The Dragon Quest series is a standard carrier for an entire genre. Countless JRPGs that have come and gone over the years have adapted to – and built upon – many of the formulas that Dragon Quest developed in the 8-bit era. While series like Final Fantasy has changed dramatically over time, Dragon Quest leans towards traditionalism, anchoring many of the core game and story concepts from game to game. This is our Dragon Quest XI Review.
Dragon Quest XI Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, Windows
- Developer: Square Enix, Toylogic, SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD., ORCA
- Publisher: Nintendo, Square Enix
- Genres: Japanese role-playing game
- Release Date: July 29, 2017
Dragon Quest XI Review: Official Trailer Video
Dragon Quest XI Review: Gameplay
The chosen hero and his growing group of party members embark on a worldwide adventure in a realm of fantasy and magic, explore dungeons, solve beats to advance and fight enemies in turn-based battles. It’s a story you probably know if you’ve played a classic JRPG. But Dragon Quest XI is proof that traditions and tropics don’t have to feel worn out and dull as this beautiful adventure will challenge your skills, indulge, and eagerly play further and further in its long quest.
The hero of Dragon Quest XI is the reincarnation of the Luminary, a chosen warrior who will destroy a predicted dark presence. Yet the glorious hero is not received with open arms when his destination is revealed; some fear him as a sign of disaster and wish him dead. As the hero embarks on adventures from his birthplace to the broader world, he makes many friends, meets evil monsters, endures intense trials, and fights for light in the shadows of an empire manipulated by darkness.
The characterization of the game’s different personalities helps a lot to make the story and the world as compelling as it is. Each member of your party has a well-developed, unique character that accentuates their role. For example, one of the more iconic party members is the flamboyant entertainer, Sylvando. His over-the-top mannerisms, cheerful demeanor, and combativeness make him stand out, but you also get the impression that the clown act betrays something buried in his past.
There are also plenty of fun NPCs that you will interact with within the story, such as a love-starved mermaid, an eccentric dean of an elite girls’ school, and a stunningly incompetent prince. Finally, villains like conflicting Sir Hendrick and the cunning Jasper are a constant threat that will always help you move forward. Special praise deserves the localization of the game.
While it changes quite a few characters and places names of the Japanese version, it does a fantastic job of making the dialogue and overall atmosphere of the game warm, soulful, and inviting. Character personalities and the taste of different parts of the world come into conversation with delightful flourishes, and even occasional menu and battle text have fun, light-hearted feel that just makes menus more lively. And when things get bleak and severe, the writing to match changes, knowing what tone to set.
Dragon Quest XI is a very linear game; you hit a story point, solve any problem, then move to the next area where you will be presented with a new beat for the story, taking down tons of enemies along the way to build the levels of your characters. You can go a little off the beaten track to complete subquests and explore optional areas, but most locations are entirely closed off until you hit a specific point in the story.
Despite Dragon Quest XI’s sheer length, it rarely feels like it’s dragging its feet. There is almost always a new place to explore, a new character to encounter, or a new threat to tackle. The game occasionally fails to maintain its otherwise constant pace – a mid-game sequence where the search for magic spheres is relevant is particularly tricky – but it doesn’t often keep you in one place or for too long one subplot in progress. You also don’t need to grind if you are smart about choosing enemy combat and distributing character skill points. And if you ever need a break, you can invest time in various mini-games like crafts, horse racing and a casino with slots and poker, among others.
There is a lot of talk about innovation in games, but it’s also great to see that traditional gameplay formulas that have been around for decades are exceptionally well presented. Dragon Quest XI is one of the best modern examples of this; The beautiful presentation, both visually and in terms of story, is combined with a proven gameplay formula for a journey full of heart and soul. Once you get sucked into the world of Dragon Quest XI, it will be hard to put down until you reach the grand final.
Update for Nintendo Switch Definitive Edition
Calling the Switch version of Dragon Quest XI review, the “Definitive Edition” is bold. Still, it’s no exaggeration – apart from a few minor visual downgrades, Dragon Quest XI on Switch enhances the already excellent PS4 and Steam release in many substantial ways.
While most of the core game is the same in terms of story beats, character interactions, and whimsical dialogue, there are numerous improvements in the quality of life that affect the gaming experience. Some of these refinements are relatively minor, such as a character’s cosmetic combat outfit that is separate from their equipped gear and the choice between orchestrated and synthesized music. In contrast, others have a substantial impact on the flow of the game. For example, much of Dragon Quest XI is the blacksmith shop, which allows you to craft items, weapons, and armor from materials collected during your quest.
Previously, the forge could only be used on sporadically placed campgrounds, but now you can dig it out when the urge to upgrade emerges – perfect for getting that extra edge while crawling the dungeon. Besides, if you are short of materials needed to make your goods and equipment and it is something available in a shop, the game will give you the option to buy everything you are missing directly from the smithy menu. And for those harder-to-get items, you can quickly look up where to find them and which enemies they drop.
One of the most significant additions to Dragon Quest XI on Switch is the 2D model. Originally exclusive to the Japan-only 3DS version of the game, you get the opportunity to adventure through Erdrea in classic, 16-bit pixel art. Both 2D and 3D modes deliver the same story content, so you don’t miss any of the most memorable moments of Dragon Quest XI – and if you miss the polygonal look, you can switch back and forth between any church in the game.
The 2D model, in particular, moves much faster than its 3D counterpart. While the 2D model has no voice and no dramatic 3D camera work, it delivers significantly faster combat, more straightforward maps, and more accessible exploration in general. The lack of extensive enemy combat animation is a bummer. Still, the overall 2D model offers a fantastic way to explore, grind, and edit efficiently – or just a fresh look at the game as a whole if you’ve played it before.
Dragon Quest XI Review: Conclusion
Despite some minor graphics compromises in 3D mode – rare frame rate stuttering and the occasional pop-in – almost everything in Dragon Quest XI on Switch is an improvement over the original release. If you’ve put off playing this RPG masterpiece, this portable edition is the way to go – and if you want to revisit it, this version is the perfect excuse to do so.
While series like Final Fantasy has changed dramatically over time, Dragon Quest leans towards traditionalism, anchoring many of the core game and story concepts from game to game.