In an age where first-person shooters and battle royales take the forefront in gaming, an extremely traditional RPG has graced our presence. Yes, we should be praising the developers at Square-Enix for this one. Playing Dragon Quest XI feels like I’m playing a SNES RPG from the 90’s with the polished graphics of today and a story that is entirely voice acted (and actually really well done for an English dub). From the music that plays throughout, the towns I visit and turn-based battles I take part in, Dragon Quest XI is a masterpiece that evokes memories of some of my favourite RPGs. While games like Final Fantasy continue to reinvent themselves (sometimes not for the best), Dragon Quest XI embraces all of the old JRPGs and even its own games. It doesn’t try to mix up the formula or throw its characters into some real-world setting with a car that can jump and crazy looking clothes for them to wear. It stays true to its origins and we, the players, are the lucky ones because of this.
Note: I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but here’s my warning if you don’t want to know anything going in for the first time…
The story of Dragon Quest XI begins with a kingdom that is overrun by an army of monsters. A mother runs, carrying a basket containing her newborn child but is sadly overthrown by the malicious creatures and the child is lost and washed away in the basket down a river. Luckily, our soon to be hero is found by a nice old man and raised in a friendly village. 16 years later, this is where your story begins. You, the hero, are sent on a rite of passage. You must travel to the top of a mountain and reach the summit. Once this is accomplished, you will pass over into adulthood (as these games usually go). It isn’t that simple for you though. It turns out that you have the power of the Luminary. A Warrior of Light who was born to battle the Lord of Darkness, should he ever return to the world of Erdrea. While Dragon Quest XI is traditional with how its story begins, what shocked me is how sharp a turn the story takes around the midpoint. Up until then, it was your usual run of the mill RPG. You travel from one town to the next, help someone out and then continue on your merry way, picking up party members as you go. However. that all changes when things go from “adventurers traveling the land in search of the power to destroy the dark one” to full-on “end of the world” type stuff. It has a little bit of everything peppered throughout. It’s fantastic.
The combat is initially set as kind of free-roaming, more akin to Final Fantasy XII, where you can move your character around while in combat, but still, need to wait your turn to attack. You do have the option to change it to turn-based with the fixed camera angles that you’re used to for this series (which I immediately did). What’s great about this iteration of Dragon Quest is you have the option to choose certain settings for your party (kind of like the DS remakes). You can set each party member to only heal or to mix it up with attacks and defense abilities. If you’re in a boss fight I recommend having full control of your party, but when roaming the world, feel free to just let your party fight on auto-pilot. You also gain special abilities called Pep Up Powers that can only be used by certain combinations of party members, kind of like the single, double, and triple tech abilities from Chrono Trigger.
As you level, you gain skill points. These skill points can be set into skill panels for each character. They revolve around what weapons those characters can specialize in, and later on, characters can gain access to more abilities and stat boosts that open up. Don’t worry though, nothing is permanent. You can go to a church or angel statue and pay a certain amount of gold to reset your stats in case you decide to switch from swords to greatswords. If you do decide to grind out the XP and level to 99, you can just have all the abilities and not worry about what abilities you dump your skill points into.
All the characters that form your ragtag group are memorable and you’ll grow to love them by the end of your 100+ hour adventure. From Eric, the thief with a tragic past, to Veronica, an expert mage with a sassy attitude, there wasn’t one that I didn’t like. Sylvando, the jester of the party, is extremely flamboyant, but he isn’t just some shoehorned in LGBTQ character. He brings lightheartedness to the surroundings and even when things get really serious, he just wants to bring joy to the world. There is an absolutely hilarious scene that had me literally laughing out loud around the midpoint of the game where you don a crazy looking outfit with feathers and lead Sylvando’s parade of singing and dancing do-gooders into a rundown town to cheer the villagers up. It’s great and brings some much-needed laughs exactly when they’re needed. There is a character that joins you later on that you would never dream of joining your party, but I ended up loving him so much that he became one of my mainstays for the remainder of the game. Just when you think you know where the story is going, Dragon Quest XI lets you know that it’s still full of surprises.
My only beef with the game (and it’s a very, very minor one) is the design of the outfit the Luminary wears. Luckily you can change his outfit based on the gear you find later on, but usually, you’re just stuck with that nasty looking purple outfit and puke green shoes. Really Square-Enix? You got everything else right! You couldn’t think of anything else for him to wear? Fine, I’ll forgive you this time.
After many, many hours, it’s easy to say that Dragon Quest XI is one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played. It sits with the all-time greats like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. It’s a game that I will never forget and I absolutely recommend anyone that considers themselves a fan of the genre (or even if you’re not) to try it. – NVJ
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is now available on PS4 & Steam