by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I find it to be personally fascinating that in 30 years, Dragon Quest has remained unchained. It’s remarkable that one of the most popular RPG franchises in the world just keeps the same style and type of RPG, and it just keeps working. There are a few things I expect in my Dragon Quest game: Akira Toriyama’s adorable monsters, grinding at every new town I come to, and Puff Puff. Maybe my expectations are a little odd, but that’s the way it goes. I’m still not done completing my first run of Dragon Quest XI, but it’s not for a lack of trying. I’m closing in on 50 hours and still in the main game, then there’s the lengthy post-game content to go through. While the latest in the Dragon Quest franchise has not changed too much, it feels and plays better than ever. A lot of enjoyable mechanics from other games have come back and feel tighter, easier to manage (crafting as an example). While it is a very linear JRPG, there is a ton of story to enjoy, twists, turns, and plenty of challenging boss battles to hack through.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age stars you as the reincarnation of The Luminary, a hero from a previous Age. The Luminary is destined to seal up The Lord of Shadows again, and while I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers in this review, not everyone is all that thrilled that the ancient hero has risen again. Instead, he is seen as a herald of darkness, that dark, unpleasant times are upon the world again. The threat is not very clear over the first couple of hours; instead, it’s a young boy who happens to be the Luminary, meeting a new friend and running away from people who hate him simply for being who he is, something he has no control over. These first few hours is a nice, pleasant tutorial, slowly introducing fighting, having allies, and even the Mini Forge. Speaking of allies, you will build a party of up to four characters, and though you will have more than four friends to join the quest, you can swap the others in and out of battle at will. They also gain EXP even if they didn’t fight, so it won’t be like Final Fantasy X where if you don’t swap a character in to perform an action they get nothing.
The main character runs around in the open world and can see the enemies in real time wandering around (unless you’re on the water. You can’t see aquatic enemies). If you come into range and attack (X) before they get in close, it counts as a sneak attack, though it won’t guarantee you a preemptive strike. It does, however, help against the enemy getting the first hit in. Your allies default to being controlled by the AI, but if you want you can go to tactics and adjust what they do (or control them yourself). I was fine with the AI controlling them because not once did the AI controlled logic let the main character die. If they were under a certain threshold (typically 40-50%), they would fire off the appropriate heal. This leads me to one of the things I was worried about: MP. This game “does” have MP-restoring items, but it’s always been an issue for me in Dragon Quest. Your staff-wielding characters gain a percentage of their damage in MP, which can be increased through the skill system and is an absolute godsend. I was genuinely surprised that the AI pattern for the allied characters was so smart.
Combat’s pretty simple though. When a character you’re controlling has a turn, it will prompt you to Attack, use Abilities, Items, swap equipment, et cetera. I did occasionally swap weapons for weaknesses (Anti-Dragon, Anti-Demon, et cetera) because it does help. Once you pick an action, it will go immediately, and the next friend or foe will act. Larger enemies can (and usually do) get a second action, from bosses to regular encounters. There are items you can equip to counteract that though. The other key to battle is “Pep”. Back in Dragon Quest VIII, you could power-up a’la Dragon Ball Z, and a similar system exists here. Instead of wasting actions in combat, you can enter a state of Pep after attacking/being attacked. There’s a percentage chance it will happen, and it can be influenced with skills, it’s not very clear how it is triggered. I like it because it allows for cool team-up skills, more damage, higher stats (though if you use a Pep Power you lose Pep). But it’s very unclear to me how it happens, making several of the Side Quests infuriating. There are Side Quests that require you to use a certain Pep Power (requiring 2 or more characters), on a certain enemy. That means you have to go around fighting until both characters have Pep, and hope you get to use the power before Pep wears off. Pep will stick around if you have it at the end of a battle, but it’s unclear again, how long it lasts. Thankfully it’s only for Side Quests, but I spent a full three and a half hours on one side quest, trying to get Hero and another character to have Pep at the same time.
Other than the murkiness of Pep, combat is smooth and easy to get into, and I like being able to see those adorable enemies in the world. Even the humongous dragons are in a pretty cute style! Enemies respawn on the open world pretty fast if you’re trying to grind out GP (which you need to do often). That’s one of the big things to be aware of if you’re new to the Dragon Quest series: Grind every time you come to a new town. Just do it. The gear becomes expensive fast, and though you can supplement it through the crafting system (but you’ll have to farm fights/materials in the world to avoid the gold grind), it’s much easier to just fight for money and materials, and craft when you can. So let’s talk about that part of the game. You’ll receive a Mini Forge that will appear at every campsite you come across in the game. Campsites are visible on the minimap and in real time and have a camp to rest/restore HP, the Mini Forge to craft, a salesman to sell you mostly current gear and some healing reagents/craft materials, and you can also chat with your allies here. Sleeping does not remove status ailments or resurrect people: You need to cast a spell or pray at the statue (which also saves your game) for those. You’ll be expected to spend some gold on those services, except saving.
