Review: Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

To put this plainly, Dragon Quest XI is the BEST RPG I’ve ever played. Period. It’s not just the best Dragon Quest game or the best game I’ve played in 2018. It’s the best RPG that I’ve ever played. I say this with the utmost confidence that Dragon Quest XI is better than Chrono Trigger, better than both Final Fantasy VI and VII, and yes, even better than the amazing Legend of Zelda series. These aren’t words that I put together lightly, because everyone who sits down to play this game won’t have the same experience that I have been blessed with over the course of my playtime.

When I first booted up the game, I was very happy to finally get to jump into this world that I’ve seen only from afar, waiting patiently for the game to be localized for a western audience. It’s a real joy that Square Enix took the time to make this a reality, given that the Dragon Quest series isn’t generally well received by Western gamers.

With that time, we got the premier edition, one with English voice acting (the Japanese version didn’t even have voice acting), and a handy and amazing sprint function by holding down the right trigger. Now, I’ve been a fan of Dragon Quest for a very long time. As a kid, I received the original Dragon Warrior for the Nintendo Entertainment System when I subscribed to Nintendo Power during their promotion to help try and make RPGs bigger in the West. It was that game that both introduced me to the RPG genre, but it’s also one reason why I played Final Fantasy and many other games as a kid. Dragon Quest hooked me in early and showed me what games where possible and even to this day I credit it for my love of the genre.

So is Dragon Quest XI a perfect game? No, but it’s very close to perfect. It really flexes its muscles and shows me what is possible in an RPG.

Let’s Talk About Story (No Spoilers)

To be respectful for anyone who is reading this review and is still on the fence, we won’t be talking about any spoilers when we talk about the story. I will, however, tell you about the emotional impact it had on my life, and how it makes me want to be a better person and a better father.

I played the majority of this game with my kids. There are some parts of the game that can be rather dark and scary, and thankfully those were parts where I was up late streaming the game, or just playing it by myself. For the vast majority of the game, though, I was side-by-side with my kids, and I have to say that I love the fact that the cutscenes are voiced and as a parent there wasn’t anything I was worried in regards to the characters saying or doing something that I would need to then explain to my kids. Any content that could be considered slightly questionable was left to text conversations that my kids can’t read yet, so it was easy to get the context and move on so I could summarize it later for them.

But perhaps it was the fact that as a father, there are several emotional beats in the game that took my breath away and moved me to tears. Literally, tears. And not just once, but a few times. As I played through the game I kept saying I felt that all the characters are competing for “best character of the game” and while everyone will come up with their own answers to this question, for me it’s Chalky. I enjoyed the characters, both good, bad, and grey in this game, and that’s a rare thing for me to say about any game. I felt that they were so well rounded, hit their beats perfectly, and the voice acting that accompanied them felt just so right.

The cutscenes were a joy to watch, and kept making me want to keep going, even if I was too tired. I didn’t want to put the game down! What I was treated to was a story that moved me, and will be the bar from which I judge future games. You might find some of the beats very traditional, and that’s where the characters themselves shine. This is a story about light versus darkness, good versus evil. That’s the tradition, but what makes it magical, what makes it special, is all the people you meet along the way. The world feels more natural then even what Final Fantasy XV put out there.

Let’s Discuss Them Graphics

I’ve long wished for the visuals of Dragon Quest to be epic and real. In my mind as a kid, I visualized the world of J. R. R. Tolkien and other (similar) authors as having a dark and gritty aesthetic. Dragon Quest XI does not have one of those worlds, and it’s something that I really appreciated more then I expected. More then Dragon Quest 8, the visual upgrade that has been made to this game is fantastic.

As I played it, I was drawn to its beauty and was truly lost in the world. Each area was brought to life in a beautiful way; the areas are large, with lots of things going on at any one time. Sure, every now and then you’ll see the same re-used characters around the world, but that’s a small annoyance overall. What we’re gifted with in this game is a world that feels and really comes alive. Characters express themselves in fun and beautiful ways, and in the end it’s all a visual treat to behold.

