GameSpite Journal 10 | Dragon Quest VI

Dragon Quest VI | Dev.: Heartbeat| Pub: Enix| Genre: RPG | Release: Dec. 1995 (Japan)

Each and every one of the first five Dragon Quest games was, conceptually, a reaction to the last. Dragon Quest applied the console-friendly adventure-style interface of The Portopia Serial Murder Case to an RPG milieu; Dragon Quest II expanded the first gameís mechanics to a party-style system; Dragon Quest III gave players the ability to define the classes and skill of those party members; Dragon Quest IV applied personalities and aspirations to the heroís blank-slate companions; and Dragon Quest V told a moving tale of the warrior who was not himself the foredestined hero but rather the heroís herald, a John the Baptist who suffered crushing personal losses in his mission to fulfill his fatherís legacy.

Within those five games, Enix and Chun Soft had explored the sum total of the role-playing genre, the extremes of both mechanics and narrative. The task set to newcomer Heartbeat for Dragon Quest VI must have seemed unbelievably daunting: To find a new facet of the series to explore while coming up with a tale to top its predecessorís powerful, multi-generational saga. They didnít quite succeed at their assigned task, but they certainly gave it their best.

If DQV succeeded for the intimacy of its tale, DQVI is remarkable for the grandeur of its ambitions. It is, in effect, Dragon Quest doing Final Fantasy: Its lengthy tale spans two worlds, involves a sizable party (including several wholly optional human recruits as well as a gaggle of friendly slime allies), enables an unprecedented degree of character customization for the series, and revolves around a series of plot twists that seem determined to outdo the last. Its graphics put DQVís minimalist visuals to shame, and its soundtrack -- composed as usual by Koichi Sugiyama but arranged by Hitoshi Sakimoto -- was among the best on Super NES.

DQVIís biggest fault is that it followed immediately after one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Itís a damn fine game, but after the heartwrenching tale presented by DQV it canít help but feel a little lacking. DQVIís story is interesting enough, revolving around a party of adventurers who find themselves slipping between the real world and the realm of dreamsóthe truth of which world is real and which is ephemeral, and each characterís role in each forms the fulcrum around which the bulk of the plot pivotsóbut the gameís nameless hero never quite connects with the player on the same level as DQVís long-suffering family man.

Still, what DQVI lacks in emotional resonance, it more than makes up for in breadth and depth. It was by the far the most substantial entry in the series to that point, striking a perfect balance of length and substance. It offers plenty for the player to chew on without wearing thin its welcome like Heartbeatís follow-up, Dragon Quest VII, did. DQVI is loaded with sidequests, and its generally open structure and vocation system grant the player a ridiculous amount of agencyóeven for a Dragon Quest game. To top it off, DQVI was also the toughest Dragon Quest since DQII... though unlike that punishing NES episode, it came by its difficulty fairly rather than by stacking the odds against players with cheap shots.

Itís also the only RPG Iíve ever heard of that allows players to explore the world by hopping on a big brass bed, Bedknobs and Broomsticks style. DQVI may not have had quite as much heart as DQV, but it never lacked for whimsy.

By Jeremy Parish? | April 9, 2012 | Previous: Civilization | Next: Star Fox 2