Played on Windows
Also Available for PlayStation 4, (3DS in Japan only)
Coming to Nintendo Switch
At E3 2018, I remember going into the convention center excited to play something new. The first thing I saw in the South Hall, was Square Enix, I wanted to play something by them, and while Kingdom Hearts 3 was already building a big line, I saw Dragon Quest XI next to it and got excited. I’ve been a Dragon Quest fan for quite a while and while it’s never been the top franchise for me, I still enjoyed their games and their classic adherence to JRPG styles. So does Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of An Elusive Age live up to the grand series?
Well, you can watch my First Look. I spend a decent amount of time in that video talking about what Dragon Quest is and isn’t. In fact, much of the game spends the time in giving you exactly what you expect from a Dragon Quest game. This is a series that hasn’t always faired that well in America. The numbers have never been as high and the games have not been as popular as the Final Fantasy’s have. While it has a strong cult following, it’s a small cult.
It’s also has a main series that has been dormant for a while. While there was a rerelease of Dragon Quest VII on the Nintendo 3DS two years ago, the last numbered game to come to America was Dragon Quest IX, on the Nintendo DS eight years ago (2010), and the last console release in America was Dragon Quest VIII in 2005. As for the missing game, Dragon Quest X was an MMORPG game that did well in Japan, at least well enough to still be running. However, it never received an American release.
So with that history, it appears it’s time for Dragon Quest to once again attempt another major release, and so here’s Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of An Elusive Age to try to gain popularity and become a major success.
The Dragon Quest franchise seems to have a checklist for what a Dragon Quest game is and Dragon Quest XI seems to check every one of them. There’s the silent protagonist who seems to say something but is never verbalized on screen. The Casino which is now a staple of the series. The hero is often some important disciple of lineage and will gather party members. There are the “open world” segments of the game that sticks in my head in ( occurs three times in this game). You save in Churches like every other game in the series. There are even the common “Puff-Puff” gags that might confuse new players, but is a staple in the series (and while it’s doesn’t appear shown here, it is implied to be exactly what you think it is). There are Mini-medals collectibles to find in almost all the games. In addition there’s common enemies and weapons in all these games, usually starting with the Slimes and Cypress sticks.
Dragon Quest takes this checklist and uses it as their design document. Everything is checked off, and some of it seems to be adhered to strictly. Many Monsters in Dragon Quest XI are taken from other games in the series. When one sees the Slime, it’s a nod to the series, however when you then also see the Dracky, Green Dragon, and Knight Errant, you start to realize that the classic designs of the monsters will be the majority of the enemy selection in this game.
There’s the slimes, Check.
That’s not to say there are no enemies that are unique to this iteration, but at the same time, those enemies are the exception more than the rule. You’ll see many of the classic monsters on display here and, of course, you’ll see different variants of them. You can’t just have a Slime, without also having the King Slime, Liquid Slime, Metal Slime, and other versions of them.
On paper, this isn’t a problem. Dragon Quest has a three-decade-long history. It was the originator of many rules of Japanese RPGs and actually predates Final Fantasy (in Japan) by a number of years. It’d be wrong to claim that it should break completely with tradition to deliver a unique experience especially for the main lineage of games.
Yet, Dragon Quest XI, doesn’t just feel like it has a long lineage, it feels like it is that long lineage, and not much more, and that’s where it runs into problems. Having Slimes, and Cypress Sticks and callbacks to the last games are perfectly fine. However, the question for me becomes why should I pick up Dragon Quest XI. That’s the question I work to answer..
The obvious answer is this should be the latest and greatest in the series. Even if everything else remains the same the graphics should have a massive improvement. The fact that the last games were on the PS2 and the 3DS should tell you that there’s the potential for a massive upgrade in the graphical quality of the series. Honestly, it shouldn’t even be a surprise that this game looks the best in the series, but that’s more due to the decade since it had a console release.
The graphics do look good. As much as I adore the series, there’s no comparison, the PS4 and Windows versions look great, and I hope the Switch version delivers the same quality. Seeing the adorable little slimes bouncing around, the mimic chests with their tongues hanging out or even the characters circling around to talk looks great.
At the same time, Dragon Quest has always had work done by Akira Toriyama, and while he’s a talented artist who has done some very iconic characters (and monsters), I do have to admit that his art style is very noticeable. I can see a number of typical character designs in Dragon Quest XI that make me think of Dragon Ball. They aren’t awful designs, there’s just iconic, and while he has worked on the entire franchise, I feel they’re more iconic as Akira Toriyama’s designs than something that is exclusive to the Dragon Quest Franchise.
