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Dragon Quest VI: Maboroshi no Daichi (SNES) artwork

Dragon Quest VI: Maboroshi no Daichi (SNES) review

"And most importantly: once upon a time, three brave heroes advanced upon the castle of the fierce demon lord Mudo in an attempt to bring his reign of terror to an end. The foul beast was prepared, though, and cast a horrible spell that caused the heroic party members to be frozen momentarily in air before finally vanishing. In a bed in a remote village, the leader of the brave triumvirate wakes up… to what apparently is the same boring, rustic life he always has lived."

Whilst partaking in a bit of level-grinding in order to FINALLY beat the final boss of Dragon Quest VI, I let my mind drift. That's easy to do whenever you have to grind in any of the games in this series, as it's usually pretty easy to bludgeon your way through the average monster encounter without using any tactic more complicated than "heal people who are low on hit points." It was even easier to do in this particular instance, as this big boss demon lord was considerate enough to provide a room for you to fully restore your health and magic at any time, so there was next-to-no chance of anything going dramatically wrong.

As my characters were walking back and forth and sporadically getting sent into random encounters with various foes, I pondered just why I’ve always loved this series. That affection isn't the easiest thing to explain because (at face value) these games could be seen as pretty boring. You assemble a party, build up levels, buy new and better equipment, explore dungeons and repeat those steps until you've reached the end of the road. There rarely is anything resembling true difficulty, since most every obstacle can easily be overcome with a bit of grinding.

But something keeps dragging me back, just the same. During my period of reflection, I realized it’s the way that Dragon Quest VI and the series overall tell their stories. While there's a main plot which ties everything together, you're exposed to it through a series of self-contained vignettes. In a strange way, it's almost like you're playing through a book of ancient legends and faerie tales where you are the deciding factor in whether the ending is a happy one… or otherwise.

Once upon a time, an evil wizard vied for the love of a princess. When she refused his advances, he cursed her to live as a prisoner inside a mirror, where her only hope of freedom was to surrender to his desires. Once upon a time, a city blessed with great magic simply vanished. The only way to entice it to return (along with the knowledge of an extremely powerful spell contained within its walls) would be to defeat a powerful demon hidden in an underwater fortress. Once upon a time, the final residents of a desolate village heard of a mystical land of happiness -- a utopia where all their dreams could come true. Is this place real, or a cruel hoax perpetrated by evildoers?

And most importantly: once upon a time, three brave heroes advanced upon the castle of the fierce demon lord Mudo in an attempt to bring his reign of terror to an end. The foul beast was prepared, though, and cast a horrible spell that caused the heroic party members to be frozen momentarily in air before finally vanishing. In a bed in a remote village, the leader of the brave triumvirate wakes up… to what apparently is the same boring, rustic life he always has lived. Was the ill-fated battle with the demon merely a dream? Was it a harbinger of future events? Or… was that fateful moment the true reality, with the hero's current peaceful life the true dream?

Those questions and the pursuit of their answers will carry players through their first many hours spent with Dragon Quest VI. The leader of the heroes is your silent protagonist and it won't be too long until you encounter a pair of allies whom appear to be his sidekicks, even if they don't seem to have any memories of that encounter with Mudo. You'll bounce back from your world to a mystical one that is connected to yours by various portals and eventually gain the support to launch an offensive against the demon lord. There are some spectacularly eerie moments here, especially when you and your comrades realize that you're covering the same tracks that you did in that intro "dream" you had immediately before entering the castle.

But Mudo is just the gatekeeper for the game proper, as Dragon Quest VI plays by one of those tried-and-true JRPG rules requiring that the guy who looks like the master villain from the beginning is really only a henchman. Once you've beaten him, you'll gradually hear about all sorts of additional demon lords who need to be vanquished. To help in that task, you'll now have access to the Dhama Shrine, allowing you to assign all of your characters new classes. Some of those classes accentuate the ability to inflict physical damage in combat. Others are great for mages and healers. A final few are more specialized still, allowing you to capture monsters to become additional party members, as well as to find extra treasure and perform status buffing and debuffing dances.

While the various classes aren't all equal in overall usefulness, you will want to master all of them, including a pair of hidden ones which require you to find obscure items (or in the case of the Dragon class, discovering an optional party member also does the trick). You don't learn the location of the item that is required to unlock one class until you've already beaten the game, but there's a reason for this: you must master every single class if you want to unlock Dragon Quest VI's huge post-campaign dungeon, which ties the main game together with yet another little faerie tale. Once upon a time, the people who ruled a nation tried to combat an evil demon king by summoning a bigger, more powerful diabolical being… only to watch it obliterate their castle, slaughtering all in its wake. What happens, though, when a group of heroes earns its respect by force?

Dragon Quest VI might be my favorite of all the games in this series I've played. I say "might" because I've played many of these games repeatedly over a period of over two decades, while I've only played this one once and the emotions it generated are still fresh in my mind. No matter what, though, I find it impossible to deny the major steps forward that Enix took with this installment. The graphics are on par with the better RPGs of the 16-bit era and, for the first time, enemies are animated in combat. The game's world is massive, with both a "real" and "dream" world (good luck finding which is which for quite some time), as well as the demon king's separate plane of existence, which contains multiple towns and dungeons of its own. There also are plenty of diversions, such as casinos and an arena where you can train pet slimes in combat. And everything flows fairly smoothly, in part because the character class system discourages players from spending too much time grinding. To advance in each class, you have to fight a certain number of battles, but not against just any enemy. Fighting foes weaker than yourself doesn't count towards this number, so you'll be constantly moving onward towards tougher challenges in order to master high-level classes like Battlemaster and Sage before reaching the game's final battles.

There are flaws, though, which over time did have the effect of diminishing my opinion of this game's greatness to a certain degree. There are occasional spikes in difficulty, for instance, which all but force a player to grind his or her way past an obstacle. My trouble with the game's final boss probably was the most extreme I encountered, since he forces the heroes to endure a three-part battle loaded with devastating attacks (and he will in fact use several of those in a given combat round, just to make matters worse). That encounter wasn’t the only one that proved unexpectedly harrowing, either. In fact, I spent a good bit of time struggling to help one character improve his class level because of grinding to overcome a particular mid-game boss. Elsewhere, the style contest also can prove extremely annoying. Every piece of equipment you can find throughout the game has an associated style value related to this contest. You need to have a particular character's total style value exceed a certain number to progress from one round to the next, and in one case you can only advance the plot by winning the first three rounds of the contest. Thanks to a long-winded announcer (and post-contest comments from the judges), as well as a lengthy "modeling" scene, this effort takes a good bit of time. Nothing is quite as annoying as a boring, tedious mini-game that also happens to be mandatory.

Fortunately, Dragon Quest VI’s failings are few and far between. For the most part, this game was a blast to play. While you could call it "just another Dragon Quest game", it was the best looking of the lot when it was first released, boasting a significant upgrade to its visuals. There also was a long quest with a few memorable twists and turns, and there were plenty of different and interesting ways to customize your party between the half-dozen or so human characters and the couple dozen recruitable monsters. When push comes to shove, the only real question for a player is whether or not he or she personally enjoys the Dragon Quest style of gaming, with its simplistic combat system and frequent random encounters. If you don't like that sort of affair, there probably isn't anything here that will change your mind; but if you do, it's quite possible you'll find this game to be the pinnacle of the series.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 17, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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