Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age review: A gorgeous JRPG for the modern age | Gaming News
Dragon Quest XI is a beautifully presented and well-told epic story that takes everything fans love about old-school Japanese role playing games like Final Fantasy and translates the traditional formula masterfully into a modern game.
In many ways, the game isn’t so modern at all: the story-driven single player RPG format may seem like a step back. But it’s that change that makes the game so pure and enjoyable. This isn’t a simple game and that is made abundantly clear after spending just minutes in the game’s massive and complex world. After spending over 40 hours in the game exploring every nook and cranny and talking to any character with the alluring floaty icon above their head, I’m still begging for more.
The battle system proves turn-based combat can still be extremely nerve-wracking and exciting. The combat is done so well: it is fluid and tactical without being too easy, meaning I’ve been down to the wire on numerous occasions fighting mobs with two characters left and a dwindling pool of HP.
Dragon Quest excels in the way the world is presented to you – exemplified above all by the monster that you encounter – as well as the myriad different enemy types and enemy variants all present unique challenges and rewards in each fight. Not only are the fights entertaining, but the enemies themselves have so much character in them due to the fantastic way they’re animated. I found myself heedlessly rushing from monster to monster, confident in my party makeup and excited to see how they look and act.
The boss battles offer the most rewarding challenge. Not only are they able to convey motive for these boss battles through excellently delivered dialogue – most of the monsters you fight as bosses can speak – but they will have you thinking through each move specifically, looking for a weakness to exploit and hoping that your next character will have time to heal before being struck down.
While I have had my whole party wiped during a boss fight, it always felt fun rather than frustrating, and that’s the beauty of turn-based combat. You can learn and adapt to how the enemy attacks and the casting of a defence boost spell is the difference between life and death.
Unlike old JRPGS, there are no random encounters: if you see an enemy on the field, it’s up to you to fight or flee in Dragon Quest XI. Every single monster you find in the open world has been brought to life by Akira Toriyama, the talented designer behind the Dragon Ball series. The monsters spring to life in such a gorgeous, goofy and charming way.
There are literally hundreds of different enemies, some are simple colour variants but this colour change indicates a change in their abilities which is more than enough to keep things interesting and fresh as you tactically fight your way through the hordes of enemies. You always have a choice of which enemy you fight: if you don’t feel up to battling a certain monster you can simply run away from them, thanks to the visual alarm indicating a monster has spotted you. Further, monsters can actually flee from you, and it’s hard not to feel incredibly powerful seeing all these stunning creatures flee but from a game design perspective, it serves as an indicator that you’re too high level to fight these monsters and it would be a waste of time to do so.
As in many Dragon Quest games you have access to the Zoom spell, which allows you to fast travel to each city of place of note you’ve previously visited. However, I often found myself choosing to ride my trusty horse through the amazing scenery and to hunt for items on the field. It’s incredibly satisfying to ride your horse at great speeds into monsters and see the poor critter go flying through the sky.
You’re not just limited to riding your horse either. Dotted around dungeons there are special monster mounts which you can capture and ride after beating them in combat. With these special mounts you can scale walls, leap over great distances and soar through the air to help you seek out useful hidden treasures.
As you might expect from a traditional JRPG, exploring the vast world is greatly rewarding. The whole world of Dragon Quest XI is one big tapestry stretching off in every direction accompanied by a glorious orchestral soundtrack to spur your adventure forward. One of the most rewarding parts of Dragon Quest is it’s exploration: there are hundreds, even thousands of items just lying around waiting to be discovered and having played older RPG games I feel like I’ve developed a sense of where to find these treasures. I was always looking for an out-of-the-way corner of the map, and when I would bound towards it I’d happily say to myself “There’s definitely treasure here!” and more often than not I was justly rewarded for my curiosity.
Gathering items is important in its own right for you need these materials and recipes to craft powerful and useful equipment. Crafting returns in Dragon Quest XI in the shape of a simple min-igame to being with, but once you get further in the game the crafting becomes complex and engaging, while being entirely optional. Had I not explored as much as I did I would’ve missed out on amazing crafting recipes and even the items needed to craft them. I could’ve easily sold everything I found to instead just buy this equipment from shops, but the crafting is too fun and I had to indulge my ‘no buying at a shop’ RPG rule as it’s so much more rewarding to find or craft equipment.
