“‘Dragon Quest XI’ is an expansive role-playing game with plenty to offer both new and old fans.”
- Excellent voice acting
- Varied environments and unique areas to explore
- A memorable tale with plenty of characters
- Deep character customization
- Wonderful visual design
- The grind will frustrate some players
- Story offers few surprises and plenty of tropes
- Not all dialogue is voiced
There’s nothing like a meaty JRPG to rekindle a lifelong love of gaming. While some may flock to blockbuster mainstays like Final Fantasy, others prefer the rustic charms of the equally great, yet less bombastic, Dragon Quest franchise.
It’s been six years since the MMORPG vision the series, Dragon Quest X, debuted in Japan (where it has remained). That means North American fans have waited eight years since Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies made its way to Nintendo DS. Any way you slice it, it’s been awhile since die-hards could enjoy their fill of the classic turn-based role-playing and fantasy storytelling the series has excelled at.
Dragon Quest XI is a dazzling return to form for JRPG enthusiasts new and old. It serves up a piping-hot fantasy adventure rife with memorable characters, an engaging narrative, and plenty of ground to cover in the name of the all-important “quest to save the world.” It’s a fantastic way to introduce newcomers to the long-running role-playing series.
A Grand, Familiar Adventure
Dragon Quest XI’s story won’t surprise you. From its opening moments, it’s like a warm embrace, wrapping you in the arms of the classic “young adventurer” trope. The silent protagonist, yours to mold as you see fit, uncovers a brilliant new destiny ahead of him as the “chosen one” or, as the game calls it, the Luminary. Your character is the reincarnation of a legendary hero who once saved the world from catastrophe.
Sound great, right? But not everyone in your hero’s hometown, Cobblestone, is enamored with the Luminary. Some of started to think that instead of bringing peace to the land, the Luminary is a harbinger of darkness. That becomes the launchpad for a sprawling tale of wizards, dragons, royalty, other colorful characters.
Dragon Quest XI is a dazzling return to form for JRPG enthusiasts new and old.
Though the story isn’t original, it also doesn’t wallow in trope-like simplicity. You will occasionally stumble into moments that’ll hit you like a ton of bricks, which appear when you’re least expecting them. That drama is balanced nicely by other, lighthearted interactions that’ll have you rolling on the floor laughing. These highs and lows are a hallmark of Dragon Quest in general, and they’re in full force here.
The story likely wouldn’t hold your interest on its own, but it’s helped along by a fun cast of characters, from the hilarious Sylvando to the snarky Veronica. These also aren’t surprising, but they’re well written and usually don’t overstay their welcome. Unfortunately, not all the character lines are voiced. Some will speak during important scenes but fall back to text-only conversations punctuated by a snippet of audio that doesn’t match the words being spoken. This isn’t unusual in sprawling role-playing games – Octopath Traveler does the same – but the game’s otherwise excellent presentation makes silent moments all the more jarring.
Grinding It Out
Let’s make one thing clear. You’re going to have to grind.
At first glance, this game may seem like a new and improved version of the same turn-based affairs seen in games like Final Fantasy or other tiles of that ilk. The space the battlefield occupies is yours, and you have free roam of the area, if you choose. You can also fight from a stationary position if you choose.
The enhanced combat will lead you to think it’ll follow other modern trends and eliminate the need to fight battles for the sole purpose of leveling characters, but that’s not the case. The combat is enjoyable, but you’ll be dealing with it a lot, because you will encounter bosses you simply can’t beat until you’ve gained a few levels.
Combat can be handled under your full control, or you can let computer-controlled companions choose which actions to perform from a list of tactics. These actions, much like the systems seen in games like Final Fantasy XII and XIII, allow you to select the appropriate set of combat decisions for each character to make. For instance, you can issue commands manually, or set parameters so that characters typically heal party members or focus on dealing damage.
Even with its modern panache, Dragon Quest XI’s combat is delightfully old-school.
There’s a respectable list of characters, each with a role to fill, but if you find that one party member isn’t jiving with the rest you can swap them out in the heat of battle with a simple button press. That makes situations that could feel like a slog less frustrating and save you from irritating battles.
Battles are important, but you’ll need to spend an equal amount of time ensuring each character grows in useful ways. Each receives a set of abilities that can be leveled up in a grid, with a different design for each character. Some skills are obscured behind those before them, while others are available to unlock as you earn additional ability points. The deep customization available in these trees will certainly appeal to gamers who love to min-max characters or dig deep into party builds.
That’s not all you can tweak. You’ll need to outfit character with gear. While you can rely on purchased or dropped gear, you can also make gear with an intricate crafting system and forge that lets you create your own types of gear utilizing recipes found throughout the world. The forge lets you cast and recast items, even combining old items with new materials to improve upon a previous iteration. Few RPGs bother to include such intricate crafting, and it’s yet another element that’ll appeal to gamers who love to customize characters.
A (Mostly) Magical World
You’ll never lack things to do in Dragon Quest XI. There’re side quests, optional undertakings, and even a New Game+ offering “Draconian Mode,” setting up dozens more hours of playtime beyond the first few required for what could be considered a “complete” run through the main story. There’s always something new to discover, a character to get to know better, and plenty of items to collect along the way, while unraveling the threads of intrigue set up from the very beginning of the game.
It’s like watching anime come to life […] torn from the pages of Toriyama’s Dragon Ball-meets-fantasy sketchbook.
The gorgeous artwork, from Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame, is a contender for the best of the series. It’s like watching an anime series come to life, with familiar designs that look as though they could have been torn from the pages of Toriyama’s Dragon Ball-meets-fantasy sketchbook.
The score is also appropriately bright and lighthearted, somber when necessary, and jaunty in the ways you’d expect a massive role-playing adventure to be.
Dragon Quest XI is the first full-fledged RPG in the series in some time, and it delivers in nearly every respect. It relies on classic role-playing tropes, a full-fledged combat grind, and gorgeous visuals and aural delights to craft a believable, magical world with plenty of content.
Is there a better alternative?
There are several expansive role-playing games out on the market, the most notable being Ni no Kuni II and Octopath Traveler. Those are both solid games, but Dragon Quest XI is a tough rival for both. You might not like Dragon Quest XI as much if you despise grinding, but you’ll love it if you want deep character customization.
How long will it last?
The main story will take 70-80 hours to play to completion, though you could easily sink over 100 hours into the game by completing all side missions, collecting all items, and seeing everything there is to see.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Dragon Quest XI is a hallmark of excellence for the genre, and while some may be put off by its adherence to classic tropes, it features a modern twist on combat, narrative elements, and character customization. It’s a hefty slice of throwback goodness without too much of the baggage that can come with old-school games.
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