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May 2019

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: Sept. 4, 2018


PS4 Review - 'Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 13, 2018 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Dragon Quest XI continues the gameplay of previous games in the series, in which players explore worlds and fight against various monsters, including the ability to explore high areas.

Buy Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

Dragon Quest is basically the first meaningful JRPG, and in Japan, the franchise has survived since the days of NES with little to no drop in popularity. With the exception of the Japan-only MMO, Dragon Quest X, you know exactly what you're going to get when you pick up a Dragon Quest game.  Perhaps it's no surprise that Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a safe game that adheres to the franchise's tropes almost to the letter. More importantly, DQ11 is a great example of how safe isn't the same as bad.

DQ11 follows the now-familiar stereotypes of the franchise. Players are placed in the role of a nameless silent protagonist who's the kidnapped scion of royalty and has a mysterious power. He's destined to fight evil, so he does. Before long, he's embroiled in a quest that takes him across the world to face evil, meet new people, and in general do the hero thing. It's a standard plot that has enough surprises to keep players interested. It's tough to say a lot without spoiling the more engaging plot twists, but not everything is as it appears.

DQ11 has a remarkably enjoyable cast. The standout was an entertainer who manages to be both campy and completely awesome, but there were no real bad points in the cast. The only possible exception might be that the silent protagonist is a forgettable nobody. This hasn't always been the case (DQ5 managed to make it work), but DQ11 doesn't. He has a story, but at the end of the day, he's just there to be the dull guy you control while the infinitely more interesting supporting cast carries the game. Thankfully, DQ11 may have the best cast in Dragon Quest history.

As far as gameplay goes, DQ11 is predictable. If you've ever played a standard JRPG, you'll know what's involved. You and the enemy take turns battling one another until one side falls, and spells are controlled with MP. You have mages and healers and thieves, and there are some handwaves at making the system more involved, but they're either minor (Pep is a modified version of Tension from DQ7) or ignorable. DQ11's combat is the franchise's standard, and figuring out how to effectively combine character skills to defeat tough bosses is a lot of fun. There are enough minor character customizations to help you feel like you're building a character.

DQ11 is also by-the-book when it comes to exploration. This isn't an open-world game; it follows the same basic linear path as the other games in the franchise, where you venture from town to dungeon. You generally don't walk in linear corridors, but neither are you free to explore. The game does a good job of making this feel natural and earned rather than restrictive, and there's just enough trail that's off the beaten path to keep you interested. You'll never be able to choose where you want to go, and backtracking is entirely meaningless, but some exploration can lead to valuable gear or rare items.

The game is fairly guided, so big bubbles over people's heads let you know if they're worth talking to or if they're going to say some meaningless NPC babble. Considering the game's length, side-quests are few and far between, but they're worth undertaking  to get crafting materials or earn EXP to avoid having to grind. Speaking of grinding, DQ11 seems to expect it, but clever usage of abilities can go a long way. Even one or two levels can have a tremendous impact on the difficulty of a boss fight.

One neat feature is the Draconic Adventure mechanic. At the start of the game, players can inflict a bunch of optional challenges upon themselves, ranging from things like reduced EXP gain to inability to run from fights. The challenges can make you rethink how you approach the game. They can also be disabled in the churches if they feel too restrictive, but once it's disabled, you can't reactivate it without starting a new game. I'm not sure how much value this adds for most players, but it's a nice feature for DQ fans who want to add a little bite to their adventure.

DQ11's greatest flaw is that it is remarkably safe — even for a franchise known for playing it safe. DQ9 was one of the more experimental entries in the series, and DQ10 was an MMO, so perhaps it's understandable for the game to return to the franchise roots. At the end of the day, DQ11 is a charming, enjoyable, and utterly predictable example of the most predictable JRPG series on the market. In many ways, the delightful characters, beautiful graphics, and refined gameplay are the highlight of the franchise, but  at its very core, DQ11 isn't much different from the original NES games.

No one thing about DQ11 stands out, so that makes it a bit tough to recommend. Dragon Quest thrives on being familiar and charming. It's the JRPG equivalent of reading a well-worn book that you love, but if you're burned out on JRPGs, someone who had trouble getting into them, or someone who wants something more than the traditional, DQ11 isn't going to work for you.

This may sound like a harsh criticism, but in truth, it's also the game's one big strength. DQ11 is a fantastic example of the strengths of JRPGs, boiled down to the essentials and polished to a sheen. If I were going to give someone a JRPG to get them into JRPGs, DQ11 would be near the top of my list. It quickly rocketed into being one of my favorite Dragon Quest titles, but DQ5 was still the best of the lot. If old-school JRPGs get their hooks into you, DQ11 is going to get hold of you and never ever let go. Every boss fight, plot twist, and village manage to remain engaging, exciting, and fun.

A big part of this is the presentation. The beautiful rendition of Akira Toriyama's designs and monsters really make the game pop. It's adorable, bright, and colorful, and it looks great from the simplest village to the deepest dungeon. It might be old-school, but DQ11 shows the difference between JRPGs that merely ape the olden days and those that have grown from those roots. The voice work gives the game a huge personality. I enjoyed the wacky accents and charming voices, and the audio helped sell characters who otherwise might have been dull. If I had one complaint about the soundtrack, it's that it's expected. It's a standard Dragon Quest soundtrack, and aside from a few standout songs, it's really just plain average.

All in all, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a standout example of the franchise. It's undeniably safe, but on the flip side, it's engaging, enjoyable, and polished, and it showcases almost all of the franchise's strengths. It also has its share of weaknesses, but in terms of nostalgia for the olden days, it's an example of how to do it right. It might be a bit too repetitive for longtime Dragon Quest fans, but if you were going to play one Dragon Quest, DQ11 is the one I'd recommend even over my personal favorite. It's a great entry point to the franchise, and it's a charming, fun, and likeable JRPG on its own merits.

Score: 8.5/10

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