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Super Famicom (1995, Japan only)
Dragon Quest VI marks a huge change for the series -- it's the first game to have been developed by Heartbeat, as opposed to Chunsoft, who split off to concentrate its Mysterious Dungeon spinoff series. The graphics have improved significantly over its predecessor, featuring much larger characters, and more detailed terrain, putting it on the level with other SFC RPGs like Star Ocean and Final Fantasy VI. The battle backgrounds now take up the whole screen instead of being fought in a window, and all of the enemies have attack animations, which helps make the action feel less static. The music is also substantially better, featuring much stronger instrument samples, which is especially noticeable with the percussion. (It was actually arranged for the SFC by Hitoshi Sakimoto.) The movement is much smoother, the characters move faster, and the whole game feels like Dragon Quest finally crawled out of its archaic shell, while still keeping what makes the series unique.
The scenario is also more involving than the previous games. Dragon Quest VI features a "dual world" setup similar to Zelda: A Link to the Past. But instead of featuring a "Light World" and "Dark World", DQVI is broken up into the "Real World" and "Dream World" (which is the "Maboroshii no Daichi" or "Illusionary Land" mentioned in the title.) The story begins with a trio of young warriors mounting on assault on the evil warlord Mudo. However, you and your prove no match for his power, and all of them are banished into thin air. Then, you awaken back in your room, your confrontation apparently having been just a dream.
Upon resuming your daily routine, you finds a strange gaping hole in the earth. You jump in, only to discover another world almost exactly like your own. However, you appear only as a spectre, and most people can't see or interact with you (this leads to some amusing tricks you can play on villagers -- you can actually try to convince a hapless clergyman that you're God.) Eventually you come across the companions from your dream (who've lost their memories, of course), before eventually figuring out a way to jump between both worlds.
Then you learn the truth about the "dream world". The inhabitants of the real world have projected their minds into this dream world, leading to some interesting connections -- for example, one guard in the real world hates his name, and his identical version in the dream world has the name he wishes he had. Naturally, you'll do a lot of jumping back and forth between the two worlds, uncovering the hopes and dreams of the townspeople you run across.
Eventually you'll come across Mudo too, although he's hardly the final boss of the game. The true baddie is an even monstrous foe named Deathtamoor, who inhabits a dimension of darkness between the two worlds. It's a pretty cool plot, with plenty of cool twists, and seems to have directly influenced later RPGs -- needless to say, Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy X don't seem so innovative when you compare them to Dragon Quest VI. However, it would've been nice if there was some kind of visual distinction between the two worlds, other than the altered world map. This installment also finishes up the "Castle in the Sky" trilogy, although here it's simply referred to as "Zenith Castle". Apparently, the events in the game reveal that, chronologically, the game takes place before the other two games, as the DQVI protagonist is the Zenithian Hero referenced in DQIV.
At the beginning, the Hero is a simple inhabitant of a remote village, venturing only to sell his goods -- at least, until he discovers the alternate world. Here, people seem to recognize him as being a prince in one of the kingdoms. You also meet up with several other party members. Hassan is one of the buddies from your dreams. As his appearance would suggest, he's more about might and muscle than flexibility. Muriel is sour other friend from your dream (literally romanized as "Mireyu" and known as Milayou in the Dragon Quest Monsters localization) is your token magic user. She's the only person that can see Hero and Hassan when they first enter the alternate dimension. Barbara also appears as a spectre at first, but you eventually help her materialize, and she ends up joining your quest. She's basically just another mage, who also looks a lot like Marle from Chrono Trigger -- but that should be expected from Toriyama's artwork. Chamoro is a healer joins your party when you get your ship, and comes from a prestigious family. And Terry is an enemy for part of the game, who eventually joins your quest after you defeat him. He doesn't realize it at first, but he's actually Muriel's brother.
Dragon Quest VI brings back the class system from Dragon Quest III, with a number of improvements. Similar to Final Fantasy III or V, you can switch classes any time you want instead of waiting until you hit level 20 (although you need to head to the Dharma Shrine to do this.) Your class level is now separate from your main experience level, and there are eight class levels within a given job. You gain class experience by fighting a set number of battles against foes around your same level, so you won't gain any experience if you grind against enemies that are too weak. When you level up your class rank, you'll get a new skill.
The classes at the beginning of the game should be familiar -- the standard Fighter, Soldier, Healer, Wizard, Merchant, and Goof-Off -- as well as Thief, Dancer and Beastmaster. The Beastmaster class lets you tame certain monsters a la DQV, but there's not as many beasts to find, since it's not really the focus of the game. (There are also two hidden characters to hunt down.) Once you master multiple specific base classes, you can open up the advanced classes, which include Battlemaster (Soldier & Fighter), Magic Knight (Soldier & Wizard), Paladin (Fighter & Priest), Ranger (Thief, Merchant & Beastmaster), Sage (Priest & Wizard) and Superstar (Dancer & Goof-Off). If you really put a lot of effort into it, you can even enable the Hero class, although it's much easier for the main character to get to this rank. It's a cool way to customize your characters, but unless you plan out your characters' growth ahead of a time, you could potentially end up with an underpowered party. It also requires a lot more grinding to get the skills you want.
Other improvements include the addition of the Bag, which allows you to store additional items without your characters having to hold them. This greatly improves inventory management and has been utilized in all of successive games (as well as the remakes.) You also have an "Appearance" stat, which changes based on your equipment. Increase your Appearance will help you win a style contest later in the game, which allows for more prizes. There's also the Slime Battle Arena, where you can pit various members of the slime family against each other for prizes. The Medal system has also changed, in that you're given specific prizes for obtaining a certain number of Medals, rather than using them as currency to purchase the items you want. You can also bring up a world map (once you obtain it) by hitting the "R" button. The day/night cycle is also gone, and only changes as the plot dictates.
Like its immediate predecessor, Dragon Quest VI was passed over for localization, since Enix had closed up shop in America, and Square -- one of the only companies willing to translate any RPGs into English -- was too busy trying to figure out how to get their own games to sell. It may be a bit too combat intensive -- it takes way too long to build up the classes -- and the dual world system gets overwhelming at times, but it's still a fantastic game. Unlike the previous games, Dragon Quest VI hasn't seen any remakes until the DS. The release date of the DS edition is undecided as of this writing.