Finally – the definitive version of 2017’s Dragon Quest XI has arrived on the Nintendo Switch! Well technically, it arrived a few weeks ago, but the sheer amount new RPGs arriving on a weekly basis, as well as the titanic length of this game alone are, collectively, the reason for the immense tardiness behind the SwitchRPG review. All of this is okay though – it has been a long, drawn-out process that I’ve enjoyed wholeheartedly! Alas, my quest now comes to a close, and now is the time to reflect upon my experiences that have reached the 70 hour mark as of this writing.
Under the guise Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition, this mouthful of a title promises to be everything you’ve been waiting for in regards to the 11th mainline entry in the longrunning franchise, but does it actually live up to these claims? Read on to find out the nitty gritty, but rest assured, this ambitious game is not only a love letter to fans of the traditional JRPG, it also serves as an easy-to-digest point of entry for newcomers to the age-old genre. That is, IF you like massive, meaningful adventures, and who doesn’t like that?!
The Dragon Quest series is a creature of habit. Often times, the lore within individual titles follows closely to patterns established in previous entries, and Dragon Quest XI is no different in that regard. While we here at SwitchRPG would never DARE to spoil the specifics, the journey here begins with a silent protagonist whose silky smooth hair has a tendency to bring about fits of jealously and/or adoration by the random passerby. He hails from Cobblestone, a peaceful hamlet nestled away in the mountains from the rest of Erdrea, and it is here that his arduous journey begins. A sequence of events involving a traditional coming-of-age ceremony leads to the hero discovering that he is the Luminary – an ancient hero reincarnate.
Upon realization that answers to his heroic lineage may lie in the nearby kingdom of Heliodor, he sets off, but only to be shunned, surprisingly, by those that should theoretically want the Luminary to succeed. The king of Heliodor brands him as the darkspawn – a supposed beacon for death and destruction rather than some “shield of righteousness” that legends proclaim. While there may be some truths to both sides, there are rumblings of an even greater threat that festers in the shadows. Are these events connected, and who is to be trusted? The Luminary must sort these things out for himself, as he attempts to dodge those that deem him the darkspawn, all while insuring that this dark entity never rises to power.
The previous paragraph merely outlines the first hour or so of content in Dragon Quest XI. The story becomes much more refined, and takes many other turns over the span of the multi-dozen hour adventure. Things get even more interesting in the postgame, which expands on the story in a surprisingly robust way. Even so, the story isn’t going to wow with its ingenuity (or lack thereof,) instead allowing an extremely well-developed cast of characters to do the majority of the heavy lifting.
Dragon Quest XI features a wide array of characters: from the the elderly, battle-hardened, slightly perverse Rab, to the charming, over-the-top Sylvando, it shouldn’t be difficult to find at least one character compelling and/or relatable in some way. Meaningful character development plays a large role in the narrative, even into the postgame content. Additionally, the Switch version includes new scenarios that flesh the characters out even more. The tale in Dragon Quest XI S might feel familiar, but its characters are what make the real difference.
A “Lived-In” World
Interestingly enough, Dragon Quest XI extends the concept of rich main characters into its multitude of NPCs. While many of these individuals are non-essential to the overarching narrative, they are always guaranteed to at least put a smile on your face. The serious task of the Luminary is expertly balanced by brief (but frequent) stints of comedic relief. This banter, as playful as it can be at times, isn’t void of tangible meaning either, and almost always serves as additional fuel to that immersive fire that many have come to expect from top tier RPGs.
This is further supported by an impressive assortment of character body types, ethnicities, and backgrounds, ultimately making no two conversations feel the same. Yes, there is even a surprising amount of variety found in the iconic “puff-puff” encounters – I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own! In other words, those tired of RPGs that maintain a single look, feel, and/or dialect throughout will find much to enjoy whilst traveling the world of Erdrea.
