Dragon Quest XI – Review (PS4)

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Dragon Quest XI is nothing more than another Dragon Quest game… and that’s glorious. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of Elusive Age is the first mainline entry to grace the PS4, and hopefully it won’t be the last. Its story is charming and interesting (even though it’s nothing too original or inventive), the battle system is a throwback to much simpler times, and it all just works perfectly.

Story

Dragon Quest XI follows the story of a young man (which you get to name), who, for typical reasons of treachery and destiny, finds himself growing up in a distant little village of Cobblestone. His life changes drastically though when during a coming of age ceremony he discovers that a strange mark that he bears on his hand is capable of exuding mystical powers. In a typical fashion, this leads to our protagonist going on an adventure to find answers and ultimately to save the world.

The story is quite simple and follows all the beats of typical fairy tail, but it has quite a few awesome moments which really add enough to suck you into this wacky world.

One of my favorite moments is when our protagonist goes back to Cobblestone for the first time. Seeing the village again, and all of the folks in it, felt like coming home, but you could feel that something was a little bit odd. Not spoiling too much, I have to say when the truth of what’s odd was finally revealed, it pulled at my heart strings.

Again it’s nothing too different from your typical JRPG yet due to the fact that the characters themselves are so likeable and that overall tone of the game is much less serious than something like Final Fantasy, those more emotional moments work just much better.

It is a very long game though. Along the way you meet new characters and get into new shenanigans, but it can get bit dull at times. The side quest are not particularly inventive, but they do offer some filler, and sometimes an interesting little side story.

The ending is satisfying though and I would highly recommend anyone who plays it to push that little bit further through to reach the real ending.

The World

The land of Erdrea is truly a magical place. From unique monsters, to surprisingly friendly and quirky people that reside in these lands, everything just fits together perfectly. Talking to people is just delightful, as each person you meet feels like they have their own unique personality, which makes (quite one sided) conversations that much more interesting.

It is very reminiscent of Ni No Kuni II, which also has great world building, but it does not work quite as well as it does in Dragon Quest XI. You just want to go around and explore every new area and fight all the new enemies, just to see their goofy little animations.

The open world of Dragon Quest XI is big, and not as open as one would like. It’s quite traditional in that sense. First of all the world is divided in separate sections which seems to be quite popular amongst JRPGs, making it feel very old school. The open areas that you get to explore are big, but quite shallow overall. There are tons of enemies everywhere, which is great for grinding, but can be quite annoying when trying to get to a certain part of the map.

What Dragon Quest XI world lacks in its open areas, it makes up in the cities and dungeons which are no doubt highlight of the game. The cities are works of art, and I just loved to run around them finding side quest and admiring the landmarks. They might not be as impressive as cities in games like Final Fantasy, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, or Ni No Kuni yet thanks to that chunky, cartoony style they are just charming and you really want to spend as much time as you can there.

Dungeons are also great and their designs are very old school. Most are just giant mazes with tons of enemies. Yet, it is so fun to navigate your way through the maze like designs, fighting groups of enemies and trying to reach your goal. It feels very nostalgic to me, and it’s for sure where I had the most fun with this game.

Combat

Turn-Based combat has almost become something filthy, something unclean, something to frown upon in recent years. More the reason why Dragon Quest XI feels so good. There is just something very satisfying in the classic turn-based battle system that not only makes the battle enjoyable, but is also very nostalgic. In the world where most JRPGs would rather go for overcompensated, real-time combat, a good old classic turn-based system feels like breath of a fresh air. 

To give you idea how it works, you and your enemies take turns to make a move. Each move you can make one offensive or defensive action.

Offensive moves in your arsenal are an attack, ability, or a spell. The attack is your most basic move which deals damage to enemies. Amount of damage is dependent on your stats as well as weapons you currently have equipped. Range of attack also depends on your weapon and equipment which you actually can change mid-battle, something which is very handy in a lot of situations.

Abilities are moves which use MP, and which usually deal more damage than standard attacks ,and often have some additional effects. Ablities are unlock with skill points, which you can choose from the quite poor skill tree.