Every bald/baby character in this game looks like Krillian in Dragon ball.
Still, the game is gorgeous. The battle system is exceptionally well done, and everything is well animated. There’s a number of really good looking attacks, as well as status effects, such as being knocked down (or in fact, being tripped and then knocked down), there are a few monsters that can make your heroes dance in a hilarious fashion and more.
It’s a shame that the graphical overhaul didn’t reach the narrative. There are beautiful cutscenes, but the story being told is a little long in the tooth.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The legendary promised hero arrives and is tasked with killing the villain, the embodiment of evil. He gathers a band of heroes and has to search for a sword of light to banish the evil presence.
It’s the classic video game story that almost every game and video game franchise has used at some point. It’s also the major narrative in almost every Dragon Quest game. It wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t played completely straight in Dragon Quest XI, at least up to a point.
Now I’m sure there will be some diehard fans of Dragon Quest who will claim that it’s the only story they would accept or at this point it’s become the core of the game. I’m willing to accept that as I understand when something is synonymous with a series. Every Call of Duty, or really every FPS has you play a soldier of some low level being taken through large set pieces towards some goal that ultimately doesn’t really matter, and is really only a thin reason to go through all the set pieces, which is what makes those games fun.
Locations are beautiful. Though honestly, everything looks great.
The problem with Dragon Quest XI is that the story is a core of the game. Call of Duty masks the story as best it can and spends 8 hours with it. Dragon Quest XI spends 60-100 hours with that story and with the turn-based combat, the story is what drives you forward. The problem for me, it’s just not that interesting. There is a rather interesting twist, that happens a couple of hours into the game, the Hero gets thrown in jail very early. Though this happens about two hours into the game, it’s also the only real bump on the road that the player finds. From then on the player has a town to go to. He goes through a few areas to reach the town, he’ll enter the town talk to a few people, and then be given a quest. The quest is that he has to go to a dungeon (or a part of the area outside) and then find a MacGuffin, kill a monster, or accomplish some goal, sometimes finding a party member. He finishes the quest and is told about another town that he has to go to, which results in the same thing.
This is a JRPG and that’s the typical cycle of the game, but Dragon Quest XI adheres to those steps so strongly that I just wanted something interesting. The story is almost always the same. Something strange goes on, and the only one who can assist is the hero of light, please save us, oh hero… It’s quite predictable and that made me feel very uninterested in the story. It’s not awful, it’s just a story I’ve heard hundreds of times before and multiple times while playing this series alone…. And multiple times playing this game as well.
Now I know that this is the first major release in a number of years like I said, but I still think they could have taken that time and developed interesting and unique twists on the old formula. The Hero’s Journey Monomyth is so often used because it can be done in a number of ways, Dragon Quest XI just chooses to do it the same way they’ve done it before, and have always done it before.
Simple story but it’s effective, even if not the most interesting.
Still, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t anything interesting in the story. The characters are at least a bit interesting and there’s a couple of good pieces in the game. Fans kept saying that once you reached a certain point the story gets better, and the good news is that’s true. The downside is that point is between 40-60 percent of the way through the game and took me 40 hours to reach as I was exploring quite a bit.
It also didn’t remain interesting for long, well there is a good chunk of innovation in that part of the story. The story quickly returned to the “Find town, get problem, solve problem” pattern after that, though the towns were more repetitive at that point.
I don’t want to give away the story but I feel I must because there are a few points in the game that need to be discussed and I feel I have to explain why I’m so critical of the game. So I’ll be giving some spoilers in the next couple of paragraphs.
The game starts with the player (male character only) being told they are the Luminary, he goes to a nearby castle and is quickly thrown in jail by the king, but escapes after finding the first party member, they gather seven party members as they are constantly hounded by the king and his two knights. They have to go find the Sword of Light, hidden away in Yggdrasil’s tree (Another Dragon Quest Trope).
They get to the sword of light and the tree after an open world exploration part, and instead of grabbing the sword, the main character allows the king and one of his knights to best them as they take the sword and transform it into the sword of darkness, and honestly I have to say this part of the game is rather well done. What felt like a beginning of the end of the game, turns out to be about the halfway point. The heroes are defeated and the world turns to darkness, you then meet the darkspawn face to face.
