I've been doing these reviews for a while now and you'll notice that, barring that one hiccup in the form of Dragon Quest IV, my experience with the series has been that every subsequent installment has been better than the last. Dragon Quest uses a simple formula to great effect. Some may call it dated, but what it does, it does extremely well, and though the changes between installments are much more subtle than, say, in Final Fantasy, the quality still consistently rises between one installment and the next. And then we reach this game. Dragon Quest V was by many regarded the best in the series, and the pinnacle of the Zenithian Trilogy. Dragon Quest VI sits ever in its shadow, forgotten by most, underwhelming in the minds of those who remembered it. But is this game truly such a black sheep?

Dragon Quest VI begins In Medias Res. We see our very Son Gohan-looking hero waking up in a forest clearing, accompanied by two of his friends. We soon learn that they have come here to defeat the Dreadfiend Murdaw in order to restore peace in the land. Essentially you think we're starting where Dragon Quest games usually end, which is by defeating the evil overlord. Well, things don't exactly go as planned. After a stunningly beautiful cutscene of you flying on a dragon (that looks very similar to the Zenithian Dragon, but with a different color scheme) to reach Murdaw's lair, you find his palace clear of all monsters. Things seem much too convenient when you reach the Dreadfiend himself with zero effort, and that's because they are. You turn out to be much too weak to face the fiend and are turned to stone... only to later wake up back in your home town by your sister. At least, that's what you'd think. As you go about doing errands for townspeople, you stumble across huge gaping maws in the ground. Of course, you soon fall down one, and find yourself in a whole other world that is eerily similar to yours, but with one glaring difference - no one can notice your presence.

I was genuinely surprised with how well the plot of Dragon Quest VI works. DQV had a very personal story that made for a profound experience. Many of DQVI's fantasy plots seem kind of silly in comparison, but I'm honestly really glad they went this way. The impact of DQV is something once in a series' lifetime, and trying desperately to repeat it could really kill that impression. So Dragon Quest VI instead does its own thing, by relying on more individual story lines in towns, as well as an overarching plot that is incredibly engrossing not because it's a deep reflection on your own life, but because it's a shamelessly fun, cliche fantasy adventure. It's been so long since I felt this kind of excitement and sense of adventure because of a story that just keeps me wanting to know more. Who is my character? Who are all these other characters? What's up with the holes and how are the worlds connected? In a way the plot of this game is very similar to that of Dragon Quest III - the focus is on the adventure and the ending reveals just how very connected this game actually is to the rest of the trilogy.

The gameplay is another throwback to DQIII. Once again you get a job system, but there are a few noticeable differences. First of all, your party does not comprise of nameless characters you create and assign jobs. Instead, you get 7 human characters (including your hero) and 9 monster characters to recruit who all learn a handful of abilities on their own. But, if you really want them to grow and learn a substantial amount of abilities, you will need to assign them vocations once Alltrades Abbey becomes available. At first you get to select from nine basic vocations. Master two (or three) specific ones and you gain access to one of the six advanced vocations that provide an even higher stat boosts and better skills. Master one of four select advanced vocations to unlock the Hero vocation for your main character, and there are also two secret vocations with special unlock criteria. You unlock new character skills by ranking up your vocation. All of them max out at rank 8 and you need to win a specific number of battles to rank up. But don't think you can just game the system by grinding at your starting location - if your character level is too high, some areas will just not grant you vocation points anymore and you won't be able to advance your vocation. The best thing about this system is that you get to keep all your skills from previous vocations, making for really robust skillsets on late-game characters. I don't recommend having everyone master every vocation just to get all the skills, however. The skills you get by the time you master an advanced vocation are more than enough to take everything the game throws at you, and most advanced jobs actually offer great bonuses for sticking with a mastered job. Not to mention there are a lot of vocations and it would take forever for you to master them all.

Presentation-wise, the game is extremely beautiful, really making the best of the engine used in the DS ports. The colorful character designs make for a particularly vibrant look and it's just a joy exploring both worlds. I also want to take a minute to talk about the music.

Koichi Sugiyama has truly outdone himself this time. This is hands down my favorite soundtrack in the series thus far, and the battle theme linked above is one of the reasons why. It may sound unremarkable on its own, even if it is an interesting take for the series, having the strings perform a constant cifrato down below. But it's the brass that really makes this soundtrack. Those higher notes of the main melody you hear are actually the main motif of the game and reappear in many themes throughout, including the dungeon theme, tower theme, and even the boss and final boss themes. This kind of cohesion is a surprisingly incredible way to make you truly immerse yourself in the game's world(s). I know this has been done later in games like Final Fantasy XIII, but this being one of the first instances of this, making Sugiyama really a pioneer (or at least one of them), combined with the sheer genius of the structure of his pieces, is one of the biggest reasons why this game is so great at sucking you in.

So, is Dragon Quest VI good, you ask me with a raised eyebrow and a framed artwork of you and Nera Briscoletti held tight in your arms in a protective stance. My answer is a loud and resounding "yes". In fact, out of the games I've played so far, Dragon Quest VI has actually proved to be my favorite! It lacks the personal quality DQV had, of course, and is nowhere near as original or ambitious in terms of story, but what plot we got is still incredibly engrossing and makes you feel like you're on a fantastical adventure. Combine that with the amazing vocation system and eargasm-inducing soundtrack, and you have yourself a game that will leave an impression to last you a lifetime. I played the DS version, but DQVI is also available on iOS for $14.00. Also, it's called "Realms of Revelation" in the US. Now if only Dragon Quest VII on 3DS would come out faster...