The Dragon Quest games have been around since the mid-80s, contending with the likes of the almighty Final Fantasy, and many other JRPGs throughout gaming history. In 2018, we see the eleventh iteration of the series- Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age. So how does this long-standing franchise stand up against the RPGs of the modern age?
I hate to admit it, but this is my very first Dragon Quest game. I’ve played pretty much all the Final Fantasy’s, most of the Persona’s, a couple of the ‘Tales of’ games, but surprisingly I have never ventured into the Dragon Quest series.
Whenever a new game is released, even one of a long-standing series, there’s usually an attempt to modernise the series to keep it relevant and appeal to new fans. That’s why it was a complete surprise to me that Dragon Quest XI was as traditional as a JRPG can be, even in this day and age.
During my playthrough, it was like I was playing a game from 20 years ago, as Dragon Quest XI makes no attempt to become modernised or innovate. But this was by no means a bad thing at all! As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
True To Its Roots
If you’ve played any traditional JRPG (when turn-based combat was still a thing), then you know exactly what to expect with this adventure. All or most cliches you’ve experienced in these games are all present here- from story elements, to combat, and of course to the way your traversal of the world improves as you progress (gaining new vehicles, etc.).
Combat is played out in a good ol’ fashioned turn-based system. It’s fairly simple and easy to understand. You earn XP from battles, level up, earn skill points to use in a skill tree- everything you may already be used to.
What I really appreciated is the fact that random battles are not included in this game except when you’re out at sea. Whenever you’re out in the world, you’ll see each area populated by plenty of monsters, and if you want to fight, you simply walk right up to them.
So maybe not everything is completely old school here, but this is one change I appreciated. If you didn’t want to battle, you could just run around the creatures, as long as you’re not spotted. Plus, seeing so many monsters roaming around made the world feel more alive, which is something not very common in JRPGs.
If you remember ‘limit breaks’ from Final Fantasy games, they make their way here in the form of ‘Pepping Up’. Usually in these forms you pull off powerful attacks, but in Dragon Quest XI, there’s quite a few support-based Pep Up abilities. This was actually a little disappointing to me because Pepping Up is a rare occurrence, and I would rather just destroy my opponents instead of simply raising my teams defence/attack, etc.
One big positive to combat, which is in line with the omission of random battles, is that the combat is very quick. Enemies seem to die in about 2-3 hits, so while it’s not always difficult, you’re not spending too much time in combat which can be a relief. This allows the flow of the game to remain at a good pace, rather than being slowed down by random battles and long combat.
Another thing that really impresses me about the combat, and same goes for the rest of the game, is the sheer simplicity and cleanliness of it all. What do I mean by that? The menus, the interface, and the general presentation of it all (in and out of combat) is just well laid out and very clean. This means as a newcomer, it’s very easy to learn, and as a JRPG veteran it’s easy to slip in and start playing.
Nothing is overwhelming. The game doesn’t bombard you with brand new mechanics. It never feels confusing and the game does a great job of not over-complicating anything.
But that’s what feels so nice about playing Dragon Quest XI, I don’t know what the former Dragon Quest games were like, but this eleventh game feels like the culmination of decades of experience in creating JRPG games. As a fan of the genre, this pleased me very much.
An Epic Adventure
Dragon Quest XI’s storyline was probably my favourite part of the game. In fact it’s possibly my favourite story for all of 2018. It’s a classic story of good vs evil, light vs dark, and of course saving the world. While the overall story is epic and exactly what every JRPG fan is looking for, it’s how the story is told that really won me over.
There is an overall story arc, which is great for constantly pulling me along and motivating me to keep progressing through, but it’s the side stories that happen along the way that makes this game special.
These side stories are amazing in their own right. Usually every time you head to a new town, you’ll be treated to a unique and memorable story. The best part is that they’re usually tied into the main story as well, making it relevant at the same time.
Every time I was nearing the next destination as part of my quest, I was always excited to see what new story would be told. They all had their own themes too- a tragic love story, a prince failing to meet high-expectations, etc.
I’m sure everyone will have their favourite storylines, and the best part is that there are so many of them. The developers did a great job of making each of these stories fresh, fun, and memorable. I was engaged with every part of Dragon Quest XI’s story and side-stories from start to finish, and considering this game is absolutely huge, it really is an amazing achievement. There are even some parts of the story very reminiscent of Final Fantasy VI, so obviously some great inspiration there.
The storytelling just feels so laser-focused, like you know exactly what’s going on and what needs to be done. There is plenty that’s happening throughout the game but you’re always guided well and the story never feels too complicated to enjoy. I will admit that the storytelling does lose a bit of that focus just after halfway through, but eventually gets back on track.
