Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition - Review
Square Enix mega hit JRPG series has finally released for the switch with added features and the ability to play the entire game in 2D.
The Dragon quest series has long been the staple JRPG series along with Final Fantasy. The latter has changed however, becoming more action-orientated and 'westernised' in comparison to Dragon Quest, which has stayed relatively the same throughout the years (except from the technical upgrades and quality of life improvements). The Nintendo switch edition also allows players to experience the entire game in 2 dimensional making the game look like one of the older titles in the series. The package as a whole feels like a love letter to all JRPG fans and is chock full of extra features, options and improvements. The Dragon Quest series is one of the few Japanese RPG series which have stood the test of time and is arguably one of the purest game franchises of its genre. A number of games today are called JRPG by name, but this has become a phrase used to simply describe RPG's from the East Asia. This term use to be used usually for games from East Asia that had less focus on gameplay and more on story, plot, characters, etc. Dragon Quest XI is the first traditional Dragon Quest game since Dragon Quest VIII which has been on home consoles (DQ IX was on Nintendo DS and DQ X was an MMORPG).
Dragon Quest XI follows this sentiment in that it does focus on its story, plot, characters and world and not its gameplay; but this is not to say Dragon Quest builders' gameplay is not good, just simplistic and very reminiscent of the prior games in the series (with a few extra features added). The game is still an open(ish) world, adventure, turn-based strategy, role-playing game at its core, but is very different when compared to a game like Divinity original sin 2; which arguably is of the same genre. If you are familiar with past Dragon Quest games, you will feel right at home with this latest entry as it stays true to its formula but also manages to feel relatively fresh and new. Its systems and themes feel very familiar but it is presented in an engaging way, which is elevated further by its charming Akira Toriyama designs and aesthetic. The gameplay consists of open-world areas, dungeons and towns with a turn-based combat system. The player can control the protagonist and other party members (if they chose to) while turns are taken by the player controlled characters and the computer controlled NPC's. The Western release has additional features that were not present in the original (Japanese) release of the game, such as English voice acting and text and the ability to sprint, amongst other small additions. Some features are exclusive to the definitive edition, such as; the option to choose either English or Japanese voice acting (the original Japanese version had no voice acting whatsoever); a 16-bit graphical mode which was adapted from the 3DS version, an option of orchestrated music and expanded plot elements.
The story follows a young man who is the reincarnation of the Luminary (a chosen warrior of legend who is said to destroy an upcoming dark presence) but unlike traditional hero tropes, his coming is not lauded or celebrated by the worlds denizens. They fear he is the cause of the upcoming catastrophe and try to be rid of him in hopes that this will prevent the upcoming evil. This brings the player on a grand adventure, which spans the entire world. What a person thinks of a story is subjective, so I will not go into any specific details, I will say however, that although I personally liked the story, I did not feel like it was one of Dragon Quest strongest and I can see how some previous reviewers disliked it, often stating that it was one of the games weakest aspects. The player meets a vast number of colourful and memorable characters, with all of the important characters being fully-voiced. People from different towns, villages or cities with speak with different accents and there is even a town whose citizens all speak in Haiku. The voice work is good overall, it never felt like it was translated directly from Japanese, as loads of phrases were definitely aimed at an English audience. Dragon Quest XI leaks character throughout, from the characters to the enemy designs, they all have an inviting and quirky feel, which makes you want to experience and meet more of them. Party members all have their own distinct looks, combat abilities and personalities which helps to accentuate their role. I personally preferred the party members in Dragon Quest VIII but my feelings towards them may be elevated due to nostalgia.
Combat presents the player with a menu of options which differs per controlled character. the player is able to choose a standard attack, a magical skill, an ability, defend, use an item or change their equipment. They have the choice to do this manually or allow the AI to chose what to do (either based on specific criteria that has been selected by the player or left to their own choices). The selected character can now move freely during their turn, but this does nothing to the actual outcome of their attacks or the items they use, etc. Their is a crafting mini-game which allows the player to create items or gear, with the quality of said created piece of gear increasing or decreasing based on how well (or bad) they do.
The definitive edition has many quality of life improvements, which I for one feel were solely needed. The ability to fast forward combat encounters is a God-send, the combat itself is slow and deliberate, which I like during a boss fight or hard encounter, but when you repeatedly fight the same enemies in an area, or feel like you have to grind to complete a level, this can get tedious and boring. Another feature that the definitive edition offers are Draconian quests (game modifiers which can make the game harder. They were present in the original Western release but the Switch edition has more of them) which can be activated in the game to add an extra layer of difficulty to certain aspects of the game. Admittedly, I did have on a modifier that made the enemies tougher, which resulted in me having to farm certain areas before I could proceed to the area boss; so I am unsure if the base difficulty would require this level of grinding (or any at all). The game does accommodate this by allowing the player to set the all of their party members to fight autonomously but you originally still had to watch these fights unfold in normal speed.
If I had to chose a word to describe Dragon Quest, I would use the word pure. If you are hankering for a traditional JRPG experience or are familiar with the Dragon Quest games and are in the mood for more Dragon Quest, you need to have this game in your library. The Switch allows you to experience this gargantuan game on the go, with all the bells and whistles included. The game looks absolutely gorgeous due to its artistic direction and although the 4K version on the PS4 or PC looks leagues better than the switch version, you do not play this type of game for its graphics. For new comers, If you are looking for a game that is challenging and has an interesting story with memorable characters then look no further, for Dragon Quest veterans... Well, its Dragon Quest.