The game transitions and you are left with no party members, and a world in ruin (Final Fantasy VI anyone?) and collect your party members again, though you will join with one new member of your party and that’s done in really well done manner. The problem for me though is this comes all too late.
Now I don’t want to go through the rest of the story, as there are a few good parts left, but it’s what you expect, evil is defeated, and this time the hero gets the sword of light and saves the days…. And credits roll, and then the game says To Be Continued….
Now I’ll give Dragon Quest XI this, it doesn’t have DLC, instead, there’s an after credits part of the game, it has at least 15 more hours to go at this point once the big bad boss is finally defeated… and there’s now another big bad boss. Worse, this boss is not really even hinted at except in a small scene where the player doesn’t know what happened. Now you have a final boss that doesn’t connect to the main story, and… that’s really the whole story.
End of Spoilers
The problem is with the exception of the world turning to darkness (which has been done before, but it’s well done here) the new party member (which is a good surprise), much of this is stuff we’ve all seen before. What’s worse is that the true ending is handled poorly in my opinion and just feels like a way to lengthen the narrative.
Here are two of my favorite characters, Serena and Veronica, twin sisters (yes twins).
But once I put down the controller at the end of my play time I thought about much of the main game’s story and realize most of it could have been done as lengthy and interesting sidequests. There are actual sidequests in the story, but they amount to killing a specific monster that you’ve found many times one more time or using a certain special attack. Instead, these lengthier dungeons that can take between an hour or two of just dungeon exploring is main game progression and takes what could have been a well done 40 hours game into something that took me closer to 100 hours. It’s a slow story with a lot of stops and starts included in the normal progression, and I have to be honest. It’s just not that good. While there are good parts to it, it’s a couple of good hours in the 100 hours of game time, and that’s a lot of game to sit through to get to “The good parts”.
So with a long and uninteresting story but great graphics, we come to the real question. If you’re going to be playing 100 hours of a video game, is the gameplay up to the task to make it interesting. It’s a huge ask but it’s almost a requirement since you’ll be spending so much time with the game.
The biggest thing I noticed as I play Dragon Quest XI was how many innovations occurred with the game while how many were missed out on. The battle system of Dragon Quest XI is a great example.
The battle system in Dragon Quest XI is a turn-based combat system, but there are some changes here. Of course, the game excels in using the 3D battle system, rather than the old 2D battle system. Even when playing on Dragon Quest IX or VIII, they would use a forced perspective even with the 3d models. In Dragon Quest XI the first character in the party is able to move around freely and run behind enemies or towards them. It’s a good addition as the models of the characters can now be properly viewed.
The problem is, this facet isn’t part of the gameplay. The player can move to the other side of the battle screen, but enemies can still hit them the same way, they’ll just have to move a little closer to play the attack animation. The players’ position doesn’t affect spells that affect a row of targets or anything else. It’s purely done as an aesthetic change. It boggles my mind that such a major change could be made, but nothing important is added to it.
I will say the characters look great though.
In addition, the battle system is quite a bit drier because there’s almost no difficulty to the game. The good news is the party AI is exceptionally well done and will use the correct attack and tactic for almost every enemy or at least one that wins every fight. The AI for the party is so good, I tried turning the hero’s strategy to the Fight Wisely tactic to see when the game would punish me for it. I never had to turn it off for the entire game.
In fact, the only time I died in the game was when I ran out of MP, and it was usually that I had to go back to town or a nearby statue to get a quick refill of HP and MP. The AI took care of every fight after the first 10 hours or so, and I was amazed at how well it performed, as well as how passive the entire experience was.
On the other hand, the enemy AI is a mixed bag. It’s good the enemy doesn’t fight very efficiently, but a number of enemies would cast support magic when they were low on life, buffing their Attack strength when there was almost no chance of them getting a second attack. If the enemy would have a concentrated effort to drain my party of HP or even MP, they would pose a challenge, but the fact is most enemies aren’t that hard. In fact, my party never needed healing items or MP vials and I could just put down my controller and watch.
Still, I played the game as it was intended, there are optional challenges called Draconic challenge that can make the game harder, though it doesn’t seem like many of them would make the game that much more difficult, though more frustrating. You could not allow fleeing (a mod I turned on), not allow using shops, harder enemies, and other optional difficulties, but I opted to play the game as it was originally created (admittedly I turned on no fleeing because I never flee in these games) and found the intended game was just too easy.
Here’s the minimap with an objective on the screen. Pretty easy to find your home on the map.
