I have a troubled relationship with Japanese Role-Playing Games.
On the one hand, there are certain games that I love. Persona 4 blew me away, for example, and I enjoy the Final Fantasy titles. However, I’m also not a massive fan of turn-based RPGs, nor grinding for grinding’s sake, both of which are staples of many JRPGs.
The Dragon Quest series is very traditional in its approach in many ways, it’s still very much rooted in the foundations laid out in the ’90s.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
Dragon Quest XI Review
Let me take a look at what I enjoy in my Dragon Quest XI review.
For one, it’s gorgeous. It’s animated in a very colourful cel-shaded anime style, with instantly recognisable artwork from Akira Toriyama. The cutesy characters have always thrown me off, though – mostly due to their cross eyes and (often) childish pouting.
This usually extends to the enemies as well, who are almost always adorable and not at all threatening. You do tend to get used to this – it’s part of the charm, after all – but it never manages to sit right with me.
Still, there’s no denying that it all looks amazing, and everything seems to suit the beautifully crafted environments and set pieces.
Yes, set pieces. Dragon Quest XI is built big, but it’s deliberately built. Everything has a purpose and every path exists for a reason. Again, this is not a bad thing, but while it is intended to make the game look like a massive semi-open world, it becomes apparent very quickly that it’s not.
Most local maps early in the game, for example, will have branching paths. You can explore these paths at any time, but in order to pass from one local area to another, you need to have a pass.
In order to get the pass, you need to fulfil the main story quest within that region. Of course, there are side quests, which you can do in your own time and will often require you to move between local areas, but these can largely be ignored.
Ignore them I did.
Dragon Quest XI did not provide enough reason for me to want to pursue side quests, at least initially. Sure, I could level up by doing so and therefore not run into massive difficulty spikes when I finally encounter the area boss. I could also do some quick levelling near the boss whenever this happened, which would often get me by (at the loss of precious time).
Soon enough, I’d get past the boss, gain a large boost to my XP and pass into the next area.
In this area, again, I’d find myself somewhat overpowered until I reach the next area boss. Further, side quests would often reward armour, but again, I could generally afford new armour by the time I needed to tackle a new boss.
Side quests would also provide some additional story content, but for a game that takes a considerable amount of time for story development, there just isn’t enough time.
Get To The Point
Yes, this is a big game. Even if you try to rush through the main story, it’s going to take 30-40 hours. However, if you do rush through, you will miss out on the loot. Loot is acquired in a number of ways.
For one, it can be a reward for side quests, as mentioned. It can be purchased from vendors, provided you have the gold. As luck would have it, every town seems to have the same kind of shops so you’re never too far away from a new hat. Lastly, loot can be crafted.
Using the very cleverly named ‘Fun-sized Forge’, which is only available at a campsite, I should add, you will be able to craft your own weapons and armour. You’ll need two things, recipes, which can generally be found in books hidden around the map, and resources, which you get… everywhere.
Once you have what you need, you can choose your item, and craft it by way of a mini-game. If you do well, you craft a weapon or armour piece with better stats. If you do poorly, it will have poorer stats. It’s a good system, and does provide a sense of achievement – I felt I had more of a personal link with items I had crafted myself.
Light versus Dark
The story itself can be hit and miss. You play as The Luminary – the legendary saviour of old, returned to save the world once more from the return of The Dark One. Of course, you’re also highly misunderstood and so find yourself on the run right from the get-go.
How this plays out over time is often a bit ridiculous and sometimes just feels like a reason for you to be sent to a new area of the map. The characters you meet along the way, though – that’s where the charm lies. Each of them has their own distinct personality.
There’s the rough but lovable rogue, the mild-mannered sage, the ill-mannered sage, and… the flamboyant entertainer?
On the one hand, some of the characters are carbon copies of something you’ve seen before, while others are a treat, but everything feels right. Movesets are distinct and provide a real reason to make a choice when building a party.
Of course, being a turn-based JRPG, you can build a party of up to four characters, from a cast of (ultimately) six, not including yourself. If you want to and if you have endless amounts of time, you can control them all individually,
Alternatively, you can just control the main character and watch the battle play out on its own. Battle mechanics are extremely traditional – characters can only perform one task per turn, which could be a simple attack, cast a spell, use an item, or defend.
Over time, characters can get ‘pepped up’ which enables them to dodge more successfully and gives them a higher chance at a critical attack. While in this state, players can also choose to use a ‘Pep attack’ – which is essentially a super ability. There’s nothing special here.
Wait – yes there is. For some reason, you can move your character about while waiting on others to perform their moves. Why you can do this is unknown, because it has ZERO effect on gameplay. But you can move, which is cool, I guess.
While moving about the overworld, you can, if you wish, avoid enemies. Running around them is easy and even if they are alerted, they are often easy to shake off. That is until you get a boat. You can’t see enemies while travelling about in your boat and will often enter random encounters at a rhythm of approximately one every five seconds.
If you haven’t noticed yet, there’s a very snarky tone to this review, and it’s intentional. For a game hitting its eleventh iteration, you would expect to be playing something that was refined and player-friendly, but this is identical in many ways to games I was playing 20 years ago.
Some may see this as a refreshing change and I have to agree, in many ways it is. I’m glad this is not yet another third-person action adventure with cinematic cut scenes. I’m glad this is not another MOBA. I”m glad this is not another Battle Royale. And I’m glad this is simply a good, classic video game that’s not trying to be anything more. I just wish it joined us here in the future.
Gotta Get With the Times
Why do I have to save at churches and not whenever I want? Why can’t I skip scenes if I don’t want to watch them? Why do I have to manually accept every text box during a cutscene? Why can’t I avoid enemy encounters in my boat? Why can I only craft at campsites? There’s not even a place to craft in town.
Why are some cutscenes separated by a 5-second player-controlled waste of my time? Why are bosses ridiculously more difficult than every other enemy within that area?
Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good JRPG. It looks great, it plays well, and it’s not bogged down with complicated mechanics. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that would absolutely LOVE to put time into such a classic experience and, for many, Dragon Quest XI will be an absolute must play.
Let’s face it, this was made for the legions of Japanese fans that don’t want any changes to what many feels is a perfect formula. But prepare your expectations, not every classic feature that this game employs feels good in a modern context.
Still, after all, this is said and done, the more you play, the more you become charmed and enchanted by the world in which you play. As the story develops, and you get pulled into more and more grand escapades, the game itself somehow manages to make you forget some of the painful things you need to experience to get there.
In fact, even with all these things that I’ve pointed out above, I’d still have to say that it has been one of the more enjoyable JRPGs that I’ve played.
Sure, I still wish all of these things could be improved, but it just doesn’t matter that much because you’re still likely to have a good time regardless.
Dragon Quest XI was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Dragon Quest XI
Same Old Mechanics - 6.3/10
Great Story, eventually - 8.4/10
Incredible Art Design - 9.4/10