Dragon Quest XI: Echoes Of An Illusive Age
Where droves of contemporary RPGS have adopted real-time battles and systemic worlds, Dragon Quest XI digs its heels in and doubles down on the old-school, turn-based action. It feels like a game that has overshot its release date by a decade – and the developers including the DQVIII’S protagonist’s outfit in your inventory from the outset feels like a mission statement.
Here’s an game for those who loved Ps2era JRPGS, and to some that might sound like a glowing recommendation, and it is… of sorts, however its stubborn nature to stick with what’s worked in the past betrays game design that’s out of date.
Take battles: they play out in a familiar turn-based fashion – choose actions from a list for your party of four, and the order plays out according to each participant’s agility stat. The system is completely fine, but it gets old. The world’s populated with legions of monsters and battles soon become rote – especially in sections where you find yourself having to grind for items or experience. Again, some people may salivate at this, but these skirmishes are supposed to be the game’s bread and butter. You can automate things, though, enabling the AI take over each of your character’s actions and letting you check your phone or something in the meantime. This does make navigating through the monsterstrewn overworld a lot more bearable, but this option shouldn’t have to exist in the first place.
Boss battles are a little more interesting, and actually require brainpower. For example, a monster with tentacles comes up in the first third of the game, and you have to alternate between dealing damage to the beast itself while keeping its appendages down and out for the count. It’s situations like these where you’ll have to carefully consider about buffing and healing your party while maintaining a good amount of damage on potentially multiple fronts, and makes for good encounters, but they’re the exception rather than the norm.
The spine underneath these battles is seemingly threadbare skill tree system, but
If the GAME’S INFECTIOUS upbeat TONE DOESN’T get through to you, then ITS MONSTER DESIGNS AND their PUN-PACKED NAMES will
one that’s actually got a bit of depth to it. You spend skill points to unlock abilities for each character, each tied to a different ‘branch’ depending on who you’re speccing – mage Rab has branches for staffs and magic, but also for claws should you want him to deal more physical damage, for instance. And characters can be respecced at save points for a relatively meagre cost if you want to tweak your designs and change stuff up.
Speaking of the game’s characters, the core cast is great. Some of your party members walk a tightrope, frequently teetering between charming and annoying, but for the most part they’re a jovial cast of heroes that are well written and brought to life vibrantly by their voice actors. The rest of the game’s characters are disappointingly middle-of-the-road, save for the villains who chew the scenery like it’s a gourmet sandwich, which fits well with Dragon Quest’s overall tone.
It’s a shame, then, that the main cast is inserted into a fairly Rpg-by-the-numbers story. It could’ve been written on a napkin: male hero of destiny learns of his lineage and sets out to pick up magical macguffins to save the world from evil. The first half of the story plays out like a story-of-the-week anime – think the original Pokémon series – where you’ll stroll into a settlement, encounter someone of importance with a problem, which you solve and are rewarded with one of said items of plot significance, before continuing on to do the same thing again. Things do pick up about 20 hours in where a significant event turns everything on its head, but the price to get there is 20 hours of a pretty dull plot where you’re mostly reliant on the game’s characters to pull you through.
We say ‘mostly reliant’ because it’s undeniable that Dragon Quest XI has a significant amount of charm. If the game’s infectious upbeat tone doesn’t get through to you, then its monster designs and their pun-packed names will. They’re drawn and animated with a deft hand, and complement Akira Toriyama’s character designs well. And the world itself is bursting with things to do, from exploring every nook and pathway to uncover equipment and items for crafting, to distractions such as side-quests, a casino and a host of minigames.
It’s easy to get lost in, especially if you have a completionist’s compulsion. This quality isn’t extended to the game’s spartan soundtrack, however.
There are a couple of themes for towns, the overworld and battles, and they’re only memorable for how much they get drilled into you. over and over again. And at times the score causes a few cases of tonal mishmash: the same jovial battle theme is used for a lighthearted scuffle and a moment where characters are making a grave last stand. It’s jarring. And where big-budget RPG rivals such as ni no Kuni and Final Fantasy, as well as smaller projects like I Am Setsuna, can pull off full, diverse scores, Dragon Quest XI has no excuse.
If you haven’t noticed already, it feels like for every good point to say about Dragon Quest XI, there’s something around the corner ready to knock it down a notch or two. It’s a hard game to fully recommend as a result. on the one hand, fans of the series and retro JRPGS will love it, because it fits that bill excellently. Series newcomers or those who are looking for some innovation from the series, however, might want to approach it with a shade of caution.
your band of merry adventurers are the best part of Dragon Quest XI, they’re a good bunch of characters to spend upwards of 60 hours with.
right: whilst exploring, you can encounter monsters that sparkle. Defeat these and you can ride them as mounts, granting you access to areas you wouldn’t be able to reach on-foot or on horseback. lost sphear
below: Pep Powers – essentially limit breaks – are powerful, but require one or more character to be ‘Pepped up’, which is out of the player’s control, making them hard to plan for. left: Some of the names of monsters and locations are fantastic examples of wordplay and add to the game’s charm.