I played this game on PC, and with a powerful system everything in this world popped. I didn’t notice any frame drops, janky animations, or screen tearing. The game is beautifully rendered, wonderfully animated, and has so much charm that you can’t help but enjoy the visual adventure your eyes are going on.

OK, How About Gameplay?

The single greatest difference to me, between what most other RPGs have compared to Dragon Quest, comes in the form of visual enemies out and about in the world. This not only makes the different areas feel alive and populated, but it also allows you, the player, to avoid unnecessary encounters if you wish. While the game features its classic turn-based gameplay, this allows me to choose my encounters, and level up when and how I choose.

As far as turn-based battles go, as a father of three (shows my age!) I absolutely love them. This is the perfect battle system for someone who needs to be able to pause the game at any moment. This battle system is also great for the little kiddos who are learning video games, as it doesn’t add in a lot of pressure to react. Its focus is all around thinking and planning your next move.

Now, while the game does offer a “Draconian Mode” for players looking for more of a challenge, at its core, Dragon Quest didn’t offer me much of a challenge. As an experiment, I put my party in auto mode under the AI plan “Fight Wisely” And cleared the game having only to fully control my party in a handful of battles at the end of the game. I didn’t need to do much grinding either, as only a few times did I feel under-powered.

Now, if you take your time to explore this game and world, you’ll be fed enough gear that you really won’t feel the need to grind gold to buy gear, but you really shouldn’t buy any as the crafting system in this game is amazing. I hear it comes from Dragon Quest X, but since we don’t have that game here in the West, I can’t say if anything has really changed between X and XI. What I can say, though, is I really enjoyed the crafting system in this game. While I’m no expert, it was always exciting to find new recipes and gear, because I was able to take that recipe and make something better then I what I could buy (even if it was the same item). It was a fun distraction to the narrative of the overall story.

The only note of criticism that I can offer here is, while I played the game with a controller, the keyboard and mouse support for this game is the worse option and felt tossed in because they are offering the game on PC for the first time. If you are going to play this game on a PC be sure that you have a controller, otherwise you won’t have as enjoyable of an experience.

Let’s Hear About Sound For a Bit

I have to say, Square Enix made a massive investment with the voice acting in this game, and I feel it comes off beautifully. I loved how each character spoke, and how they each had characteristics that I might not have noticed if they weren’t voiced. Great voice actors can really do that, and I felt that this voice acting really brought them to life, made them feel real, and allowed me to get to know them. It’s not perfect, but it’s incredible what they did.

As a long time fan of this franchise, the classic sounds round out the game perfectly, but I’m left wondering: for an audience who isn’t as connected to this series, it might have been nice to offer the option to do more with this game. While I enjoyed the music this game had to offer, I didn’t find any single track that stands out as “the best,” or any one track as a reason that I would buy the soundtrack for this game. I own many Final Fantasy soundtracks, but as it stands, I would pass on the Dragon Quest XI one. I’m not saying it’s bad, I just didn’t find it memorable, beyond the classic offered at the start of this game.

Wrapping It Up

When everything is said and done, if you’re still once the fence about picking this game up, I cannot recommended it strongly enough to anyone who is remotely interested in RPGs. What you need to do is either go onto Steam and add this game to your wish list, or go onto Amazon and do the same for PlayStation. Dragon Quest XI is by far the best game I’ve played this year, and one that I will continue to play for the foreseeable future. If you have kids or a family, play this game with them. Depending on their ages, you might find some parts of this game a little dark, but the bright and vibrant worlds will be an experience that you all can share and cherish together for many years to come. And as long as your kids aren’t planning on taking the controller and throwing it in to a bowl of water, then you may want to let them take over occasionally and play the game with you.

Dragon Quest XI is currently available for PC and PlayStation 4, and will be coming soon for the Nintendo Switch with further enhancements sometime in 2019. I fully intend to pick this game up for the Nintendo Switch so I can have more Dragon Quest in my life.

~ Final Score: 10/10 ~

Review copy purchased by reviewer for PC. In-game screenshots taken by reviewer. Cutscene screenshots sourced from official videos “Prologue Movie” and “A Legend Reborn.”

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