Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Review
The Dragon Quest series not only helped define a genre, it helped to create it in the first place. The first Dragon Quest game appeared on the NES, and it established many of the JRPG genre touchstones that are a hallmark of the genre today. Decades later we're up to the eleventh game in the series, but many of the core aspects of the games that have come before it are still here. Dragon Quest XI certainly has the look of a modern game, but its heart is still that of a classic Dragon Quest game.
In Dragon Quest XI you play as a young man who after completing his village's coming of age trial learns that he has a destiny that is much larger than the hamlet he grew up in. You are the reincarnation of the Luminary, a legendary warrior who returns when his kingdom is threatened by dark forces. You are sent on a journey to the capital to announce your presence to the leadership council, but you do not get the kind of reception that you anticipate. They view your presence as a bad omen, as if your existence is what will draw evil to the kingdom, so they lock you away in the dungeons until they can decide what to do with you. This is where your adventures begin in earnest, as you travel the kingdom with an expanding party of companions, trying to save the kingdom from an approaching evil in spite of its best efforts to ignore the threat.
The game's story is really brought to life by its characters. The eclectic collection of personalities that form your party make them far more memorable than the generic companions that you find in your typical RPG, and helps endear them to you as you make your way through the game - you may just find yourself actually caring about them. The excellent character design extends beyond your party as well. You'll meet numerous memorable characters during your travels, and care was taken to even give the bit players some character.
Dragon Quest XI takes place in a massive world, but your journey through it will be on a guided path. The game follows a linear progression in which you enter a new area, complete the questline within that area, and then move on to the next. There are side quests available that will let you stray just a little bit off the primary path, but the game is in no way an open-world RPG. It's a testament to the game design, though, that this linear gameplay doesn't feel that constraining. You'll enjoy your journey enough that you won't spend much time thinking about the fact that you're being led down a predetermined path. There will be times, though, in which you'll find your quests to be a little on the bizarre side. You'll have to chalk things up to cultural differences and just go with the flow.
As you make your way across the land you'll see various monsters just hanging out here and there. Make contact with one of them and you'll initiate a battle. You'll often be able to avoid some of the monsters, leaving you with the choice of whether or not to do battle with them. There aren't any random encounters of the type you would find in old Dragon Quest games or similar JRPGs in which you couldn't take more than a couple of steps without being thrown into a battle. They're not nearly as frequent in Dragon Quest XI and you can always see them coming.
Battles are traditional turn-based affairs in which you decide whether to attack, cast a spell, use an item, etc. You don't have to micromanage your party through these battles, setting the general tactics for each party member to follow and letting the AI handle the specifics, but if you want to issue every order to every party member you can certainly do that, too. Most of the battles, especially the random encounters, can be handled without too much difficulty as long as you're careful to adjust your tactics to the enemy types you're facing, but the major battles will require sound tactics to emerge victorious. Since all battles all turn-based it takes a little time to get through them, even when you're facing a group of low-level mobs, which at times can make them feel a little tedious. If you're used to more active and fast-paced battles in your RPGs, you may find Dragon Quest XI trying your patience at times.
Music isn't something I usually make note of in game reviews, but the music in Dragon Quest XI deserves special mention. The soundtrack is performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and the skill of the musicians is reflected in the game's music. The background music is still on a loop, but I never found it to feel repetitive. It stands out from other game soundtracks because of its quality, and it certainly adds to your enjoyment of the game.
If you're looking for an RPG similar to The Witcher 3 or Skyrim, or even Final Fantasy XV, Dragon Quest XI is not that game. Dragon Quest XI is a modern take on a classic formula and stays close to its roots with a linear world and quests and strictly turn-based battles. If you're looking for a game that emphasizes character and story over open-world gameplay, though, and in the mood for some JRPG nostalgia, then you'll really enjoy Dragon Quest XI.
Final Rating: 86% - Dragon Quest XI is a modern rendition of classic JRPG gameply.