Dragon Quest is undeniably one of the longest running and most popular video game series in Japan, as evidenced by the string of anime, manga and spin-offs it has generated over the years. Despite there being nearly two decades between the original release and the DS remakes of chapters IV and V, the games have proven they’ve lost none of their original appeal. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie is the third title to make the transition to small screen status, and if it’s anything like the other two, should prove to be equally popular.
The game is set across two worlds, populated by many towns, dungeons, and locations of interest. The intro doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to begin with – it doesn’t help matters that the main characters can’t remember who they are, but everything becomes apparent in due course. A typically epic storyline unfolds: our nameless hero gathers up a party of fellow amnesiacs; together they set forth to save both worlds from a powerful, evil megalomaniac… and try to recover their true identities in the process. There’s plenty of amusing character interaction and trademark humour to be found throughout the game, plus lots to see and do as well.
In true DQ tradition, gameplay is linear but there are several side quests and optional characters you can add to your party… or not. As usual, much of your time is spent travelling the world, stopping every few seconds to fight an assortment of beasties, earning gold and experience as you go. In towns and cities you can barge uninvited into dwellings, smash containers, rummage through cupboards and steal stuff without fear of reprisal. Scumbag Christchurch looters aside, it’s not the sort of behaviour you’d expect from anyone – let alone a party of heroes, but the townsfolk don’t seem to mind.
Combat, inventory, party management and general commands are accessed via a series of text menus, which are easy to understand and navigate… always a big plus. The only annoyance here is the save game process, which is still quite laborious and laced with overtly religious content – as is much of the game. DQ fans will be well used to this, but back in the day it was subject to censorship in the good old US of A.
Like the other DQ games, getting from A to B by foot or wagon involves frequent, random encounters (which won’t bother the fans one bit). Combat is turn-based and, for the most part, very well implemented. You can either control each party member’s actions yourself, or assign tactical commands, directing them to fight aggressively, defensively, focus on healing etc. The AI is fairly good, but occasionally party members will do something which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For this reason, it pays to take the wheel yourself during the boss fights, which are often multi-stage and very challenging.
The levelling up process is all done for you: attribute points are allocated and characters acquire a modest but useful set of abilities and spells as they gain experience. Some hours into the game, there’s also an option to change vocations (e.g. martial artist, merchant, thief), which offers a bit of variation and the chance to customise party members. Access to different skills and spells also gives the characters more depth and makes them more powerful, since they’ll retain any new skill and spells learned. Mastering certain combinations of vocations unlocks more advanced ones, plus you can switch whenever you like – without being penalised in the XP department. This all amounts to a genuine incentive to try them out.
To help prolong their lives and increase fighting prowess, you can kit out your homies with various weapons, armour and accessories. These familiar items from previous and subsequent DQ titles can either be found or purchased in shops. Also familiar are many of the monsters, with their amusing names and animations. Some have a deceptively innocuous appearance; ironically, it’s often the cutesy-looking ones that can deal the most damage. It doesn’t take long to learn which monsters to take out first in a fight, however. You’ll even be able to recruit the odd slime or two, and train them in different classes like the rest of your party.
If you fancy a bit of distraction from the constant grind of adventuring, you can hit the casino or try your hand at the mini-games (although we weren’t too impressed with the new Slippin’ Slime game, which is a variation on curling). There are also mini medals to be discovered during your travels, which can eventually be traded in for valuable items. With mini medals it’s more about the thrill of the treasure hunt than the actual reward. There’s a wireless ‘tag mode’ feature, by means of which you can trade information (dreamsharing) with other DS owners. It’s another optional diversion, and not essential to completion of the game.
Graphics are best described as ‘new old school’, having undergone some major aesthetic improvements while retaining the look and feel of classic DQ. Colours are rich and vibrant, and although they’re tiny, characters and objects are well defined and easily recognisable. The map fills both screens as you travel, which helps you to overlook the obvious size constraints. Koichi Sugiyama’s beautiful orchestral score requires, nay, demands earphones; the tinny DS speakers really don’t do it justice. Incidental sound effects, such as those heard during combat are reassuringly familiar.
Some of the original game’s grandeur and visual impact may have been lost in its transition to the small screen, but much of the original charm remains. The story is engaging and you’re guaranteed many, many hours of playing time. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reveries offers great value for money, and a truckload of classic, turn-based JRPG fun.