The Mini Forge will let you craft gear, depending on what recipes you have. Recipes are gained in Side Quests and books mostly. Anytime you see a bookshelf with a bright red book, read it. It might be lore, or something funny, but a lot of crafting recipes are found in these. The materials for crafting are pretty reasonable (usually 1 of each item), and after selecting them, you go to a forging mini-game. Each action (Bash or Flourish) has an Endurance cost, and the goal is to get as many of the bars for the weapon/armor in the middle of the green spot on the meter, which turns it gold. If you are crafting and don’t complete all of the meters for it, you’ll still get the item but it will be listed as a “failure”. Getting most of them to show gold will list it as a “Perfection”. Success and better give “Perfectionists Pearls”, which will let you reforge items you purchased/crafted to give them a +1 – +3. You go through the same mini-game again, but the harder the difficulty rating, the harder it will be to succeed. Failure here means you wasted the used Perfectionists Pearls. Thankfully, you can purchase them for 100g a piece at one of the in-game shops. It’s a useful feature, and if you’ve been lucky/diligent, you can save a lot of money, and there are tons of amazing things you can make before you can purchase them. It definitely helps encourage exploring towns and overworld areas. Sometimes your next strike will gain double power, sometimes half. The bars might even occasionally lower! It’s challenging, but worthwhile to craft.
Speaking of Side Quests, I like that you can check a menu to see roughly where you get them at, and what will be required of you, but I had a pretty hard time figuring many of them out. Maybe I’m just used to having a marker on my maps, but some of the Side Quests, locating the required person or object can be a little frustrating. Like finding one person in a town and talking to them. That means unless you’ve already met/talked to them, you’ll wind up talking to every single person in the town. They aren’t bad, but they’re very useful to complete, so it can wind up taking more time than you’d want. That leads me back to the menu, specifically the Skill Menu. The skill system from DQVIII is back and improved without a doubt. In DQVIII you just put points into a weapon/personal stat, and eventually, you got something out of it. When you level up in DQXI, you are fully restored, gain more stats, and gain some skill points. Each character has at least three weapon trees, and at least one personal tree based on their role/personality. You unlock abilities off of this grid, giving bonuses to stats, or new abilities/passives/pep powers. The downside to this is that it can feel terribly overwhelming having to wait for three or four levels to get the one extra power you want. This is still the same as DQVIII, but at least it’s not a secret what you unlock next (unless you Google it). You can also reset the skill points at the Statues, which leads me to one more new thing the Statues can do.
An optional feature in the game is known as Draconic Challenges. The game itself is not terribly difficult, but these can seriously amp up the difficulty. You don’t gain anything from them that I’m aware of, but are solely to make the game harder. From “No shopping”, “More difficult enemies”, “No running away”, “Shypox”, these make the game harder at your own choice. This review is being done under the “No Running” Draconic Challenge, arguably the easiest one to use. I like these being here, because while the game itself has a reasonable difficulty, it certainly adds replay value, especially when combined with the other weapon types for characters. There are lots of ways to play, and while it is a linear game, these things will let you come back to the game to feel the crippling blow of the dark twists the story takes in new and exciting ways (for gameplay at least)! If you decide these have become too challenging, you can remove them at the Prayer Shrines, so it’s not permanent at least.
Kaishin no Ichigeki! 5/5
Okay, I was wrong, this is my favorite RPG of the year. It’s all I’ve played for about two weeks now, and there are all kinds of side missions and objectives I’ve missed for other playthroughs/post-game. I can’t wait to play the post-game content, which promises to be far more challenging than the regular game. I’m disappointed that there’s no Japanese dub, but since Dragon Quest has never had a dub in Japan, this makes sense. I still kind of want it though. The European voice cast is wonderful and I enjoy listening to them, and they make sense, being a Western Fantasy game. But in my Japanese games, I still want the option for a Japanese dub. I’ve heard that the music sounds inferior in some fashion, but since I’m nearly deaf in one ear, I can’t really tell. I enjoyed the music, and there are some real callbacks to former games in the series, which really made me happy.
Dragon Quest XI is not a game you can expect to beat in ten-fifteen hours. I’m still about fifty hours in, and while I’m sure Speedrunners will make a fool of me in that statement, this is not a short game at all. There is a very major twist in the game that lengthens the story, but it didn’t feel like it was done just to lengthen the game, and is instead a really interesting storyline moment. This is a great Dragon Quest title because it feels familiar for veterans/long-time fans, but newcomers to the series will still get a lot out of it. This is the most accessible Dragon Quest I’ve ever played, and while it doesn’t hold your hand, it does give you a little boost from time to time. It reminds you of what you did last time when you load a save file, and you can talk to your party members to remind you of what you should be doing if you get distracted. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of An Elusive Age is an absolute must-play.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.