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Dragon Quest XI: The best new old game

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    Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    Dragon Quest XI: The best new old game


    Let me start by saying that Dragon Quest is a legendary franchise that helped shape the massive genre of RPGs in videos games. It is historic, important, and respected. Having that been all said, I’m a bit of an odd-ball case with Dragon Quest. It’s never meant as much to me as the former competitor (now sister) franchise, Final Fantasy. While I’ve played and enjoyed several Dragon Quest games (1,2,3,5,7), the only one that had a deep impact on me as a child was Dragon Quest[Warrior] Monsters on the Gameboy. Why do you, the reader, need to know this about me? I want to assure you that none of what I’m pitching here has anything to do with a franchise bias. Let’s not drag-on this intro, here’s the breakdown.


    I’m starting with what I think is the absolutely LEAST subjective topic to grade on in a game like this. Dragon Quest XI is lush, vibrant, and beautiful. This game looks like what an 8-year-old imagines in his head when playing one of the NES titles. I seriously cannot praise this enough, DQXI knocked it out of the park with a gorgeous aesthetic and stellar world. The characters, enemies, and towns all look like they belong together in this environment and there is a level of charm that I haven’t seen in a game in a long while. If I had to give one complaint, it’d probably be that the water could look a little better in some areas, and character animations sometimes feel a bit stiff¡­ that’s it. That’s my nitpick. It may not be on the level of Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4, or Red Dead Redemption 2¡­ but it doesn’t need to be because of the style it so fully realizes.


    DQ11 is not a new story. I mean, it is ¨C it’s a new world, new characters, new situations, but it’s littered with tropes you’ve seen a million times. From a story perspective, it’s simply not unique (at least for much of the plot). It’s comfortable, it’s familiar, and it’s not complicated. Now some may feel I’m criticizing arguably the most important aspect of any good JRPG by stating all of that, but the thing is, DQ11 pulls it off.

    What you must realize is that DQ11 at it’s very core is a love letter to its ancestors and because of that, it doesn’t need to be bold or daring, but it still needs to be good. It is. DQ11 does for the DQ franchise something similar to what Final Fantasy IX did for its own franchise, it pays tribute in a respectful and charm-filled way that gives you a sense of longing for the days of the past where you had to blow in a cartridge, but it still also has its own identity that commands respect.

    So, let’s get back on topic here. The story is pretty straight forward and mostly consisting of you collecting the dragon balls(orbs) in order to get to the giant magic tree(Yggdrasil) in order to get the Excalibur(Sword of Light), which only you can wield because you’re the chose one(Luminary), so that you can save the world from impending doom from generic evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil villain. You can probably see why I don’t call the plot ¡°unique¡± based on that description. However, what I’ve really only told you is the first portion of the game and there are plenty of twists and turns along the way that actually ARE surprising, especially as you enter act 3. Speaking of act 3, and I will tread lightly here because I don’t believe posting a spoiler in a review is very fair for the reader, it really is quite the twist and has a TON of excellent ¡®post’ game content. It blows the story open a bit and it has a few continuity errors, so it’s not perfect, but I did really enjoy its callbacks to the previous acts and it wraps up the questions you have had lingering for quite some time. My point is, the story is normally pretty relaxed, pretty familiar, and pretty lighthearted, but it does have a few twists that are thoroughly enjoyed and the plot kept me entertained the entire time.

    The characters also mostly fall into familiar tropes, but they still remain believable to the world they are a part of. They make sense, and they are fun to be around. A weakness here can be found in the main character himself as a silent protagonist. Having a silent protagonist isn’t always a bad thing, but truth-be-told, the MC here is directly involved in several moments of heavy emotional weight, and not allowing him to speak to those moments is a poor choice for both the character and story. To contrast this another character, Erik, is introduced early and tends to speak on behalf of the MC often. Much of the time, this is sufficient and it actually helps build Erik as a likeable and fun character, but it still leaves a little lacking.

    Aside from the MC, the rest of the characters are beautifully voiced (English), and that level of excellence in voice acting is RARE to find in JRPGs. This quality absolutely helps drive the relationships you as the player will form with these characters. When they tell you something, you believe it; When they convey emotion, you feel it. The writing for these characters is also well above average and it’s very seldom that I found myself thinking ¡°no one talks like¡± which is usually a glaring problem for me. While this is very subjective, I’ll also point out that I much enjoyed the design of each character. None were too over-the-top and no-one felt ¡®out-of-place’ as a piece of the world they are from. Perhaps most importantly, they are ALL viable in battle and serve different purposes that will mold the player’s strategic formations. How’s that a for a nice segue into gameplay?


