Dragon Quest XI: Echoes Of An Il­lu­sive Age

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

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it is… of sorts, how­ever its stub­born na­ture to stick with what’s worked in the past be­trays game de­sign that’s out of date.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.

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