A storyline-based feature I greatly appreciated was the fact it shows a ‘Story So Far’ segment when you load up your game. The story is pretty big, and if you haven’t played the game in a while, it’s an absolute blessing that the game fully explains the recent events and what you’re currently doing.
Also in-game you can speak with your party and they will generally talk about what’s happening and what you’re meant to be doing. It’s a great feature that more games desperately need.
The Dragon Quest XI Cast
No JRPG is complete without a cast of memorable characters, and Dragon Quest XI is no exception. You have old, wise, but perverted old man Rab, the flamboyant Sylvando, and the feisty black mage Veronica. It’s hard to not love all their unique designs, as they are all designed by Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball Z fame.
I was concerned for quite a while because for a big portion of the game, I wasn’t connecting with the characters. I knew nothing about them and felt no attachment to them. Since you’re spending so much time with them, you need that connection with them, otherwise the adventure doesn’t feel as special.
Thankfully my concerns were wiped away as you’ll learn more about each character in the second half of the game. I just love how this game’s story is told. The first half or so is heavy on the adventure aspect, and later on you’ll dive deeper into the characters, all the while still staying relevant to the overall story.
Unfortunately though, the main character is a mute. I don’t understand why developers do this to what should be their most important character. Everyone else is much more developed, and the character you play as is just feels like a spectator to it all.
Thankfully the game and the characters do help build you up and make you feel important, as you are the typical saviour of the world. Maybe it’s for the best he doesn’t talk as a fair amount of the voice acting can be quite average at times.
In terms of the characters in combat, they have their own unique abilities, but also share other abilities, allowing you to be flexible as to who you want in your team. For example, multiple characters can use the specific sword abilities, or can use white/black magic, so if there’s certain characters you like, you can still employ the strategy you want, as long you utilise their skill trees properly.
My only problem with them is their AI, as I was regularly frustrated when they used abilities that were unnecessary in combat. When the enemy is almost defeated, using the most powerful magic available is not the smartest move as it’s a waste of MP!
You can still set their tactics, whether you want them to focus on healing, going all out, or fighting in a more balanced way. I know I could just as easily take control over all of them, but I wanted the combat to go quickly, so that’s why they were all set to AI, despite my frustrations.
The World of Dragon Quest XI
The world of Dragon Quest XI, Erdrea, is a large, beautiful, varied and colourful world. You’ll visit a variety of locations such as the snowy north, a large desert, and lush green fields. Sometimes there were inconsistencies, like if you’re exiting the desert, you may end up in a swamp the very next screen. I know it’s just a game, but it did seem a bit silly.
One thing everyone will admire are the views as they are absolutely beautiful! Visually it’s just a real eye-candy of a world the game is set in. Sometimes the beautiful visuals can be blocked off by trees and branches in front of the camera, but it is just a minor annoyance.
I mentioned variety before when I described the world of Erdrea, and that ties in to the citizens of the world too. In almost every town you visit, you’ll encounter a brand new accent from the townsfolk. Actually, the amount of accents in this game is crazy! One town you’ll be listening to Middle Eastern accents, and then the very next everyone speaks Italian. It does give each town personality, but it can be hard to read their dialogue boxes at times.
A major part of every JRPG’s world is its dungeons, which Dragon Quest XI will provide you with plenty. Even though I enjoyed the majority of the world’s design, I felt that the dungeons could have been a lot better.
They are mostly pretty straight forward, with no puzzles, and is a matter of just making it through all the monsters to the end where the boss awaits. There were maybe a couple of dungeons that were fun to play through, but even they were just borderline good.
Like every JRPG/RPG, you’ll have a fair share of side-quests to complete. These were all pretty stock-standard, with nothing special about them, but fortunately there’s not a ridiculous amount to make it feel like a chore. Every town generally has about 2-3 side-quests each and they don’t take long to do, plus the rewards are generally worth it, so they didn’t bother me too much.
Dragon Quest XI Review Summary
Despite the evolution in RPGs this generation, Dragon Quest XI is content in staying traditional. This is great for fans of the genre and proves there’s still a place for it in the modern gaming world.
There’s a real sense of adventure that this game gives you, combined with all the unanswered questions the story throws at you, it really makes it a story worth pursuing. You’ll meet interesting characters, battle awesome villains, and maybe even feel a bit of emotion at times.
Just because Dragon Quest XI lacks the kind of innovation we’re used to seeing nowadays should takes nothing away from it. It knows what it’s doing and does it extremely well.
If you’re a fan of old-school JRPGs, then this game is an absolute no-brainer. It’s like coming home after years of being away, and you’ll have no problems settling in and getting ready for an epic adventure.
Dragon Quest XI is one of the best JRPGs this generation (I’d say second behind Persona 5) and it gets pretty much everything right. It’s nice knowing that these types of games are still getting released and can still be considered great in these modern times of gaming.