- A gorgeous, huge world to explore
- Battle system is simple yet challenging
- Ensemble cast is bright, vibrant and lovable
- Doesn’t take itself too seriously
- Doesn’t advance the formula in any major ways
- Conventional to a fault at times
- Localisation effort is a mixed bag
- Review Price: £39.99
- Platforms: PS4, PC
- Developer: Square Enix
- Genre: JRPG
The Dragon Quest series has been around for more than two decades, and has maintained its old-school approach to JRPG adventures ever since. Whether a grinding experience while scouring through deep, winding dungeons, or conversing with inhabitants of the world’s countless towns and cities, it all adheres to a formula we’ve grown familiar with over the years.
Dragon Quest 11: Echoes of an Elusive Age takes pleasure in bringing the player back to a place that the genre seldom occupies nowadays, and, to my surprise, it shines brightly as a result. It’s a joy to explore Lotozetasia, all of which is layered with a touch of nostalgia that spawned a smile with each new discovery.
Acting as the series’ first single-player venture in 12 years, Square Enix has concocted a vast adventure that excels at almost every level – although some of the changes made in this localised release could leave some feeling sour.
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You play as a young boy growing up in the peaceful town of Cobblestone. Like many RPGs of this ilk, you’re on the verge of adulthood and must participate in a trial that will see you progress in life and gain the power to leave your dull village.
Nothing is as it seems, as a perilous situation sees you revealed as the ‘Luminary’, a new iteration of an ancient being trusted with saving the world from unstoppable evils. Upon this discovery you’re provided with some equipment, and thrust into the open world with a majestic steed and a few precious resources.
It’s an effective yet predictable opening that does an excellent job of teaching most of the core mechanics you’ll use throughout the long and compelling journey. If you’ve played an entry in the series, or something similar such as Final Fantasy or Persona, the acts of progression in DQXI will be immediately familiar.
Battles are turn-based, a whirlwind of basic attacks, unique skills and special abilities that you’ll unlock both through levelling up and also a bespoke upgrade tree for each character. It’s easy to understand, but branches out with enough depth after a dozen or so hours that it seldom feels boring. It’s far from unconventional, but as JRPGs go, it’s up there with the best.
You can choose to approach combat encounters from a fixed camera angle or opt instead to move around freely as select characters within an isolated field. Approach the edge during a difficult battle and you’re free to escape, although the position of yourself and allies doesn’t have an impact on enemy accuracy or special buffs, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Imagine dodging a deadly attack by swiftly positioning your characters or raising your health by stepping into a small puddle on the playing field. It sounds incredibly cool, but player movement in Dragon Quest’s battles merely give you something to do, lacking any form of meaningful substance.
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Despite a few small issues, combat is consistently engaging as you earn experience and participate in challenging boss battles. As you meet allies throughout the story, you’ll be able to manually give them commands or entrust them to artificial intelligence with a few select presets.
I combined the two, ensuring I had both attackers and support members on the field at any given time. Speaking of your party, they’re a merry bunch of misfits with a broad range of personalities.
Veronica is a magician who’s been shrunk down to the size of a child, although her attitude is one of harsh deliberacy and sassy insults. Sylvando is a travelling performer, who is both absurdly camp and hiding a deep backstory, leading to numerous surprises as the narrative moved forward. You’ll bump into countless such characters in Dragon Quest 11, all of whom feel thoughtfully designed thanks to industry legend Akira Toriyama, who you might know as the hand behind Dragon Ball.
Similar praise can be levelled towards the world you explore in DQXI. It’s positively massive, starting out small before providing you the means to explore it without any obstacles in your way. Once again, it’s conventional to a fault at times, but is presented with such love and care that I found myself absorbed regardless.
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A few things have been thrown into the mix to shake things up, however. The aforementioned free-moving battle area is a welcome addition, and campfires across the open world can be used to converse with party members and craft new equipment.
The latter is achieved through a fun yet simplistic mini-game, where you must hit the sweet spot in gauges to form a weapon or piece of armour to perfection. There’s almost no consequence to failure, and resources are plentiful that you’re free to try again whenever you like.
That aside, it’s a fun little distraction that provides an extra layer of meaning than simply buying all your spoils from the local merchants. DQXI excels at this, taking tried-and-true JRPG staples and making them feel fresh again with minimal effort.
Dungeon layouts that I’ve seen dozens of times before have been freshened up with new methods of traversal and nifty puzzles that make navigating them an unexpected joy – especially when my party members are quick to blurt out silly quips the second I ask for their input. Even after 20 hours or so I never tired of such things, welcoming every new twist I knew awaited me.
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One of my only qualms with DQXI concerns the localisation effort, which I grew to appreciate the more time I sunk into the game. For the first time ever, fully voiced characters have been introduced to the series, shaking up what has until now been a silent, text-driven experience.
For the English version specifically, this means a range of regional dialects have been brought to the forefront, and now rely on effective performances and stellar writing to remain convincing. In past efforts it was trivial, but now it can be a little difficult to take seriously with botched line delivery becoming a frequent issue.
It started off as incredibly irritating, but I quickly grew to the love the campy tone and unusual performances that so many characters bring to the table. Square Enix hasn’t set out to craft a melodramatic fable that we’re destined to take seriously, so falling outside the lines isn’t the end of the world here. However, it will definitely be a matter of taste for most players.
All of the other changes made in the localisation process are universally positive. There’s now an option to sprint through dungeons and the open world, making it far easier to traverse long distances. You can also unlock extra costumes, and there’s nothing in the world more adorable than Veronica in a kitty costume.
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Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is another fantastic entry in a series that’s become recognised for its high quality in the JRPG genre.
It doesn’t advance the formula in many meaningful ways, but refines things we’ve come to love while enhancing them with fun and unexpected additions. The localisation is bound to be a polarising aspect for many, but after a small teething period, I found it to be a charming alternative to the original vision.
As far as role-playing adventures on the PS4 are concerned, this is one of the best you can play on the platform right now.