A big problem is many of the great moments in this series is when I encountered a new monster. If you ever played the original Dragon Quest game, or really any in the series, the Green Dragon has probably become known to you as a major boss or battle. However here, I saw a Green Dragon and prepared myself, then raced to face him, hoping he’d be the boss of an area or a major fight. Two turns later, I had already downed the dragon and walked away. Almost every “major enemy” is killed so quickly that the fights don’t feel that grandiose. Instead, It’s just a momentary pause where I got a nice experience boost and gold boost afterward.
The good news though is there’s more innovation to the game than just the battle system and AI. The Overworld is fresh and exciting. Enemies now appear on the screen so you can avoid enemies or attack them, and you’ll even see them greet each other at times, and can plan to tackle more than one enemy at a time. Even if the enemies themselves are too easy, it’s up to you which enemies you want to face.
There’s also the ability to create a preemptive strike on the map. You can shoot enemies with a crossbow to call them closer and then hit the A button again to attack an enemy and cause damage to it before you enter the battle. It’s a rather interesting system that works well. Sadly there’s a caveat to it. While you appear to do damage to the enemy in the battle, the preemptive strike somehow doesn’t carry into the battle system. If you walk up behind a monster and attack them, the enemy in the battle can get a surprise attack on you for no reason. Why the disparity? If they didn’t want a “Skill” based preemptive strike system, don’t have the preemptive strike on the overworld, instead, you can get an initial attack there but might end up letting the enemy get a free attack on you at the same time? I really want to ask if the designers working on the overworld, talk to the battle system at all.
The upgrade system is interesting though. I love how many different upgrades you can have, though you usually choose one weapon style.
There are other times too, there’s a battle in the game where the enemies say “Go for the Runt” in a cutscene in the story, but in the battle, all the attacks went towards the guy who wasn’t even part of the party. If the hero was the “Runt” in that sentence (he was) why wasn’t the battle AI even trying to match it? It is the correct move, but for some reason, the two systems don’t seem to talk to each other.
There’s also a stealth section in the game, and the less said about that the better. Ultimately, it’s fine to just go attack all the enemies as they aren’t too hard, but the fact is, stealth in a role-playing game.. or really any game other than one designed for it? Just don’t do it guys.
I do have to say though that the game makes it harder to get lost. The game will tell the player what to do next, usually has a big indicator telling you who to talk to so you can know what to do next. Usually, it’s not the end point but the maps do show the locations you are trying to find, and the purple dot that shows who you should talk to. Those people tend to give you direct instructions.
However, this does have a little asterisk next to it. It works wonders when playing the linear story, but when you reach the open world parts of the game (of which there are three), it doesn’t give the player a list of quests to track and instead only tracks what it wants to, even if it’s not the most important quest. Still, the indicator is very welcomed, and I appreciate it when it works, which was a majority of the time.
There are a couple other changes. There’s a horse in the game, and you can summon him (on some maps), he makes you move faster, and if you gallop and run into enemies (That are weaker than you) you will knock them away without having to fight them. You get the horse as you leave the first village so that it’s always an option is very welcomed.
But then there are also the autorun and jump functionalities, and … well someone wrote on my youtube video for Conan Exiles “Why even have a jump button”. I’m not sure I can answer that question for most games, but it’s definitely a question for Dragon Quest XI to answer. There’s a climb animation for scripted locations, but the jump itself looks awkward and doesn’t seem to have a major purpose except for something to do while running long distances. , on the other hand, might be fine if players don’t want to hold forward for hours, but paths are rarely straight lines and with it deactivating itself after each battle it’s not a simple quality of life improvement. I’m not sure I get the use of autorun unless it was something that Devs used to test code and they left it in assuming fans would want it as well?
Dungeons in the game are a bit on the long side as I mentioned when talking about the story. Many dungeons will take you a minimum of an hour and sometimes closer to two. The fact that there’s so many of them does feel a little demoralizing but overall I never felt like I was hurting for places to play. At the same time, most dungeons have a good amount of enemies, and players who fight every monster will find the game even easier as the game awards the player with a decent amount of experience every chance it can. I never felt underleveled, and I would often skip a few enemies in a dungeon after fighting so many of them without a penalty.
Here’s the end of a sidequest. Basically go to another town and find a person, pretty simplistic.
