Whilst these fights are rote and safe in the grand scheme of things – especially considering the wacky battle systems Square have come up with in recent years – it doesn’t make the battle system any less fun or difficult. Smacking slimes and taking down the rest of the gorgeous, over the top enemies of Dragon Quest’s storied history is just as fun as it’s always been, thanks to smart design, challenging fights and responsive, slick battles.
Side quests are similarly streamlined, without wasting too much of your time on fetch quests and busywork. Some of that has made it through, but for the most part each sidequest either attempts to teach you something new about the game, get you to explore somewhere you might have missed otherwise, or give a genuinely fun distraction. If it weren’t for some of the initial sidequests I would have missed out exploring the massive city of Heliodor, and finding plenty of treats tucked away in its back streets and its fully explorable interiors. Dragon Quest constantly surprised me by just how willing it was for you to get lost in its world, and it was a liberating experience.
The levelling up system is simple, allowing you to select skills and passive buffs from a skill tree, but engaging enough that I was always excited about getting to spend new points, and looking forward to when I could unlock something that sounded truly devastating. The classes are malleable enough to make the party feel like your own before too long, and that kind of ownership is what makes or breaks a JRPG for me. Here it definitely makes it.
Dragon Quest XI is the best looking JRPG I’ve played… period. The character designs – those love-them-or-hate-them Akira Toriyama designs – are just as great as they’ve always been. His style has always broken the mould when it comes to videogames: most anime-themed games are full of cliché looks with different hairstyles in rainbow palettes, but Toriyama’s design actually fills them with personality and character. They all look a bit cross-eyed and quirky in their own right, but I loved watching them – especially considering how well everything is animated here. It’s as close to moving anime I’ve seen, at least in the 3D space, and I hope that everything from Square Enix looks this rich and expressive going forwards.
The score is another booming and triumphant affair, rousing us from the opening cinematic with its incredible rendition of Dragon Quest’s age old theme. Some tracks sound a bit tinny or artificial at times thanks to their MIDI rendition – which in this day and age feels criminal, especially when you consider just how awesome the music is. It deserves to be performed orchestrally and listened to in optimal conditions. These compositions, and the journey they score, deserve more. PC owners can already download a fan made mod which replaces these with orchestrated variants, but no such luck on console.
If you have any love for JRPGs of old you need to play Dragon Quest XI. It’s one of the best games I’ve played in the genre, especially in a time when the ‘traditional JRPG’ either doesn’t exist or simply doesn’t work anymore. Dragon Quest XI holds up, and then some. It captures everything nostalgic you loved about the genre, turns it up to eleven and smooths out all the rough edges our selective memories have forgotten.
It’s touching, it’s impressive, it’s gorgeous to look at, and it’s full of charming character. But most of all, it’s fun. And that’s all you can really hope for.
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