Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation (DS) Review

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Dragon Quest 6 Review by tankMage (April 2017)

Score: B+

   To date the only other Dragon Quest game I have covered has been the original NES release, Dragon Warrior, so I’m jumping ahead a quite a bit with Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation. It bears mentioning that the original Dragon Quest 6 was a 1995 Super Famicom title that did not get an official localization for the Super Nintendo (there are fan translations available, however). Square Enix did eventually see fit to have ArtePiazza create a remake of this game for the Nintendo DS, which is the subject of this review. A company tasked with completely overhauling a game is presented with a challenging opportunity, since people will expect them to improve upon the source title while preserving its spirit. ArtePiazza not only had the advantages brought by hindsight and the superior tech of the 21st century, but they also did not have to worry about accuracy much, since Dragon Quest VI was still unknown to most western gamers at this point, so I’m going to be hard on them.

   So how did ArtePiazza perform with this remake? Overall they did a good job. The remake team made good use of the Nintendo DS’s graphical capabilities (which are roughly equivalent to the PS1), added a fair bit of fresh content, translated the script imaginatively and attempted to remedy some of the original release’s downfalls (with mixed results). They even took care to remain true to the source material while building upon it; I know this, because I took some time to check out a fan translation of the original 16-bit game. All and all, both the remake and the original are solid turn based RPGs, but despite ArtePiazza’s efforts, the game never really builds up enough steam and stalls out at certain points in its story. They also failed to properly address the issue of astronomically high experience requirements for level ups, which further hobbled the game. Let’s take a closer look at this fine, but slightly troubled title.

Story

   If I could describe the story with only a single word, it would be topspin. Dragon Quest VI starts with a promising first few chapters, but begins to unravel fairly quickly. The game opens with the hero, Carver, and Milly camping out near the fortress of a villain named Murdaw. The initial scene has plenty of atmosphere and the player gets a glimpse into the personalities of the three protagonists (of course the hero is the stereotypical strong silent type). Things really heat up after the good guys confront Murdaw, only to be foiled by a strange spell. The hero then awakes in a small village and things really start to get interesting as he wanders around trying to make sense of his predicament.

As a matter of fact I do after wandering around the second half of the game for thirty hours.

   Sadly, the narrative that drives the first third of the game crumbles to dust after the protagonists solve the mystery behind Murdaw. The rest of the game sees the party stumbling around the world for no truly clear purpose other than “find out where the monsters are coming from”. What was once a grand narrative driven by a fairly interesting cast devolves into a series of loosely connected vignettes as the heroes travel from town to town. To be fair, many of the short stories associated with each town and village are at least mildly entertaining, but they’re ultimately unsatisfying. Even worse, there are a number of story arcs that never seem to be tied up. The game never explains how Milly was able to summon a dragon by playing an ocarina in the beginning nor does it follow up on the fate of certain characters. I will admit that it is possible that I missed some of these points, because Dragon Quest VI is a rather lengthy game, but some of them are significant enough that the devs should have followed through better. I should also add that this game is the final title in a trilogy within the series and many of the references may have flown over my head.

   Fortunately, the final section of the game becomes more coherent and was rather interesting, but there’s never really any interplay between the heroes and the main villain, who is basically some distant boogeyman…of course this at least makes him more intelligent than your average video game bad guy, because he avoids the common error of explaining his plans to the heroes halfway through the game.

  While the story is more of a downhill saunter with a bump at the end to make it more entertaining, the dialogue is lively and amusing. Dragon Quest 6 is filled with, puns and silly jokes that are so bad they are good. I’m not sure whether or not the original game had such humor in it, because the fan translation seemed to lack any sort of subtlety, but ArtePiazza was wise to take liberties with the dialogue for the sake of adding some pep to the game. In fact, I think they chose to get creative with some of the dialogue, because they understood that the plot itself was inconsistent and wanted to improve upon it without betraying the original story.

   The various heroes and NPCs also have their own speech patterns, which really brings the cast to life. You can even talk to your active party members while wandering around in the field, which was rather uncommon for games at that time. Unfortunately, only a handful of characters really have fleshed out backgrounds, which is a shame, since a fair portion of the cast consists of slimes and other monsters who could have made for very interesting characters.

