We've opined before that retrogaming isn't what it used to be. In this day and age, lots of older games just can't hold a candle to their modern peers.
That's especially true of some of the older entries in the Dragon Quest series. They had repetitive combat, tedious exploration, and characterless plots.
Some of this is still true of the middle games in the series. As stereotypical JRPG games, fighting monsters consists of clicking "attack", then waiting for all the other participants to act.
Occasionally you get to cast a spell for variety. It's fun for about five minutes, then it gets tiresome.
This applies to Dragon Quest VI, and it also applies to its predecessor, Dragon Quest V. Yet we gave that a gold award. Why? Because it was full of life and character, and boasted a bittersweet plot of emotional ups and downs.
Dragon Quest VI manages to do much of the same, only just not quite so well. For all the stylized pixel-art cuteness it evokes a real sense of place.
Sure, there's plenty of boilerplate fantasy. Yet little trimmings make all the difference. Wood-woven crowns for a village festival. A king so dedicated he never sleeps. Small touches that bring a world to life.
Two worlds, in fact, since the action flips neatly from a "real" world to a dream version. Meaning the already vast world map has twice the terrain to explore. Flipping between the two to find all the people and items you need is a key part of the quest.
A lot of this involves gradually meeting and accumulating party members. This is much better design than the older games where you just rolled and named your companions, who became little more than walking bags of stats.
Your colleagues here are full of quirks and character, and you'll come to know and love them before they've even joined your party.
Sadly, most of the other people you'll encounter aren't worth the effort. All the writing went in to the plot and the pivotal NPC's. The generic villagers and merchants that populate the rest of the world are stuck with godawful comic dialogue.
At least it makes you feel a bit better when you rifle through their drawers for gold and medicinal herbs.
If you want to see all that land, and meet all those people, you'll need to do a lot of grinding. That's another unwelcome holdover from the olden days.
Wandering the wilderness in circles seeking out encounters for experience isn't an engaging experience. Especially when combat itself is so often dull.
Just to keep you on your toes, the game sometimes throws blocking boss monsters at you. Often these feel several levels above you when you first meet them.
But they'll need defeating if you want to progress. So it's back to walking round in circles looking for fights again.Drugging Quest
Actual levelling up gets more interesting part way through the game when you're introduced to the concept of starter classes.
These offer specific spells and skills and you can eventually combine them into hybrid master classes. That offers an awful lot of customisation to stat fiends.
There are plenty of items to buy and find to kit your characters out with too. And while the menus and interface are still stuck as mid-nineties anachronisms, there are a few concessions to usability.
A new "bag" button stops your inventory from overflowing. You can save whenever you like, although there's only one slot for doing so.
You can also find a couple of fun mini-games in the world. As if the colossal play time you'll rack up as you range across two vast continents isn't enough.
Dragon Quest VI is full of flaws. But it's also full of charm and appeal. Fans of old-school JRPG's will already have snapped this up.
For the rest of us who might have a passing interest, the charm and appeal are just enough to push you through the grueling grind.