Dragon Quest 6: Where two worlds are greater than one
Occasionally, it’s nice to escape from the industrialized world. Some people do this through camping. Others kick a ball across an empty field. Those who like to experience an idyllic fantasy play Dragon Quest. On February 14, the latter group’s dream was fulfilled, as the only Dragon Quest never to reach America, Dragon Quest 6, arrived in American retail stores.
Dragon Quest 6 isn’t just special for being the last Dragon Quest to arrive – it’s also a part of what many consider to be the golden age of RPGs: the 16-bit era. The SNES was home to legendary titles such as Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, and Final Fantasy 6, but only Japan experienced Dragon Quest 6.
Unfortunately, these classics are not Dragon Quest 6’s only adversaries. It also faces fifteen years of technological and mechanical advancements in the video game industry. People who’re already Dragon Quest fans likely won’t care, as they often admire the series’ simplicity, but other individuals may be averse to spending $35 on a 15-year-old game with minimal graphical and gameplay improvements.
If we pretend that it’s 1995, would Dragon Quest 6 be considered amazing? Well, if one is to consider its storytelling alone, no. Dragon Quest 4 and 5 were critically lauded for being storytelling innovators. The former introduced a scenario system that allowed players to follow the lives of individual characters, while the latter put the player in the role of a hero who initially shadowed his father and eventually raised a family of his own. Instead of attempting another new storytelling method, Dragon Quest 6 puts the player on a guided quest for the game’s initial hours then becomes a game of exploration – much like the original Dragon Quest.
Unlike the first Dragon Quest, however, the player journeys through two massive worlds with other party members (some optional) whom will chat with you when requested. Once you stumble upon the Dream World, you’ll go back and forth between these realms, much like in A Link to The Past.
As with its story, Dragon Quest 6’s battle system is more of an evolution than a revolution. Every few steps, you’ll transition to another realm where only your enemies and text menus are visible. The backgrounds are composed of muddy 3D textures, while your foes are charming 2D sprites with simple animations. Each of your characters has different skills and statistics, which will change over time as you battle.
Unlike prior Dragon Quest games (DQ3 excluded), you’ll eventually be able to assign your characters classes such as Warrior or Mage. Your party members don’t begin as blank slates, so some are better suited for particular classes. The jobs and their skill-sets are thoroughly explained, so choosing classes isn’t difficult as long as you have an ultimate goal in mind. It’s especially important to plan ahead, as there are three tiers of classes. This accessible job system is one of the best aspects of Dragon Quest 6, but it did create a sense of déjà vu, as many of the game’s abilities are from former Dragon Quest titles.
Dragon Quest 6’s musical score left me with a similar impression. Many of its tunes are from prior Dragon Quest titles or feel so similar that they are practically indistinguishable from Koichi Sugiyama’s previous works. The lack of variety in Dragon Quest 6’s musical score is disappointing, as other RPGs from the 16-bit era had much larger (and more diverse) musical selections.
If you enjoy exploring massive worlds at your own pace, Dragon Quest 6 is an excellent buy. It’s linear to a certain extent in that completion of particular events is necessary before new areas become accessible, but there are also many times in which you’ll be able to choose which region to explore first.
Personally, I didn’t mind all the aimless wandering, but having access to aerial transportation earlier or a lower random encounter rate would have expedited the process. A better map system with named locations also would have shaved some filler hours off my game time.
Finding a suitable destination was difficult at times, but Dragon Quest 6’s final area was even more frustrating. Prior to this dungeon, I was able to defeat bosses and enemies with ease by picking suitable job classes and using appropriate battle tactics, but the final boss was unreasonably difficult.
Challenging final bosses generally don’t bother me as long as strategy and dexterity are involved, but these were only difficult because I was under-leveled. In order to defeat my arch nemesis, I had to spend a few hours fighting enemies who awarded me with a paltry level of experience. Cheap final bosses have long been a part of Dragon Quest, but a little end-of-game balancing would have made for a more enjoyable experience.
If you’re in the market for a 35-hour adventure that is heavy on random battles while providing little direction, Dragon Quest 6 is a worthy purchase. Those looking for a more innovative title would be better off checking out the DS’ earlier Dragon Quest installments.