Translation

   Overall the remake team did a fair job translating this game. I’ve had to translate Japanese using tools like Google translate, which basically just swaps words from one language to another without interpreting them and I’ve seen just how radically different Japanese is from English in terms of syntax. Consequently, I have a lot of respect for people who are able to tease a nuanced and meaningful translation from a Japanese game script. ArtePiazza did a fine job with this script despite the few mistakes and awkward grammar I encountered over the course of the game. It does bear mentioning that there are points where the translators seemed off the mark, primarily a scene where two characters talk about their ability to create portals, then immediately proceed to fire a giant laser beam. I’m not sure if this was a mix up involving the text dump or if the devs decided to change the scene at the last minute, but it’s something to keep in mind when trying to figure the story out.

Graphics

   Ok, before I get to what I liked about the graphics, I’m going to air my usual complaints about the visual style of the Dragon Quest battle system. For those of you that may not be familiar with the franchise, DQ6 and most of the other games in the series use a first person view for their turn based battle engine. You can’t see the main character or the rest of the party, only the special effects of their attacks and the enemy sprites are depicted on the battle screen. Personally I prefer to be able to see my party in this sort of RPG, because it makes the battles feel more like a film or even tabletop RPG. To make matters worse, there’s an enemy that morphed into duplicates of your party members and we not only get to see in-battle sprites for each character, but their attack animations as well…and they look great. Why couldn’t they just change the view point!? Urgh!

   Now that that’s off my chest, I have to admit this game looks awesome as Nintendo DS titles go. Akira Toriyama did the artwork for the series (as far as I know) and the heroes, monsters, and NPCs have that distinct look that is reminiscent of Dragon Ball. ArtePiazza also made good use of the DS’s ability to generate 3D environments, which gives the buildings, dungeons, and the world at large a sense of depth. There are also pretty layering effects throughout the game, such as fog and the spooky ghost mist in Murdaw’s lair. A lot of scenery is recycled, however, but DQ6 is a fairly long game that must have gobbled up a lot of space, so it’s excusable. My only real complaint is that most areas are the stock towns, castles, and caves encountered in just about any other RPG.

   The animations for the various special attacks look nice and help make up for the lame battle system. Enemies also have fairly nice animations and are often amusing looking, but there’s a good bit of sprite recycling. On the bright side, reuse of enemy sprites is somewhat offset by their quality artwork and originality. Players will encounter a menagerie of slimes, killer produce, and even djinn, so DQ6 is certainly a fine example of a goofy mid nineties RPG. On a side note, I enjoyed picking out the similarities between the people and creatures found in this game and other Toriyama works; the hero is vaguely reminiscent of a blue-haired Chrono, Ashlynn reminded me of Bulma, and the Low Djinks enemy made me think of Majin Buu. Even better, some characters like Amos and Goowain were quite different from Toriyama’s usual works (of course it’s also possible someone else designed them) which was a refreshing change of pace.

   Dragon Quest 6 also has cutscenes, but they tend to be few and far between. For the most part, the cutscenes are done well enough and the best ones were saved for the last few segments of the game, which is good, because they helped add some oomph to the final hours of the journey.

User Interface

   ArtePiazza made an earnest effort to improve the badly aged UI of this title and met with some degree of success. First of all, from what I played of the Super Famicom version and my experience with the remake, I have come to the conclusion that the original game’s UI was less than convenient to use even for its time. The Famicom release featured slow walk speeds (which was common for RPGs back then), an ability list that was poorly arranged and hard to use, and key items that had to be activated from the inventory quite frequently. ArtePiazza sped the walk cycle up quite a bit, which made exploring far less painful. They also allowed for the automation of party members in battle and a heal all command that would have the character with the highest MP heal the entire party out of battle, which cut down on cycling through menus greatly. The AI for the auto battle system is decent and can be changed to fit the situation (or turned off altogether), which is great, because it would have been useless had it not been designed competently.

  Despite all these improvements, players still have to frequently activate some key items to use certain modes of transportation, the hero cannot be set to auto-attack, so you’ll still have to muddle your way through the spell lists a bit, and the inventory system is a bit cumbersome. Still, the remake team did a decent job at improving the user interface and made a system that was once probably quite tedious to use much more streamlined and manageable.  

