells are learned by fighting battles. Unlike Final Fantasy V and Tactics, in Dragon Quest VI, when you change professions, you can freely use the skills you learned in any previous professions, making it easier to build a party of all-around fighters and casters. Unfortunately, your character’s profession does not change their physical appearance. While you can’t see your characters in-battle, it would have been nice to have the portraits and field sprites reflect the various professions you can take in DQVI. This is not a deal-breaker, however.
Visually, other than character and monster art, there is little difference between Dragon Quest VI and its two DS predecessors. Like DQIV and DQV, Realms of Revelation is built using super-deformed RPG sprites in a rotatable 3-D world, although there are more cinematic shots in DQVI than in the earlier DS DQ games. The Dragon Quest games push the DS about as far as it’s going to go with the 3DS out in Japan now and looming on the horizon for North America. The world is charming, and Akira Toriyama’s monster designs, including the famous Hershey’s Kiss-shaped Slimes, are as cute as ever. The character designs are quite lovely and will be familiar to any fans of Dragon Ball or Dr. Slump.
One of the defining aspects of any Dragon Quest game is the sound. There is a reason why Koichi Sugiyama is one of the most popular composers in Japan. From the very beginning of the series, he lavished the same care on crafting masterful soundtracks for Dragon Quest games as John Williams did for Star Wars, and Dragon Quest VI doesn’t disappoint. At a basic level, the classical style of the music doesn’t change from game to game. Villages always have light, bouncy themes, castles always have music heavy in brass, and dungeons always have vaguely ominous, but never threatening, motifs. However, true to form, the pieces are powerful and complex and always set the mood for each scene. Dragon Quest VI pushes the DS’s sound hardware to its limits. Every Dragon Quest game ever made has an accompanying “Symphonic Suite” version of the soundtrack performed live by Sugiyama’s orchestra, and advances in sound technology over the years have enabled Square Enix to incorporate the orchestrated versions into the actual games. When you hear the famous Dragon Quest Overture playing on the title screen, you know you’re in for an epic thrill-ride.
At its core, DQVI is a Dragon Quest game through and through. It uses the same Wizardry-inspired first-person turn-based battle interface the series has always used since its original 1986 incarnation, and while I feel that the DQ system is very versatile, more action-oriented gamers will no doubt think it’s archaic. On the one hand, if you have an absolute aversion to Dragon Quest or to JRPGs, this game probably won’t change your mind. On the other hand, Dragon Quest fans will know exactly what they’re getting into and are in for a real treat. I would also recommend DQVI for anyone who isn’t familiar with the series but does enjoy JRPGs. Realms of Revelation does not quite have the emotional narrative impact of Dragon Quest V, which was more story- and character-driven. However, this is less a criticism of Dragon Quest VI than it is a testament to how powerfully written Dragon Quest V was. For my part, there is no game that I’ve spent so much time with as I have Dragon Quest VI, and that is the mark of a well-designed RPG.