Familiar with a hint of freshness.
Most Dragon Quest reviews play out in a similar fashion, much like the games they chronicle. They consist of a nod to the relatively unchanged mechanics, a brief mention of the few things that have changed, a note that the story is unsurprisingly fantastic, and the conclusion that all fans of Dragon Quest should purchase the game. Much like Dragon Quest, there is little need to change a format that continually works.
The DS remake of Dragon Quest VI was created in the same fashion as the DS remakes of IV and V; each boasting a new art style and a few added features. Dragon Quest VI is the final game in the Zenithian Trilogy, and it is the last remaining Dragon Quest title to be localized for western gamers. For all intents and purposes, this is a brand new Dragon Quest title hot on the heels of last year's Dragon Quest IX. Yet, if you know Dragon Quest, you know there is very little new about this game.
Starting a Dragon Quest game is nearly as comfortable and familiar a tradition to me as the present opening rituals of Christmas morning. I can always expect to learn the same spells, buy the same equipment, and fight the same enemies. Dragon Quest VI doesn't alter this tradition in the slightest, and initially, I was annoyed.
Having just played Dragon Quest IX, I was put off by the visuals in VI. While the graphics are colorful and the animations are detailed, the rich 3D world created for Dragon Quest IX showed us that Dragon Quest can look so much better on the DS. Of course, after time I adjusted back to the visuals, which are on par with the visuals used for the remakes of IV and V.
One thing I needed absolutely no time to adjust to was the gameplay. Predictably, the game uses the same turn-based Dragon Quest mechanics we are all accustomed to. Player characters fight in rounds with the enemies, choosing to attack, heal, or run away. Sure, there are plenty of spells and special abilities, but if you've played a Dragon Quest you've seen them all. As mentioned before, this similarity was initially irksome, until the story began to unfold.
Dragon Quest VI throws the player into a story of parallel worlds, a dream world and a "real world," each affecting the other in multiple ways. I hate to spoil the story in any way, so skip the next paragraph if you don't want the first ten hours or so to lose their pizzazz, and yes, that is how long it takes for Dragon Quest VI to set up its story.
The player character is actually a denizen of the dream world, brought into the world below and made visible to the rest of the world by a drop of dream dew. Coincidentally, running around as an invisible character reminded me of the opening for Dragon Quest IX. The player character and his party are all dreams, and cannot become fully real until they have found their frozen bodies in the real world. Eventually the player can zip between the real and dream worlds, changing elements of one to accomplish a task in the other.
After experiencing just a small amount of the story, I was sold on the concept. Not only is the plot interesting, but the way it is told kept me glued to the DS. Unfortunately the story loses steam after defeating the first "big boss," when the player is thrown into an open ended quest to retrieve something important to the main character. What could have been a short but complete story arc is artificially stretched to add content to a game that didn't quite need it, making the bulk of the game feel like post game content. I feel very similar to how I felt after defeating the first major story arc in Okami; I was overwhelmed with the prospect of the sheer amount of game that lay ahead of me when I felt that I had already completed all the story I needed. The rest of the Dragon Quest VI is filled with shorter vignettes, and most are contained within a visit to a single town.
Once the story stopped providing the high level of motivation present at the outset, I found myself losing interest in the mechanics. Playing with the class system is not as interesting as similar systems in games like Final Fantasy Tactics or even Dragon Quest IX. Not only is the system shallow, but it lacks the visual aspect of the aforementioned games. I had never considered just how important it is to see your outfit and equipment change in a simple class system. The interactions between classes are minuscule when compared to games like Etrian Odyssey, so even the mechanics of changing classes aren’t a sufficient pull to interact with the class system.
There is always value in making a team of unstoppable brutes, so the class system isn't entirely a wash, and players have tens of hours of story to refine their team. Since there aren't any limitations on which skills can cross over during a class change, unlike Final Fantasy V, players with an infinite amount of grinding time can create a team where each character has every ability.
Grinding is another trait shared between Dragon Quest titles, and players will need to invest a considerable amount of time into leveling their characters. Without the side quests or alchemy options of Dragon Quest IX, leveling characters lacks the constant reward that players of IX will have become accustomed to. I butted heads with a particular boss over five times, each time having to return a level higher.
This is, after all, a Dragon Quest game. Removing a few specifics can make this a review of nearly any of the nine games in the series, and while the comfort of the series is welcome, the more trying aspects have grown thin over time. Perhaps it is because Dragon Quest IX felt a touch more modern than VI, but I found myself losing interest much more quickly after the first fifteen hours. Still, the core game remains enjoyable, and as predicted, I can assure fans of the series that they will have plenty of fun. I wouldn't, however, recommend this to new Dragon Quest players, who should instead play the more user-friendly IX.