The voice work in Dragon Quest XI is of a high quality, but it can be very hit and miss. There are a lot of different accents thrown at you and some of them are more palatable than others, but if the voice acting isn’t your thing then you can simply mute the dialogue to favour plain subtitles.
The localisation of the text is pretty amazing for a Japanese game and the game creators almost show this off with their amazing collection of English puns used in the game, ranging from monster names like the CruelCumber to the horse-racing event in the desert called the Sand National. Not only this but there is a fantastic Japanese-esque town where all the residents spoke in haiku, which was a truly impressive and charming feat of creativity.
Every character that joins your party in Dragon Quest XI are all beautifully animated and distinctive in their own right; all having unique, if somewhat tedious, personalities. You yourself play as the typical silent hero, who is frequently dubbed The Luminary, or The Chosen One who is, get this, chosen to save the world. While your character pretty much stays the same, the story is emphasised by each party member, with them growing and changing as the story progresses.
The party members have somewhat typical and unremarkable story arcs overall, but the beauty of the JRPG lets you create a part of the character and you can portray them as you like when you focus on their stats and skill trees. Each character’s skill tree advances with skill points and it’s here where you can specialise them into a certain role: do you want you healer to deal some serious damage? She can wield mighty spears and still keep your party topped up with health.
The characters all have a role to play in combat and it’s wonderful how balanced they all are through the game; if you find yourself struggling to get past a certain boss or enemy, you can take a look at your party makeup and switch another character out, or focus on survivability to give you more of a fighting chance in combat. All of these nuances to combat creates a challenging system of character growth while still making it extremely accessible to players of any skill level.
If you’ve played a Dragon Quest game before, you’ll have plenty to like about this, with myriad homages made to previous games dotted around the massive world. You can continue the long and storied quest for mini medals, learn series staple spells and hunt for the elusive metal slimes. I myself only briefly played through Dragon Quest VIII and I wouldn’t consider myself a long-time fan of the series but I had absolutely not problem going into this game with very little context from the previous ones and I have enjoyed it tremendously. With a breathtaking orchestral soundtrack and subtle eight-bit sound effects, the whole thing serves to rise above mere fan service and make Dragon Quest XI function more as a truly thoughtful and beautiful game.
It’s so easy to get lost in the world of Dragon Quest due to the way it’s crafted. I had undeniable pangs of feeling like I was directly transported into a playable world from the mind of Studio Ghibli and it’s this charming, emotive setting of the game that makes it such a triumphant entry to the Dragon Quest series.
The Dragon Quest XI throwbacks do have some negatives though and this mostly comes through some pretty cringe-worthy sexualization that’s featured in the game. Suffice it to say, the long running gag of ‘puff-puff’, which is a sexual metaphor created by Akira Toriyama, pops up several times in Dragon Quest XI.
Like past games, they feature heavily euphemistic references to puff-puff and Dragon Quest XI definitely tries to crowbar it in for cheap, sometimes innocuous, laughs when one instance of puff puff is simply a makeup application, but one optional event absolutely shouldn’t have been in the game. You’re invited into a girl’s bedroom where you receive puff puff in a dim room replete with sexual innuendo, only to have the lights flick on to see her burly father standing over you. There is a really disturbing issue of consent which is definitely troubling to experience in that scene. If this wasn’t enough, the staple ‘bunny girls’ make an appearance in Dragon Quest, including a side quest asking you to dress up a female party member in the festisized bunny girls outfit. I have to wonder why this was in the game and if the creators actually believe this adds something to it.
If old-school JRPGs are your cup of tea, Dragon Quest XI offers an exceptionally strong brew that will keep you coming back for more. With a fantastic turn-based battle system, great cast of characters and stunning world, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is everything I ever hoped it would be in a much-anticipated return to a straight up turn-based combat, story driven experience. It wonderfully hearkens back to the glory days of SquareSoft’s amazing Final Fantasy series, translating that model exceptionally well into one of the best modern JRPGs out there. This is a must-have game for not only Dragon Quest fans, but any diehard fan of the JRPG formula.