Dragon Quest XI is the latest entry to Square Enix’s long-running JRPG franchise. Unlike Final Fantasy which tries to radically reinvent itself through every iteration, Dragon Quest sticks to its roots. XI is no exception, and it is a grand old adventure through the lush world of Erdrea brought to life by Akira Toriyama’s timeless art style and made realized for the current generation using Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, with a rousing score by series veteran, Koichi Sugiyama. Dragon Quest XI is not a game for everyone, especially if you dislike JRPGs and the common elements they possess. But to people who are willing to forgive its shortcomings, a charming and nostalgic experience that can span 80+ hours awaits them.
You play as a silent protagonist who happens to be the reincarnation of the Luminary, a hero of Light who is destined to vanquish evil. In your quest to save the world of Erdrea, you will be joined by characters like Veronica, the diminutive but spunky glass canon mage, Serena, a shy but potent healer, Erik, the daring yet sneaky thief, and others. Each character is voiced well and has interesting stories and motivations of their own even as they aid the Luminary. Despite venturing forth to banish the legions of darkness, our heroes’ work is made even harder due to the King of Heliodor seeing the Luminary as a harbinger of the Darkness. The story of Dragon Quest XI is pretty simplistic with a lot of tropes we’ve seen before but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do things differently; there are some genuinely moving moments in the game that I did not expect both in the main story and in the side quests.
Gameplay consists of old school turn-based combat. You can have a maximum of 4 party members fighting and swap them with the remaining members as and when required. As your characters get damaged, they may get Pepped Up, granting them numerous bonuses and also the ability to unleash powerful Pep Powers with other pepped up members. It’s wise to battle a few turns first while Pepped Up before using Pep Powers as using them returns your characters back to normal.
The game is fairly easy if you take the time to fight enemies in the zones but more daring gamers can use the Draconian Mode restrictions that put the player at a disadvantage like not being able to wear armor or being unable to flee. As you level up, you can use skill points to upgrade your characters’ skill trees. If your entire party is wiped, then the game gives you the option to choose between the last autosave or the latest savepoint you used. The former will set you back on progress if you don’t save regularly while the latter sets you back on half your money.
Boss fights can be tough and will require you to buff and debuff accordingly, use proper gear to survive debilitating status effects, and learn useful skills so as to deal damage. During the game, you get a portable forge to create new armor, weapons, and accessories for your party. You can also reinforce your equipment. The forging mini-game is fun and tasks you with filling meters appropriately. Recipes gained from treasure chests or quests can unlock new items for crafting but you’ll need the required materials to actually begin the process. Crafting becomes essential due to items being expensive and gold being hard to come by till the late game when you can farm it by stealing from a certain enemy. Dragon Quest XI defaults to a dynamic camera during a battle and you can physically move around but doing so offers no mechanical advantage.
While you traverse the beautiful world of Erdrea with its easy-going art style, you’ll see many diverse locales like the Egyptian based desert city of Gallopolis with its stadium, the wintery realm of Sniflheim, and the Venice-esque city of Gondolia with its canals and gondolas. I have to give props to the localization team for making every city well realized with their own dialects and slang. It’s delightful seeing the Japanese based village town of Hotto Steppe where people speak in haiku or the Puerto Rico inspired city of Puerto Valor where people sprinkle Spanish into their speech. The game has some humorous moments but the puns steal the show. The game world is massive but it comprises of numerous linear zones with some branching for the occasional treasure chest, resource or point of interest. You can ride mounts to speed through zones or perform monster specific actions to reach locations you normally can’t reach. Partway through the game, you also acquire a fast travel option which you will use religiously throughout the game.
Dragon Quest XI boasts a lot of improvements for the series but I feel for every leap it took forward, it either stood still in place or moved backward in certain areas. While the game is made using the powerful Unreal Engine 4, it doesn’t actually pull off anything groundbreaking in the visual department. The game UI is clunky and unappealing. Graphics options on the PC version of the game are sparse, the performance can be perfect in most areas but can result in severe stuttering in places like Heliodor City and Lonalulu or even crash. Square Enix does not pour in an effort to make quality ports of their games to PC.
Patch support was limited to unlocking the framerate, fixing minor bugs but nothing regarding fixing the spotty performance drops can be seen. I would have been unable to play the game due to the aforementioned crashes if I didn’t peruse the Steam Community forums (the fix is to lower all the settings to absolute lowest in problem areas). The game’s zones are separated by short loading screens (that come with helpful tips and reminders) so it’s not exactly the open, fully streamed world we expect from most AAA games.
Vibrant looking and fierce enemies can be seen on the field like in Chrono Trigger, and series staples like the slimes and drackys make a return, and though the game boasts a large number of enemies, most are colour swapped and pumped stats wise as you progress. Koichi Sugiyama’s beautiful score accentuates the nostalgia fuelled trip but is marred by its implementation in MIDI form. This does a great disservice to his music work but fortunately, this can be fixed on PC by downloading the 5.3 GiB Orchestral Overhaul Mod. Voice acting is excellent aside from a handful of weak voice overwork. You can also use Reshade to spruce up the quality of the game’s visuals and I found that Reshade was better than the vanilla look of the game.
As the game opens up, you are able to do numerous side quests in return for rewards. There are also mini-games for horse racing, hunting down mini medals, shooting down crossbow targets, casinos for playing slots, roulette, and poker, challenging trials and the series ‘ long-running gag of Puff-Puffs. Rewards come in the form of money, new skills, stat bonuses, recipes and materials for crafting. There are also accolades that you unlock for meeting certain requirements, and getting all the accolades will take even longer than 100%-ing the game.
Dragon Quest XI is a solid JRPG experience. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor does it aim to. It focuses on staying true to its traditions and keeping them alive. But this traditionalism comes with its flaws – the game could be much better had they stripped off the needless padding and backtracking they’ve put in, had Square Enix focused more on porting the series first PC main-title game with better optimization, a more functional, cleaner, and aesthetically pleasing UI, better pacing, and an orchestral score implementation (leaving things to modders to fix is lazy).
Dragon Quest XI is a solid JRPG experience.
I also actually preferred the ending you get at the 80-hour mark more than the true ending you gain for doing the post-game events. If you want the true ending, expect at least a minimum of 100 hours. It took me 127 hours to fully 100% the game.
Note to Prospective Buyers: The game is a 28.8 GB download on Steam (34.1 GB if you include the Orchestral Overhaul Mod), and it supports Steam Trading Cards, and Achievements.
Note to Achievement Hunters: There are 58 Achievements in the game. No achievement is missable so it means you can play the game without having to worry that you screwed up.