I’ve been waiting for the time where I could finally write an article about a console Dragon Quest that wasn’t Japan only. The last time we had a console DQ was with VIII all the way back in 2004 on the PS2, since then we’ve had a DS game and a Japan-only MMO, IX and X respectively. DQ finally makes its way back into our consoles, and our lands, with Dragon Quest XI, over 14 months after its initial Japanese release. With such a gap, fans have either spoiled the game by watching Japanese playthroughs or translated it for their playing pleasure ahead of its English release. If only the Trunks lookalike protagonist could have sent the game back to us all those months ago.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age starts off like many a JRPG, with beautiful cutscenes and dialogue that explain the world and setting to us. We see a baby being taken away from a city under siege by monsters, being left with their presumed sibling, only to be left within a stream to then get picked up by a stranger. Fast-forward several years and that baby turns out to be the chosen one, who would have thought the character with outlandish hair, alongside dead parents, was the protagonist and the chosen one.
With our destiny told to us, we must travel out of our adoptive families care towards the nearby city, where a definitely not evil king will tell us the truth. Well, they were evil and locked us up, so this roguish cell-mate will help us instead. From there a long tale of gathering companions, helping villagers and saving the world is undertaken. Seeing visions of the past, future and tips, we will also utilise branches of the Yggdrasil tree to guide our way.
Taking around 50-60 hours to complete the story alone, DQ11 is like many other JRPGS that last you several weeks of late nights. That time is easily increased to over 100 with all the side-quests, crafting, collectables, minigames and more. The first credits may open up some more gameplay afterwards, but a second playing through may not bring too many more twists at you. Geared as more of a single run game, with so much to do in 1 playthrough, you can experience almost all it has to offer the first time.
Appeasing many diehard fans, of both DQ and JRPGs, DQ11 keeps to a turn-based battle system, which many other franchises have been moving away from. Improving on the previous designs, DQ11 adds in some more mechanics to its combat system, via the use of Pep, an almost limit-break or trance where your characters gain heightened stats and can unleash powerful moves. Aside from that, the normal rules apply.
Each character can attack with their equipped weapon, use spells if they have learnt any, use weapon-based abilities like a wide-slash or multi-hit attack, defend or use items. As an added feature to combat you can also move your characters around the battlefield, though this gives very little impact to the fight rather than being free. Defeating enemies will reward you with experience, gold and items like any other RPG.
As you level up you will gain skill points to assign to several skill trees, based on the individual characters. The rogue gains the ability to steal items as well specialising in swords or daggers, whereas the mage gets more MP and magical damage. These skills come even more in handy when they unlock new Pep combinations with the party, allowing for some auto-steal attacks, buffing the entire party or dealing heavy damage to foes.
As mentioned previously the game doesn’t force a lot of combat on you, you can easily avoid most roaming enemies, even going through an entire dungeon with only 1 kill to your name. This creates a sort of weird difficulty, where a player could just do a boss rush and find themselves incredibly under levelled, whereas someone who fights occasionally would have a much easier time. I fought a good number of enemies on my playthrough and still found some bosses to be quite difficult, especially if you let the AI control your characters.
The soundtrack of DQ11 keeps to the style of the series completely, containing pretty much the exact same theme song with some slight alterations. Sound design is also pretty similar to the games of the 00’s which can be very off-putting to new gamers, as they feel retro and outdated against today’s RPGs. While I loved the orchestral tracks and energetic tunes for both exploration and combat I can definitely see new players, or even long-term fans, getting a bit bored of the music.
Thankfully DQ11 was bug-free in my experience, something I rarely get to say nowadays with Early Access or developers relying on patches. This could be due to the 14 months it had in Japan for issues to be resolved or the fact that I personally encountered none. Loading times were short as well as being pretty much relegated to map transitions, which were rather big so you didn’t see that loading screen all too often.
With many games in the series, Dragon Quest is very “Japanese” in the sense it has plenty of strange characters, archetypes, in-jokes and nuances. While fans of the series, or of Japanese culture, may find this appealing or not as jarring, new gamers could feel rather out of place. The forced little girl character who is all too annoying, beastmen, bath scenes, unconditional trust and more odd design choices all feed into this otherworldly experience that may break immersion and enjoyment for new fans. I was fine with most of these aspects, aside from the little girl, as I personally hate those archetypes.
The world of Erdea, along with the main story, often feels too big and drawn out, with little payoff for your actions. You will go several hours before being given a real main story quest outside of gaining your party, only to then not have it be all that important. You don’t see the main antagonist until you’re so deep into the game that it doesn’t make much of an impact. Your hand is also guided along a well-hidden linear path, as you cannot stray too far or go off and explore until you complete the story, which then pushes you in another direction. The maps contain some side dungeons, but the quests put you there anyways or lock them off for later.
Overall Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age gets an 8/10, it is beautiful, exciting and brings back that good VIII feel of yesteryear. Fans of the series will love the updated combat system that keeps to the core of the series design, improved graphics and larger maps. The music is reminiscent of the past but sound design clings onto that nostalgia a bit too harshly with retro choices in a modern release. The difficulty is pretty solid if you decide to fight enemies but can ramp up if you move around the very easy-to-dodge foes. If you are a fan of the series, DQ11 is pretty much just more Dragon Quest, without any drastic changes to the formula.