Spells similar to abilities require MP to use, but they are more varied and, in my opinion, much cooler. They have various effect and are one of the most useful tools in your arsenal. From the most basic but ever so useful healing to various offensive spells that can not only deal damage to multiple enemies but can also cause some lasting effects.

Defensive moves are not as interesting, you have defend which is quite self-explanatory, which lets your character defend from enemies attack. There are also an items command (a move you will use constantly) mostly for healing herbs.

In addition to these, there are also Pep powers which is a special attack that can be executed when characters in your party are Pepped up (essentially powered up). You get pepped when you get hit, the problem is that it’s completely randomized. You never know when your character gets pepped up and for most powers you need at least two characters pepped up to activate it. They do offer some cool powerful attacks but they are total pain when a mission depends on them. 

After each fight you get skill points, as expected, which allows you get new skills. Skills are alright, but the skill tree is nothing to boast about, and in whole honesty could actually get away not being there at all. Each character has their own skill tree which differs depending on their combat specializations. Skill trees are extremely basic, which is quite disappointing but doesn’t hinders the experience too much.

Dragon Quest XI‘s variety of weapon is quite good too. From axes and swords to boomerangs and whips, each with their own unique attack styles, which will see you switch between them constantly for different effects.

I love enemies in this game. I adore most of the designs and there are plenty to choose from! From classic Slimes and Cruelcambers to tornado/monster hybrud Spinchillas and steampunkish looking Clockwork Cuckoo. All enemies are unique and have their own special moves and tactics, which do enough to make fights more varied, while keeping the battles fairly easy to grasp.

It’s also true for the boss fights which may not be amazing, but they are surely fun. Bosses are quite varied and each has their own quirks which force you to adapt your tactics accordingly.

Graphics

Damn…this game is gorgeous. Square Enix has achieved something quite amazing with this game. Taking the cartoony/anime style of Dragon Quest and putting it into Unreal Engine 4 with its gorgeous lighting and textures creates a unique look that really feels like classic JRPG taken to the next gen.

Various environments feel so different from one another thanks to great lighting, and elemental effects such as smoke and fire look amazing. Seeing the sun glare bouncing of the water is really impressive. Watching the flames of a fire spell rising from the ground and seeing the smoke disappear really prove that this was the right engine to use.

Yet again cities and towns are my favorite thing, all of them are design perfectly with various thing to see and places visit, and their design really reflects that. I found all the cities quite easy to navigate due to great environmental communication from the designers who made sure we don’t have to relay on the map too much in the cities. Buildings are designed nicely and each city has its own unique vibe and style.

Dungeons are little bit more bland. They usually consist of just straight corridors and rooms full of enemies, without much details in the environment that could make it so much better. I do believe they missed out an opportunity to do some visual story telling here.

Colors are vibrant, and the use of cell shading is much more subtle than in something like Ni No Kuni II and honesty it does work much better. I really do hope that Square will use this technique for more of their games in the future.

A Few Issues with Dragon Quest XI

Overall I love this game, but there are few small issues which I want to point out. First of all there is the music, which is good but there is just not enough variety. You hear the same few tracks over, and over again to the point when you just want to turn the music off all together.

Why do we have a set protagonist? Why can’t we create our own character? This is just baffling to me. Both Dragon Quest X as well as Dragon Quest IX had character customization so why isn’t it present here? It does seem like Square Enix believes that if there is no multiplayer there is no point in customization, which I solemnly disagree with. Especially since our character never speaks, has no personality, and even that his gender or looks have no real impact on the story.

Talking about looks, another baffling choice made by Square is to include armor which doesn’t change the appearance of the protagonist whatsoever. It’s not as bad as what Monolith Soft did to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as there are few pieces of armor that do change the appearance, but why put something as cool as Scale Armour into if it won’t change your appearance? Why must you tempt us Square?  

Conclusion

Dragon Quest XI is a great game, as it sticks to good old classic formula, instead of trying to pointlessly innovate what doesn’t need an innovation. It also looks and plays great and is no doubt second best JRPG on PS4, just after Persona 5.