Aahhh, that was a great nap. Where was I? After a long journey on my Nintendo DS I have reached the end of Dragon Quest VI. With VII arriving on 3DS, I hadn’t played a DQ game in a while and wanted to see if I still liked the series. The answer is an Oomph! powered Yes, with Dragon Quest VI on DS proving to be a fantastic game. I haven’t beaten the game yet, but I’m currently preparing my team for the end boss fight. Roaming the land, finding the last pieces of equipment, it’s a great time for reflection.
Dragon Quest VI is called Realms of Revelation in the US, and Realms of Reverie in the EU / AU version I have. This is one of those rare cases where I think the EU name is better, because this game is all about the dreamworld. Being in a state of reverie means daydreaming, and that’s almost how it feels to grind through a Dragon Quest game. A difficult, yet pleasant distraction, with exaggerated monsters, contained storylines and friendly strangers.
Dragon Quest is a somewhat archaic RPG series that hasn’t changed much of its core gameplay since the first game on NES. Battles are fairly straightforward, with turn-based commands and EXP rewards. What has improved significantly however, is the world design. The towns in Dragon Quest VI are extremely interesting, and when you enter them it feels like a brand new story is just starting. The world is also full of wondrous puns and wordplay, with a sleeping king in the town of Somnia, a fisherman named Rod, blacksmiths named Cole and Welda, and amazing enemy names like Ewwnicorns, Hell niños, Arrghgoyles and Guaardvarks. It would seem silly and out-of-place in any other serious JRPG series, but it creates a surreal dreamlike world in Dragon Quest VI that embodies all the strengths of the videogame medium, and compliments the game’s core theme of reverie. It’s a challenging game with a serious plot, but very fun and expressive in the way it presents itself. For me personally, the writing is a big reason I can finish Dragon Quest games but can never make it to the end of Final Fantasy. A bit of creative passion and humour really helps to keep spirits up when I am just sitting here, wasting my life.
Haggleton is one of the first towns you visit and it’s full of merchants trying to rip you off. You have to figure out what’s going on yourself and ignore their “advice”. This is a big warm welcome to a game that never tells you what to do.
Aridea is a town in complete shambles by their own hand. The residents daydream about the Isle of Smiles nearby that promises a perfect life. As a result they get no work done, the well is dysfunctional, and nobody cares to fix anything. When you take on some quests in the area and this fantasy comes crashing town, everyone arrives back in town and starts working on it again. Everything starts to get better and it feels very rewarding to make people see a different perspective and embrace their lives more. It’s much different to rebuilding a town or performing some physical structure change. The way you impact people’s lives is one of the big reasons I kept coming back to DQVI. I could see myself in some of their despair, hoping for a perfect job and life and leaving important things unchecked. I fixed myself in order to fix the town.
There’s a town called Scrimsly where everyone treats you like shit. You can’t even heal there, which gives you the tangible feeling of being an outcast. Alright then, I’ll just continue to the next town. As you continue your adventure it turns out they may have had a good reason, and not only do you discover more about the town, but you remove the label of outsider from yourself. This is a consistent feeling through the game. From the early innocence of Somnia, to the late-game woes of Despairia and Greedmore, the whole game feels like it’s teaching you to “wake up”.
The journey of self-discovery has its ups and downs, and those are also embedded into the game design for better or worse. Sometimes the progression feels very rewarding, sometimes it’s a clusterfuck of events. Early in the game for example is incredibly exciting. I’m wondering into a place I’m not sure is part of the main story or not. There’s actually a cliff you have to jump off, and wells you have to jump into. A few hours later, I suddenly have another party member and I’m solving some big problems.
25 hours in, and I still have no idea where I’m going. I have new means of transport, but I’ve resolved some key plot points. The bad guy is defeated, but evil things still exist. I’m wandering through unexplored fields with a lot of questions, but still having a great time. I’m LOOKING for answers. The lost feeling makes it feel like a huge relief when you find a town or structure. I run around talking to everyone to find out what’s happening. Usually there is some kind of theme, event or character who is central to the plot in a new town, and events stem from there.
