JRPGs with huge histories, and huge numbers at the end of the title, can be pretty intimidating. Grabbing Dishonored 2 without checking out the original can already seem like you’re missing too much, so naturally a new fan would find a game like Final Fantasy 15 utterly terrifying.
Well, I just experienced this with Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, and there isn’t that big a hill to climb… Except this one.
Jumping in the Deep End
Like the aforementioned Final fantasy series, there appears to be little to no shared story between the Dragon Quest games. This means that jumping into Dragon Quest XI is no different to jumping in at Dragon Quest II. You just don’t get the little references like the iconic slime enemy, which is far from an issue.
Full disclosure, I only knew Slime enemies were iconic because of the Dragon Quest Builders, some art work, and 2 hours spent with Dragon Quest VII before the 3DS battery died on a train ride, and a lot of progress was lost.
That copy can be bought second hand at an EB Games near you.
Silence can be Golden
Dragon Quest XI has you naming the protagonist – insert frustrated sigh here – who has been born with the gift of being the luminary, a legendary man who is to save the world from darkness using the power of a symbol on his hand. After growing up in a small village, he goes to see the king. The king decides he is actually darkness incarnate, and has him locked up. This is where the hero meets his first companion Erik, who busts you out of jail with an army on your tail, and begins your adventure.
The overarching story is exactly what you would expect from a JRPG; hero must save the world, big bad power corrupts good leaders to think the hero is actually the enemy, hero wins, etc. But the journey is what makes Dragon Quest XI something special.
The team you accumulate through the first 20 or so hours is surprisingly diverse. From the innocent Serena and the fiery Veronica, to the flamboyant Sylvando and old creep Rab, not to mention the strong Jade and the cool and collected Erik. They don’t even use the personalities to clash like many stories would to add easy drama. Instead, all have their eyes on getting the hero where he needs to be to save the world. Their personalities simply enrich the journey.
The hero is a silent protagonist, which is weirdly implemented. As the rest of the game is voice acted, it’s super strange to have him not speak. Weirder still are the occasional messages saying, “Hero explained that they were…”. It is clearly intentional, but with such a linear narrative there isn’t much capacity to imprint yourself on the hero. It definitely would have been better served with some more words from the game’s hero.
To Play or not to Play
The battles are a classic turn-based battle system, with an area you can move your character around on. I never noticed any changes based on where characters stood, so I just flicked the setting to have everyone in a line on the battlefield. What’s really useful is you can choose how many characters to control. At the start of any battle, or during it, you can change a character from being controlled by you to following a specific strategy. By default, you control Hero, and new members start with a strategy. But you can choose to have full control, or none when you grind if you prefer.
The biggest surprise is the balance. Most JRPGs I’ve played have regular difficulty spikes, and you plan for the expected grind. Dragon Quest is mostly balanced, meaning that it was pretty rare that I needed to grind. Usually this was a rod for my own back, caused by running past enemies instead of going through the game at its own pace. Those rare times I had to grind, though, it was great being able to put it into autopilot.
Dragon Quest Z
Newcomers to the series like myself may notice something striking; its artistic similarity to the iconic Dragon Ball series. This is thanks to the shared designer, Akira Toriyama, who has used this style for both series since their inceptions. This means the game is striking to look at, and walks a great line between anime and 2D rendering. Even as I was finishing the game, I was still blown away by its look.
Add the outstanding character design to the gorgeous sound and very decent voice acting, and the whole game feels polished in a way that many JRPGs aren’t. It’s not always a detractor omitting these things, but having the whole shiny package is an absolute delight.
Nit Pick Quest
The game isn’t flawless, but the vast majority of its flaws are drops in a bucket of glory. The Options button on the controller – still known to many as Start- doesn’t open a menu. Instead, it makes the hero run directly forward until you cancel it… for some reason. This is a feature I never used during the game, which would have been far more useful as a pause screen. Oh, and there is no pause screen. Even if you suspend the game, at the PlayStation menu it still ticks away including its game clock in the background.
These strange, unforced errors are so minor in a huge game that is just brimming with content. The story flows well, and had me engaged throughout. The game is a treat to every sense, and when it’s done and dusted, there is so much more content available. Fans of JRPGs, causal or hardcore, should find something wonderful in Dragon Age XI that should not be missed.