   While the devs did a good job touching the UI up, I still felt the world map was not detailed enough and it was especially difficult to keep track of locations since there were four maps in total. I will admit my constantly getting lost in this game was due in part to my failure to make mental notes of where each town was, but it still would have been nice if they labeled important sites on the map.

   As for the way this game’s UI was adapted to the DS, the devs once again managed to come up with an acceptable system. This is primarily, because they did not attempt to shoehorn stylus mechanics into the game aside from a minigame called Slippin’ Slime. In my experience, the DS touchscreen was sometimes implemented poorly by developers who felt pressured to incorporate the touch screen into their title, so ArtePiazza erred on the side of caution here…if you consider it’s lack of touchscreen functionality a mistake, which I do not think is the case here.

Music and Sound

   Aside from the more epic songs, like the intro theme and familiar tracks from older DQ games, I did not find DQ6’s sound track to be particularly impressive one way or the other. However, ArtePiazza did a good job of remixing the BGM with more modern technology. In fact, the opening theme was done by the Tokyo orchestra and is the best piece of music I have heard from a DS game to date.

   Players familiar with the series will recognize many of DQ6’s sound effects, since many of them have been in service since the very beginning. I’ve always enjoyed Dragon Quest’s sound effects, so it’s good to see…er hear the return of the iconic spell casting or staircase effects. There are also plenty of new effects as well and they are of fairly high quality, but do not necessarily stand out. Of course sound effects can be distracting or annoying if done improperly, so it’s best that much of DQ6’s repertoire is fairly innocuous and tends to blend into the rest of the game’s auditory presentation.

Gameplay

   Dragon Quest VI is full of content and will take most players a good deal of time to complete on the first go around. This title also features a class system that makes grinding levels more interesting (and you will be grinding plenty). As with the original game, there is an emphasis on exploration and there are plenty of locations to visit, especially towns. Overall, this title is a highly traditional turn based RPG (this is Dragon Quest after all) that did not attempt to revolutionize the genre and its problems are fairly mild as a result, since the devs did not have to grapple with the challenges of designing systems like battle engines from the ground up.

   To me, Dragon Quest is really all about exploration. Horii and his team tried to provide the player with a sense of wonder that comes with exploring, by making various sites unique and giving them small back stories. Dragon Quest 6 is not as open as some of its ancestors, but there’s still a strong element of exploration and a touch of freedom in this game. There are tons of towns to visit that are filled with info, shops, and hidden loot. Each of these locations also contains an adventure within the main adventure and some of the side plots are quite entertaining. Unfortunately, the creators of this game may have been a bit too ambitious in their attempts to make a fully fleshed out world and the game has so many locations that it starts to lose focus. It was easy to forget exactly what the main objective was supposed to be, because so much of the game had little to do with it. As a result, the pace of the game really sagged as the world became more open and the reason why the heroes were traveling became less evident. On the bright side, exploration was always rewarding in some way and the game really picked up steam towards the end.

   No RPG is complete without a few dungeons to explore and DQ6 boasts a few. Too bad, most of the dungeons were overly simplistic and a moderately experienced RPG player could blaze through them with no problem. Many of the dungeons (some of which were actually mountains, caves, or forests) were just a handful of large rooms that were easy to navigate aside from a few twisting paths and a simple puzzle or two thrown in for flavor. The denizens of these dungeons were generally not intimidating aside from a few outliers. At least the bosses could put up a fight from time to time (granted that your level isn’t too high) which made things interesting, but for the most part, bosses were the usual tougher enemy that you encounter at the end of your average RPG dungeon and didn’t really require any special strategy to defeat.

   The diverse cast of playable characters and complex class system really helped bolster the gameplay. Every character not only had his or her own stats, choice of weapons, and set of naturally learned skills, but can also master a variety of classes once Alltrades Abbey is unlocked. Taking up a new class will alter a character’s stats to reflect the role of their new class and fighting battles allows the character to level up the class and learn new skills. Mastering different combinations of classes may also unlock stronger ones. Even better, party members still retain their innate talents to some extent, which makes the experience feel more varied and presents unique challenges, since characters not suited to certain jobs may have to train in them in order to unlock a higher tier class. DQ6’s class system even allows players to undertake self imposed challenges or experiment with different setups, because it is so flexible and open.