This brings out the biggest problem of the game unfortunately, event triggers. There is some bullshit to the progression. For example, some dude is hiding in a barrel and you have to find him. I destroyed all the barrels in the castle and found nothing. Then some dude says “oh, he might be hiding in a barrel!“. So I go back to those and destroy them AGAIN, and suddenly he pops out. It’s like getting the hint is what magically thrust the dude into the barrel, so the logic-chain is a bit flawed. There’s a few other examples of this where you have to talk to a random person of no significance, or walk in and out of a place just to trigger the progression. Suddenly a person will change their attitude or routine, after you have done something they couldn’t possibly know about. I ended up speaking to the same people over and over again in the vague hope that something would happen. Just like real life.
40 hours in and I’ve got another amazing new way to explore the world. The way this game opens up is fantastic and surprising, so I’m not going to spoil specifics. There’s the boat in the screenshot, and much more. I’m still lost as all fuck, but this is where the game got better again for me. There’s a goal here of finding 4 different key items, and now that you have the ability to explore the entire map there’s a lot to do. Your equipment in this game makes a huge difference to battles, as much as 7-8 levels worth of stats sometimes. So there is a huge incentive for exploring places you haven’t been, rather than grinding. While looking for key items to progress the story, I found an incredible amount of useful gear “by accident” and that’s why it’s worth getting lost in a Dragon Quest game. Furthermore, all the best items are found on the world map, and not bought in shops. With the world design being so rewarding, it makes me feel like the core of this game is adventuring, and not battling. The random encounters can be very testing but it always feels like you’re getting somewhere.
Here’s a great quote from the game itself. I found it by accident while backtracking in a cave and pressing B for some random party chat with Milly.
“Just walking around without getting lost is a chore.”
That speaks to me as a gamer. Walking around WITHOUT getting lost? You already know where you’re going, and you’re not gonna find anything. It’s a chore, like following a guide. Walking around WHILE getting lost? That’s an adventure. This is the whole game, and why you will either love or hate Dragon Quest.
I’ve barely talked about the technical things because the feeling of adventure is so strong. The music is great, however they re-use a lot of songs from other Dragon Quests. In fact, every Dragon Quest I’ve played has had almost the same soundtrack. It gives it a very clear identity, but there’s not much excitement in the absence of new tunes. The arrangements are extremely good however. The graphics are also quite pleasant, and I really enjoyed the background art in battles. Whether you’re on the plains, in a forest or a cave, it just feels very lush. It’s the most “green” Dragon Quest game I’ve played. Text is very clear too, and I had no problems going back to my DS Lite. I honestly love how sturdy this machine feels compared to the 3DS and the battery life is sweet. I fell asleep while playing once and the DS screen was still on when I woke up. The game is so comfy I was daydreaming and nightdreaming at the same time, staying in reverie.
Another interesting technical achievement of this game is the tag mode feature. Before StreetPass was a thing, Dragon Quest had already pioneered this feature in DQXI and to my surprise, this port of DQVI. From a location on the world map called the Dream Suite, you can share dreams over wireless while your DS is closed and asleep. You pick your avatar, occupation, and write a message about what’s in your dream. I set mine up, then searched for a few minutes in the vague hope someone else on this street was playing a 6 year old port of a SNES game with wireless switched on their DS. No luck. It is still a cool novelty though, and a nice bit of handheld communication history. The DS Dragon Quest games were truly ahead of their time with StreetPass, and you can read about my other failed Dragon Quest IX wireless adventure here.
Not many people will say Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie is their favourite Dragon Quest, but I had a great time with it and appreciate the world for what it is. It lacks the grand in-your-face story presentation of some other games, but replaces that feeling with curiosity. There’s a full feeling of adventure for those who crave it, with a wonderfully crafted world to explore. I just haven’t been able to stop playing.
There’s so much more depth I could go into with the battle system, classes, monster encounters, but it’s best to discover the gameplay for yourself. There’s so much to do in any Dragon Quest game, and a lot I still haven’t done in VI despite almost completing the story. It’s just a great game full of content, with the great writing and enjoyable music Dragon Quest is known for. I don’t even care that the game is old, or that I’m playing on my DS Lite. It’s just going to make Dragon Quest VII feel even more amazing when I start it soon on 3DS. Can’t wait. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to sleep so I can save the world.