Dragon Quest VI: Maboroshi no Daichi

released on Dec 09, 1995

Dragon Quest VI is the sixth installment in the Dragon Quest series. It is the penultimate title for the Nintendo Super Famicom as well as the last game in the Zenithia trilogy, and the first game in the series to be developed by Heartbeat, rather than Chunsoft.

Like every other Dragon Quest game, the setting in Dragon Quest VI is very medieval, complete with castles, knights, and magic. The main world is divided into the Lower World and the Upper World, each with a separate but similar map. To get from one world to the other, the party uses special warps (such as in wells) or by ascending/descending colossal stairs on the world map.

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Starts strong and ends strong but the midgame is kind of a slog with some mildly exciting parts throughout. Probably the most Dragon Quest-ass Dragon Quest

Likeable enough, fun world idea, but kind of just loses its pacing about 1/3 through and bored me. The pulpy/campy fantasy story seemed promising, but... the game's just so long.
There's not much interesting tension to the dungeons, etc. I mean they feel different and you have to go through multiple times but it gets repetitive. An interview said the game 'really starts' at Dharma temple but come on I'm like 10-15 hours in and I'm not there yet, I've played plenty of RPGs that Really Start in 5 minutes. I'm still putting the game on 8x and holding attack to win every random battle. If I had Nothing Else to play I would probably stick it out but I think I'm Good.
Music is great but there's still the problem where Sugiyama doesn't write enough songs so every dungeon and town feels the same despite the efforts of the artists/writing team.


I don't hate it, but it's still not very good. The biggest complaint I have about the game is the job change system itself. It averages out and dilutes the differences in character personality/performance.
Hassan is a very strong and good character who is still relevant today.

With this, I've finally completed a 3+ year journey to experience all of what I see as classic DQ (the originals of DQ1-7), so this will be a very long review since I'll be trying to collect my thoughts on some other games as well. It was something I enjoyed by and large, but now that I've experienced it all I am a bit more comfortable admitting something that seems almost sacrilegious for JRPG fans: I hate Dragon Quest combat.
(the below criticisms are of the series in general, though I feel that ironically that the fairest instalments in terms of difficulty were on the NES - DQ3 and 4)
Feel free to try and change my mind - it's very possible that I'm missing something and just suck at it - but the randomness of it grates a lot. The quasi-random turn order in the round-based combat means that I ended up having characters die before I could heal them a lot. Enemy attacks are not only random but also poorly-balanced. Many enemies will either plink one character for scratch damage, or do a massive AOE breath attack that hits your entire party and is strong enough to nearly oneshot your squishier characters. It is this imbalance between the strong and weak enemy attacks that makes me disagree with the notion that round-based combat incentivizes planning and strategy. I can't assume that the enemy will use the weak attack every time (I'll get caught with my pants down), but I can't assume that they will use the strong attack every time either (I'll run out of MP after two battles if I aggressively buff and heal even at full HP - which is required to survive some of the enemy volleys). So it turns into a guessing game. Every round, I just guess what the enemy will do, and hope I'm right.
Other round-based games found ways to work around this; the later Breah of Fire games seemed to give priority in each round to characters who were healing to reduce frustration, and the Lunar series had enemies telegraph their moves before each round, leading to a semblance of actual strategy. But Dragon Quest is unapologetically round-based and unapologetically random - and also very unforgiving considering the paucity of save spots and the lack of good means of revival until late in the game. The difficulty curves in general are pretty all over the place (again, 3 and 4 are the surprising exceptions), and in this game I more or less breezed through the entire last dungeon and got annihilated by the final boss, needing to grind for 2 hours on fast forward to even stand a chance against him.
(End of combat rant)
In the end, I still have to give a relatively high score to this game - it never forgot its roots as a Nintendo-hard game, with the difficulty spikes and grinding and cheap deaths seemingly intentional, and thus it seems almost churlish to give a low rating to a game that succeeded at what it wanted to do, even if I didn't like it. Besides, there are many other things I like about classic Dragon Quest, and this game is a shining example of many of them.
Dragon Quest normally has a cliche overarching plot but great plot frames (think the time travel in 7) and great NPC characterization, where you get lots of nice little subplots - implied and otherwise - from the world's inhabitants, making them a lot more than simple exposition coupons. This game's plot frame is great (the presence of a dream world and real world which you can travel between at will). It leads to a very well-done twist about a third through the game, and also lends itself very well to telling stories about the NPCs, since you're able to learn a lot about them from visiting them in the waking and dream world. Some are superficial but clever - there's a guy who doesn't like his name in the real world and has a different name in the dream world, and there's a guy you first meet in the dream world who's been having memory lapses and it turns out it's because he's an old man in real life. Others will tug at your heartstrings (or actually make you cry if you're in the mood) - you meet a guy sitting in front of a grave in the dream world, and it turns out the guy is actually a dog in real life, who is also sitting in front of his human's grave. There are plenty of nice little touches like this which I obviously don't want to give away, but they're the best part of the game for me.
Dragon Quest's other strength is its mix of linearity and open-endedness. You get access to a lot of the world map from relatively early, though you have to unlock many of the locations and the events, and that creates a feel of going on an actual adventure where you have so many possibilites. This game was no exception - being able to explore two worlds and gradually access more and more of them is a great feeling, though it got a tad obtuse at times.
Finally, this game deserves credit for having probably the best QOL of classic DQ - it's the first DQ game where you automatically open a door if you have the right key in your inventory instead of having to manually use the key. The walking speed is much faster than its predecessors, and even the inactive members of your party get exp and job levels - a godsend in such a grindy game. I also find it a much smoother experience than DQ7, which had a slower walking speed and awkward camera control that made exploration a chore and gave me PTSD flashbacks to Xenogears. People rag on the job system in this game, but even though it wasn't as deep as in DQ7, it has the advantage of not needing 30 hours to unlock.
After experiencing DQ1-7 I can say that while the combat isn't something I've warmed up to, I really enjoy the way Dragon Quest games realize their worlds and tell their stories - this game showcases both my favorite and least favorite aspects of the series.