    The class system suffers from balance issues, however. Some classes like Hero and Dragon tend to be overly powerful and further degrade the difficulty of the game (although it requires a bit of work to unlock them). Not only are some classes broken, but many of the skills and abilities are redundant or become useless overtime, because they do not scale with character stats or are nearly identical to other skills. I often found myself relying on a handful of skills and ignoring many of the rest as the game progressed. It also required maybe a little bit too much grinding to master many of the classes.

   Speaking of grinding, you’ll need to do a ton of it if you want even a moderately strong party. ArtePiazza made some odd changes to the original game’s experience system that didn’t really remedy its flaws. Rather than lowering exp requirements for character levels and classes (which could have smoothed out overall balance if done properly) the remake team decided to make many of the enemies weaker and increased the number of monsters that appear in random battles, but left the actual experience tables alone. This method actually threw the gameplay balance off a bit and made it too easy to be overleveled early on, but didn’t address the fact that the level up requirements become astronomical as the game progresses. In fact, it took me nearly 10 hours of grinding in the final stage to gain a mere 13 levels. The class system also suffers from this problem, because each battle counts as one experience point towards mastering the class and many jobs require upwards of 100 battles to master. ArtePiazza would have done well to leave monster spawn rates and stats alone in favor of simply lowering level up requirements for classes and characters by 20-30% in order to cut down on the absurd amounts of grinding needed to progress in the game.

   DQ6 also features a fair amount of side questy type material such as an arena for your slime friends to fight in for prizes, a fashion show, and a couple of casinos. Most of this content was fairly well done, but the arena fights could have been fleshed out a bit; it only took a level 56 Goowain with the Gladiator class to win all of the arena battles. The Best Dressed Contest was also a bit boring, despite the fact that the devs attempted to spice it up with some humor. If that’s not enough for you ArtePiazza also added an Easter Egg hunt system that rewards the player for finding hidden items called mini-medals along with a post game bonus dungeon. Hunting around for mini medals was fun and the mechanic helped fill up some of the empty spaces in the game. I have to be honest in regards to the bonus dungeon: I didn’t check it out. I had my fill of DQ6 by the time the credits rolled and still had to test some things within the game for a grinding guide I’m writing, so the Fungeon really didn’t appeal to me. I will say this: it was cool of the remake team to take the time to add a bonus dungeon to a game that is already chock full of content.

Dream Sharing

   Well this is another feature I didn’t really get to use, because I don’t know anyone else who owns the game. At any rate, the devs made it possible to make profiles that can be swapped with other players by linking two DSs up. I did try the profile maker out (I think they called it a Dream Card ingame) and it was not only amusing, but integrated into the game fairly well by making the Dream Card designer a place you actually visit. Supposedly using the Dream Share system unlocks even more content and can open up new endings, which is pretty damn cool at least from a conceptual standpoint. Too bad DQ6 was released six years ago at the time this review was written and most people have not only moved on from the game, but from the Nintendo DS itself, making it hard to utilize the Dream Sharing function.

Final Thoughts

   Before I sum up my thoughts and feelings on this title I want to address the five hundred pound gorilla in the room: where the hell are the dragons!? Seriously, there’s one dragon in the game that I know of and it’s thrown in as an afterthought. Anyway, this was quite an adventure despite its quirks. While ArtePiazza failed to address the game’s grinding issue effectively, they still managed to take a good title and improve upon it while preserving its spirit. As a critic I have to admit my biases and the battle system was a strike against DQVI, but this game won me over with its sense of wonder, bad puns, and addictive class system.

Recommendations

   Well, it goes without saying that turn based RPGs aren’t for everyone, so be sure to avoid this game if you don’t like random battles, level grinding, and pop up damage. As for those who enjoy a good ole’ fashioned JRPG, DQ6 is worth checking out. In fact, with its nice graphics and tons of content, Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation is a worthy addition to any RPG fan’s Nintendo DS collection.

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