There are very few game genres that I would not at least try a time or two. I dabble here or there, even go WAY past dabbling with things like MMORPGs and sandbox world building styles of games. But, without a doubt, my passion for games was originally sparked, and has continued to be sparked, by the Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) genre. When I was a kid, there was a dearth of options to choose from in localized fashion, though I played what I could get. Ranging from the less JRPG-ish styles of Shining Force or Landstalkers, all the way to the more traditional options of Final Fantasy, I was hooked. I sadly did not get into the Dragon Quest series when younger, the Enix powerhouse in the 80s and 90s. I instead was a Final Fantasy junky, the Square powerhouse in the 80s and 90s. (Wait, didn’t those two hookup or something?)
And then I got older. My interest in the storytelling and charm of JRPGs did not decrease during this growing older process, though it seemed like the quality of said storytelling and charm was not aging quite so well. Sure, games continued to come out, and plentifully! I don’t know, I guess it was just nostalgia telling me that the “good ol’ days” of JRPGs was gone and the new entry just wouldn’t live up to that. I resigned myself to enjoying games that felt more predictable, formulaic, and just too much when compared. Don’t get me wrong, JRPG style games are still great games, and I have likely spent an unhealthy amount of time playing them. It has just been different.
Enter Dragon Quest XI – Echoes of an Elusive Age. First released in Japan in 2017, this is the most recent installment in a long-loved series. While, as mentioned before, I was not a Dragon Quester in my earlier years, starting with Dragon Quest V I was highly intrigued by this world. Nine years after I first played that game, I decided to give my love of JRPGs another go with the Steam release of Dragon Quest XI and am thoroughly pleased that I did! This game is absolutely gorgeous, the classic JRPG style is basically perfect, and as you will read in this article, I think other JRPG producers should take note of how it is done!
The storytelling in the game thus far has been so great, I am almost hesitant to even mention it here in hopes that you will immediately (well, after reading this article of course) go out and experience it yourself! But I guess a little bit to spark your interest wouldn’t hurt…
There are some fairly familiar RPG and fantasy tropes here of course. Young boy is destined for some fanciness that powerful folks in the kingdom don’t like, so he is rescued from their grips and (literally) sent down the river in a basket. Kindly older fellow scoops him up, raises him in a pleasant, tiny village, and life goes on. In classic coming of age style, exiled fellow (named Jim in my case of course), goes through a rite of passage like all kids his age and stumbles upon the awesomeness of his true origins and destiny.
Tropes aside, once being told more about himself by villagers that he assumed were his birth family, the interesting bits of the story emerge. Main character is referred to as something called “The Luminary,” and sports a telltale mark on the back of his hand. With this, our intrepid young fellow ventures forth to the local kingdom to start his life as a hero…right?
Gameplay for Dragon Quest XI is quite inviting indeed. The environments are beautifully rendered and set in a way that makes it hard NOT to want to explore them. Before refocusing myself in the beginning, I found myself trying to get to every little nook and cranny in the starter village trying to find every chest, sparkly bit and secret that I could. All of the NPCs probably got tired of me talking to them so much as well! Once finally focusing and continuing with the story, I can confirm that the inviting nature of this game continues even when not obsessively exploring. The number of enemies you run across are plentiful, yet not oppressive or overwhelming.
I found during my time with the game thus far that, while I did end of battling quite a bit going from story point to story point, at no point did it feel like a tedious grind. Leveling felt fair and balanced, and while there is plenty of game and story left ahead of me, I never felt as if I was so under leveled that I had to grind or so over leveled that it was pointless.
As you play through, game mechanics are slowly unlocked so as to not overwhelm. For example, after leveling a bit you are presented with the Character Builder mechanic that is the Dragon Quest version of a talent tree I suppose, in which you can train your party members as jacks-of-all-trades, though you would benefit more so from choosing a specialization path and sticking with it I believe. Also, after meeting a certain character who eventually joins your party, you are given access to the Fun-Size Forge (such an awesome name) which allows you to craft new equipment from all of the random items that you find in the world.
The combat system for Dragon Quest XI does not revolutionize anything about their older style, though in a positive way in my opinion. Classic turn-based combat is the default, though you may be able to alter this a bit in settings if you really want to. I didn’t bother looking because the default style works so well. In order to help customize your combat experience a bit, under the tactics menu the player is able to decide how the party members (including the main character) react in combat. This can be related to if you want them to be offense, defense, healing, magic focused, or even if you want to have full control over them during battle. So, if you are looking for a more laid-back experience, set up some an efficient tactics package and just focus on your main fellow. If, like me, you prefer control over the timing and strategy of battle, then take that control.
Combat itself is self-explanatory. You are able to attack, use abilities (once unlocked through leveling or character builder), magic, items, you know…the normal stuff. Every once and a while your characters may enter Pep mode when they are pepped up in battle, adding extra combo options when particular pairs of party members are pepped up at the same time. Otherwise, it is start battle, destroy baddies, get loot and xp, rinse and repeat. Like many other games in this genre, though, you are able to see the enemies when wandering around and, if you pay attention, can avoid combat altogether when not story-driven battles. My personal experience with it has been to always fight an enemy when I first see one of its kind, the pass up subsequent ones when not trying to level or gather resources. Otherwise, you could easily spend your entire gaming session just bouncing from battle to battle.
The reason that this article was labeled as an introduction rather than a review, as I am not quite done with the story itself. And that was on purpose. Rather than speed through just for thoroughness in a typical review, I quickly recognized that Dragon Quest XI possessed a story and game that I wanted to be able to slow down and savor rather than speedily conquer. The only reason I am currently not playing it is because I had to stop to write this review so I wouldn’t miss my deadline! And I think that itself speaks volumes for this title. Perhaps I will give an addendum once finished playing the full game, though as mentioned earlier this is a game that needs to be personally experienced to fully appreciate what it is.
My experience with this game thus far has been so refreshingly enjoyable that I can’t wait to play it some more, and probably play it again to find all the things I have probably missed this first playthrough! With a reported 80+ hours of gameplay, large numbers of side quests, and secrets to find, I wholeheartedly recommend this to any fan of the classic JRPG genre. The name is a perfect fit, as this is indeed an echo of the seemingly elusive age of JRPG greatness. If you are less familiar with this genre, it may feel a bit slow at first, but it is absolutely worth the time.