Maybe I’ve taken my touch screen for granted.
Five years ago I would have scoffed at the thought. “Who needs to touch a game?” I might have asked. “That’s what controllers are for.” But after a passionate half-decade affair with Nintendo’s inimitable handheld, I’ve grown to love all of its terrible, wonderful, completely unnecessary gimmicks. And when Dragon Quest VI teases me with giant bottom-screen buttons and icons that beg to be touched but don’t react to my fingers, I can’t help but wish the game had kept up with the times.
That’s the thing about the sixth installment in the Dragon Quest series – it’s decidedly conservative. It’s filled with kings and orcs, demons and wizards. There’s a world to save, some levels to grind, plenty of slimes to kill. But outside of a few bonus mini-games, there’s no using the touch screen. Neither is there blowing into the microphone, or shaking around the DS like a slime-filled tambourine. Just good old-fashioned questing.
Of course, when it comes to good old-fashioned questing, Dragon Quest VI hits all of the right notes. The Dragon Quest series has always been known for getting the traditional RPG damn right, and DQVI does not buck that trend. The game presents all of the trappings—a silent protagonist, archetypical character classes, all sorts of unique dungeons and bosses—in a fresh coat of stylized 3D paint that never stops looking beautiful. Even the most minor of enemies are crafted with impressive detail, and the majority have appropriately groan-worthy names like “arrgoyle” and “corpsickle.”
The main storyline, which involves discovering the main character’s true identity and history while bouncing between two mirroring worlds, is interesting enough. But what’s really appealing is the world—players will find something entertaining to do in almost every hamlet and castle. In a given hour with the game, I could jump into a well to find an old lady’s ring, release a seafaring ship from its magical trappings, and pit brothers against one another in order to get the best price for my goods. The people of Dragon Quest VI speak in bizarre and often annoying accents—one town has more “you betcha”s than a Wisconsin dairy farm—but they tended to grow on me. It was a blast to bounce around from city to city and see what kind of problem I could help fix.
But there are niggling flaws that bugged along the way. Quick-saving only works outdoors, for example – stuck in a dungeon and running out of batteries? Sucks for you! Players can’t target individual enemies if they’re grouped up in stacks, which is an annoyance I’d figured died off with the Super Nintendo. And maybe it’s my remarkably short attention span, but the game always felt much slower than it needed to – even with message speeds turned all the way up, dialogue plodded along at an unnecessarily sluggish pace.
The game is tough, too. Don’t be surprised to find yourself pacing back and forth outside of a town, mashing the A-button while watching TV so you can gain some cheap levels and finally be able to survive the next tricky fight—one particular two-stage boss had me stuck for hours on end. And until one of your characters learns how to resurrect the others, you’ll have to be careful not to let anyone die in a dungeon. Proper resource management is very important, and if you don’t conserve your items and spells, you’re not going to last very long.
Dragon Quest VI is a necessary game for two reasons. For starters, it completes what Square Enix calls “The Zenithia Trilogy,” topping off a trifecta of DS remakes that began with Dragon Quests IV and V. Second, and more importantly, Dragon Quest VI has never seen any sort of official release in the United States. It hit the Super Famicom in Japan fifteen years ago, but other than an unofficially translated ROM, the game has yet to appear in America until now. It’s more than welcome.
Also, there’s a flying bed. You can fly on a bed. It’s a bed. And it flies.
Dragon Quest VI was developed by ArtePiazza and Square Enix and published by Nintendo. It is available for the Nintendo DS.
Jason Schreier is a contributor for Wired.com and a NYC-based writer/editor who has worked for a whole buncha places, including the Onion News Network, G4TV, and Eurogamer.com. He really likes coffee and wants to be your Twitter buddy! (@jasonschreier)