    If you have ever played a JRPG made in the late 80s or early 90s, I’ve got news for you¡­ you know exactly how Dragon Quest XI plays. DQXI has turn based combat with a variety of menus for the player to navigate as they figure out their next move. It is absolutely stat-driven so you’ll be gearing up and grinding levels frequently. One excellent design choice is that the player can re-spec any character at any time for a miniscule cost. This allows you to try out new abilities and form your party in way that suits your play style. The characters have a strong variety of abilities, weapons, and magic, and as you learn these, more viable options for tackling the greater challenges of the game become available. I would also like to note, that DQ11 offers abilities somewhat in the vein of Double/Triple techs from Chrono Trigger. If you have multiple characters who are ¡°Pepped Up¡± (a hidden counter that increases in battle until it triggers) you can combine their abilities into massive attacks with unique and impressive animations.

    Much of the game you will be going from town to town in order to stock up on the newest best gear, assess the situation, talk to NPCs that will help guide your exploration, and eventually slay that areas big-bad before continuing on your way and repeating the cycle. The gameplay loop works because it is constantly rewarding you. Whether that reward is better equipment (or maybe equipment that changes the physical appearance of your party), access to a mini game, a new location to explore, a new party member obtained, or simply a great view, the game always seems to move you forward and allow you to grow.

    Navigating the world is one of my favorite parts of the game, and probably where we see the largest departure from the games of old. While there IS an over-world, that is reserved for when you are in/on a vehicle, instead you will roam moderately large individual maps (which can be traversed quickly by horseback) that connect to each other through small halls, paths, and caves. This is a great translation from the tiled boards of the original DQ games that would usually funnel you from one area to the next as the same goal is achieved but it allows the world to feel real around you. If you have played any Tales of, or Star Ocean game of the past few years, DQ11s feels a bit like those, except much more detailed. Also, enemies now appear on field, and battle initiates when you bump into them. That’s right, no more random battles!!!

    In regards to the mini games I briefly mentioned, there are several and they range in quality. There is an overarching side quest that is essentially a scavenger hunt, there are horse races, there is a casino with a variety of games (the Casino is well done), and most importantly there is item crafting. I’ll let you discover the joy of item crafting for yourself, but I NEED to praise it. It is simple, addicting, and VERY rewarding (especially in the later parts of the game). There are also plenty of side quests, and while some are negligible, some provide pretty significant character growth. Overall the mini games and side content of the game is impressive and completing everything the game has to offer could net you upwards of 100 hours, easily.


    Now, atmosphere is something that I like to discuss when I review a game because I think it’s very important and often overlooked. It’s kind of a culmination of themes, setting, music, etc¡­ and this game is especially interesting because the atmosphere is strong, but the music (which is a big part of that equation) is not. I don’t think the OST is as bad as many may claim, but there is no denying it is unimpressive in general and far too repetitive. It’s not an OST you will be loading up on youtube to help you make it through your work-day¡­ in fact, you may find yourself at some point just muting the game altogether and listening to other tunes while doing some of the more menial tasks.

    On the flip side, I think I’ve praised the world enough for you to understand that it is very well crafted and from a visual sense, the atmosphere is wonderful. The game is also VERY charming, and refreshingly young-kid-friendly (minus a few scary-looking-bosses late game) which adds to that atmosphere that kept pulling me back.

    There are also moments in the game where the atmosphere will take an entirely different tonal shift than what you’d come to expect. Those moments fold into the story and characters nicely and add a layer of the depth that will keep you coming back to experience the world all over again.


    DQXI is the best 80s-style JRPG since the 80s. It’s beautiful. The content is fun. The gameplay is old-school with enough quality of life improvements to drop the tedium that comes from that era. The story is solid, if not a bit too familiar. In this humble reviewer’s opinion, it’s one of the better JRPGs of this generation and deserves to be discussed alongside games like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Nier Automata, and Persona 5. It has a few missteps, with the redundant OST and silent protagonist being the biggest offenders, but those flaws are not enough to tank the overall FEEL of a good game. If you are a fan of JRPGs, and especially if you are a fan of classic JRPGs, this is a must play. 8.5/10

    (About the Author: Burdicus is an avid gamer and has been his entire life. Starting with games like Mario, Faxanadu, and Megaman at the ripe age of 4, the culture of gaming is one that has grown alongside him over the decades. He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in game design at age 21 and has been writing reviews as a hobby using the knowledge he obtained as a reference point.)

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