Bor­rowed slime

Old habits die hard in safety-first JRPG Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elu­sive Age.

PC GAMER (UK) - - REVIEW - By Chris Schilling

From its glossy CG in­tro to its quaint vil­lages, its range of Bri­tish di­alects to its tinny MIDI sound­track, Echoes of an Elu­sive Age is a Dragon Quest game, all right. With the se­ries fi­nally mak­ing its de­but on PC, it’s an op­por­tu­nity for many to see a Ja­panese phe­nom­e­non in ac­tion – and yet you might well won­der what all the fuss is about. This is a stub­bornly ortho­dox JRPG: even if you’re not fa­mil­iar with the se­ries, you’ll get the feel­ing that you’ve been here be­fore.

For some of you that might as well be a glow­ing rec­om­men­da­tion. Like pulling on a tatty old jumper you’ve just found screwed up in the bot­tom of your wardrobe, there’s ev­ery chance those early hours will give you a warm, en­velop­ing feel­ing, per­haps even a few misty-eyed mem­o­ries of hap­pier times. Sure, the story might be a lit­tle thread­bare (young male hero with a mys­te­ri­ous power sets off to save his home) but there’s an abun­dance of cheer in this world, right down to the first ene­mies you meet – those iconic blue slimes bounc­ing up to greet you with a wel­com­ing smile be­fore you promptly slice them to bits.

There are a hand­ful of forced fights, usu­ally boss bat­tles, but there aren’t any ran­dom en­coun­ters: you can see mon­sters walk­ing or hov­er­ing around, let­ting you choose which ones you want to en­gage in bat­tle. This is one of those JRPGs where you ex­plore a large, but not-quiteopen world, with en­closed ar­eas

con­nected by load­ing screens and cutscenes. Nev­er­the­less, they’re roomy enough to stretch your legs and of­fer plenty of dis­trac­tions from the path. It’s a pretty, invit­ing world, too: the towns are pleas­antly busy, with a di­verse range of ar­chi­tec­tural styles that helps give them ex­tra per­son­al­ity, while out­side you’ll find flour­ish­ing fields and tan­gled caves.

Ene­mies are nicely drawn and bril­liantly an­i­mated, and their names are of­ten glo­ri­ous. But for long stretches of the game, you can breeze through the lot of them, au­tomat­ing your bat­tle strat­egy so you can sim­ply press a but­ton to kick things off and then watch as your party of four wins with­out break­ing sweat. You’ll likely have to take the reins for boss fights, but most of these are a dod­dle, too. Only to­wards the end are you in­vited to think more tac­ti­cally, but by then you’ll have un­locked the more pow­er­ful moves on ev­ery­one’s skill tree, so you’ll of­ten find your­self re­peat­ing the same at­tacks to get by.

Again, that won’t be a prob­lem for ev­ery­one. But if stream­lin­ing the usual JRPG grind sounds ap­peal­ing in the­ory, it doesn’t stop the game from be­ing in­ter­minably slow at points. It’s not so much the fault of the cast mem­bers, who make for fine com­pan­ions: with a few ex­cep­tions the char­ac­ters are well-writ­ten and the voice act­ing is great. And it finds clever ways to add spice to the generic ‘find the mag­i­cal orbs’ ob­jec­tives: in one sec­tion, you’re forced to cover for a timid prince, while another sees you en­ter a tour­na­ment where com­peti­tors keep dis­ap­pear­ing. But every­thing drags on longer than it needs to, pil­ing set­back upon set­back, or stop­ping a cutscene so you can walk for­ward ten steps to trig­ger another one.

Only to­wards the end are you in­vited to think more tac­ti­cally

Mid­dle of the road

Given the se­ries’ suc­cess in Ja­pan, you can un­der­stand why its mak­ers would be re­luc­tant to mix things up. There are a few at­tempts to change things, but they’re all slightly half-hearted, and one is a to­tal bust. The de­fault com­bat cam­era lets you ad­just your view­point with the right stick and re­po­si­tion your char­ac­ters with the left, yet there’s no ad­van­tage to do­ing so. So why bother? Stick with the clas­sic cam­era and bat­tles seem far live­lier. If this is the kind of half-hearted ad­di­tion that passes for in­no­va­tion, then maybe it’s for the best that Dragon Quest XI oth­er­wise sticks to the script.

And plenty of play­ers will no doubt be glad it has. If the idea of spend­ing 60-plus hours with an ex­tremely old-fash­ioned and un­de­mand­ing RPG sounds ap­peal­ing, then by all means fill your boots. But this is a dis­tinctly un­ad­ven­tur­ous kind of ad­ven­ture.

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