Echoes of an Elusive Age:
I’ve spoken time and time again about the great work Square Enix have been doing to keep the JRPG genre alive and fresh, and Dragon Quest XI is no exception.
Whilst they’ve been updating genre staples in the last decade, trying to find a new home for its nuances, novelties and idiosyncrasies, it’s heartening to see that they can still knock out an absolute classic, packed to the brim with all the mechanics of yesteryear, and still craft an engaging experience.
Starting, as many of these games tend to do, in a small village away from the hubbub and drama of the capitol, you step into the shoes of your protagonist on the day of his coming of age ceremony. Upon returning you learn that you are the reincarnation of a great hero, and adopted, and most likely an orphan, and you’re thrust out into the world to follow your true destiny.
It’s eye rolling stuff to start with, full of tropes that we’ve all become incredibly accustomed to, but thanks to a lively cast of characters, some great voice acting, interesting writing and a couple of surprising twists and turns along the journey, the story manages to redeem itself. It’s thanks largely to the endearing world and its denizens, who colour the towns and vibrant country sides with a genuine warmth. It wasn’t the most original story I’ve played in a JRPG, but it was comfortable and enjoyable all the same.
Dragon Quest XI is the kind of JRPG you think you remember: all those nostalgic memories you have of classics from the days of the Super Nintendo and the PS1 feel upheld here, and it’s thanks to Square Enix knowing exactly what we remember so fondly about the JRPGs of our youth – whilst trimming the fat considerably.
Thanks to a load of quality of life improvements and general streamlining, Dragon Quest XI is an absolute joy to play. You’re given a mount early on and the railroad shackles come off pretty quick, allowing you to begin adventuring almost immediately. I really liked this early sense of freedom, and the ability to run around the semi-open world and grind, complete side quests or just poke around the intricately designed world was a blast. It’s a world worth exploring, too, with plenty of hidden secrets and impressive looking beasties just begging for a fight.
Have the monsters on the world map is a huge boon, too. Gone are the days of the random encounters, but the bestiary is so vast and colourful that I found myself drawn to each brawl regardless. The fact that you’re able to skip fights altogether when you’re overlevelled or keen on progressing the story is downright freeing though, and just knowing the option is there paradoxically got me fighting more than I ever have before.
DQXI plays it safe when it comes to its general gameplay – you go from story point to story point, delve into dungeons, battle bad guys and level up. The combat is a standard turn based affair, but the default setting allows you to run around the battlefield if you so choose – not that it seems to do you any good. You can’t avoid enemy attacks or gain better ground by doing so, and consequently I opted for the standard ‘face each other and wait for your turn to punch them in the mouth’ option that I grew up swearing by. In the sixty-odd hours I’ve put into the game, I haven’t gone back.
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