In addition, I’ll also praise the dungeon design as the hour or two spent in a dungeon wasn’t the same ever. There’s a progression to most dungeons and while you’ll find two or three enemies around the entrance, there are usually different enemies in the middle of a dungeon and the dungeon will slowly evolve the enemies giving the player a feeling of progression even in the middle of a very long dungeon.
In addition, most Bosses in this game are rather good. While the enemies do tend to feel like they are taken from the previous games, many bosses here feel interesting and unique enough that I wanted to see what was coming next.
While I wanted the game to be more difficult or more interesting, I have to admit it’s not the worst game I’ve played, it just feels a little stale. Sadly, everything changes at the end of the game. I mentioned a To Be Continued… part of the game. At that point, the true final boss is shown and he is extremely difficult even after using a trick to make him easier. In addition, the game that required no grinding is almost exclusively about grinding as most players will need between 10-30 levels at that point depending on how many levels they want to have for that final boss.
While I do find the lack of difficulty of the game being too easy, the fact is that 90 hours into the game is the wrong place for the game to finally perk up and challenge the players. Sitting through a story that I didn’t find that interesting (yet other publications seem to say “must be finished to be appreciated”), gameplay that is too easy, and mostly linear story, it’s too late to throw 15 hours of different gameplay to make me change my mind.
The fact is, I spent over 90 hours playing this game and that final boss was so hard and the grinding didn’t interest me in continuing that I finally put down the controller and said I was done with the game. I just realized that there was nothing else the game could do that would make me change my mind.
I really only played the 90 hours because of this review and the fact that a lot of people seemed to say “it gets better”. I wanted to fully experience this game, and if it wasn’t for writing this review, I don’t know if I would have played more than thirty to forty hours.
The character designs here really are amazing. I know I already showed it off.
If you want a quality game with an interesting story, gameplay, and graphics, this isn’t the game for it. If you just have to have the most hours per dollar for your money, admittedly Dragon Quest XI is definitely on the longer side, but I also think you should demand better. There are long games out there, and games that take a lot of time to play. Fallout series, Grand Theft Auto, Just Cause, Elder Scrolls, they’re all great series. But just because a game is long doesn’t make it good, many of those games have something fun to do for all those hours.
Dragon Quest XI does have the length but I find myself rather disappointed both in the story and gameplay. I put in 90 hours, but given that same length of time I could have found two or three really great games and played them instead. The experience of playing through Dragon Quest XI left me desiring something better, and when I really think about Dragon Quest XI I find myself having a problem.
The length of a game should have an impact on my score, but usually only if it’s too short. The problem is I find myself unable to recommend Dragon Quest XI for a couple of reasons. The first is that if you’re not a fan of the series, there’s not much in this game that might make you a fan. If on the other hand, you’re curious about Dragon Quest, there’s a better way to experience the series. Almost every person on this planet has a cell phone and almost all the Dragon Quest games are available on mobile devices (1-6, and 8). They’re cheaper than Dragon Quest XI and while the graphics aren’t as good, I’d argue the gameplay is a better representation of the series and has a better style to it.
Though there’s still the fans of the series and that’s where I struggle if I can recommend this game. Really when I look at Dragon Quest XI, I just want a better game. I’m not asking for something outside of what Dragon Quest is as a franchise, but a better story, a little more innovation, a new battle system, or at least some interesting challenge to the series could have made this feel better. Having a few interesting moments and one difficult enemy at the end of the game wasn’t enough for me. Ultimately, I think that fans of Dragon Quest need to demand more, because while it’s been a long time since the last Dragon Quest game, the video game industry has evolved by leaps and bounds in that time period, and the Dragon Quest franchise appears to be happy stagnating where it was decades ago. I’m not saying that Dragon Quest has to become something else, but we should have a more compelling story and more interesting gameplay by this point, and instead, I feel like we’re getting a game very similar to one of the old NES or SNES games in the series. Yes, we have voice acting and graphics, but if the story and gameplay did not evolve at the same rate, all we have is a new coat of paint on the same game we’ve bought before, and for me, that’s just not enough.
Dragon Quest XI gets a
Some people are going to enjoy this game I’m sure, but it’s just not good enough for me to put my stamp of approval on it. We know Square Enix can do better, it’s time for them to try a little harder for one of their greatest series.
Final Thoughts: It is the latest in a long history of Dragon Quest games, but sadly doesn’t do enough with that long lineage. It should have been better, but doesn’t reach that level of quality.
Stats: 104.2 hours played. 39/58 achievements earned