Dragon Quest XI will often compel the player to soak in the moment, whether it be one of utmost importance or a seemingly trivial matter. One example of the latter is of a kid, who can hardly contain his excitement, overlooking his mother cooking dinner. The kid portrays this excitement not only through his physical animations – literally overflowing with joy – but also through his words. Upon speaking to him, he doles out all of the fine details of the meal that can’t come soon enough. In addition, a clear view of his mother frying sausages in a pan can be seen from the young boy’s perspective. This is but one of many examples of events in Erdrea that encourage you to just stop and take in the moment.
The “lived-in” buck doesn’t stop there, however. Not only are individual towns and villages widely different from one another from an architectural standpoint, the assets, down to the individual placement of chairs, are done in such an organic way that one might believe their placement was a manual project rather than the work of some form of automated script. Seriously – the level of detail present in the interiors of Dragon Quest XI makes other ambitious RPGs, like The Witcher 3, look far less impressive in comparison. Immersion enthusiasts will have an absolute field day with Dragon Quest XI.
Seeing as the Dragon Quest series is one of the grandfathers of the JRPG genre, it should come as no surprise that the long-running, turn-based traditional combat is alive and well in Dragon Quest XI S. Every battle participant will have an opportunity to act, determined by their Agility stat at a base level. While Dragon Quest XI does feature some more modern conveniences, such as a battle speed adjustment and programmable AI, it does not provide a UI to preview the turn order like that found in other modern turn-based RPGs.
Characters can be customized via a skill tree system – there are generally at least two different ways you can build out each character, but you can also go all-out hybrid and get a little bit from each path. You’re encouraged to experiment either way, because skill selections aren’t permanent, and can be easily reverted should you decide to pursue a different kind of build.
Rounding out the combat experience are Pep Powers, which essentially turn a given party member into their Super Saiyan counterpart for a short time, granting access to stat bonuses and unique abilities for the duration. These unique and powerful abilities are often performed in tandem with other party members, meaning they must be Pepped up as well. Using these abilities will, more often than not, expend your Pep Power completely and revert the character back to their normal stature. Pep Power is granted somewhat randomly, though there are some ways to exploit their volatile nature to your advantage.
That said, the randomness of Pep Powers makes them equal parts exciting and frustrating to experience, depending on your current goals. More often than not, you will go into this mode while facing the most trivial of enemies, when you could have really used it for that boss just up ahead. While it can take multiple turns for Pep to disappear, a gauge akin to Final Fantasy’s Limit Break feature would have been much appreciated, as a means to take out some of the guessing involved with the system in its current form.
Dragon Quest XI, in general, is one of the easier RPGs in recent years, at least when played with standard settings. In this mode, no real grinding is required until the postgame, and there should only be a few encounters that really challenge the average RPG consumer before that point. As such, the postgame is more difficult than the base game, but there are options to tune the experience into an even more sinister one, should that be your particular poison.
The Draconian Quest is an answer to players seeking a higher level of challenge, with a number of options that can be flagged to make for a much more difficult playthrough. The caveat is that these must be set at the very beginning of your adventure, and can only be toggled off later if you change your mind (but cannot be turned back on). Rest assured, flagging all Draconian Quest options and playing in 2D mode is sure to challenge the most hardcore of players out there – more on 2D mode later.
In an age where crafting systems can often serve as little more than fluff in games, it is quite refreshing to find one that is designed exceptionally well. The crafting system in Dragon Quest XI serves as a wonderful progression tool alongside the standard leveling system, previously mentioned skill tree, and the traditional RPG gearing system. Although base level crafted items can often be found in shops – exceptions do apply – it is only through this feature that you can make (and improve) the most powerful equipment. At the forge, you have the option to make new gear from scratch, or improve existing pieces of equipment at the cost of perfectionist pearls – a currency accumulated naturally through crafting brand-new equipment.
Where most games would leave the improvement aspect of crafting up to chance, Dragon Quest XI built it into a full fledged mini-game, similar in base concept to thought-provoking crafting systems like that found in Final Fantasy XIV. Rather than having a percentage chance at improvements, with little interaction on your part, the player actively has to “strike” the forge to fill in bars that vary in requirements between individual pieces of gear. These bars all have “sweet spots”, and your accuracy of hitting within these markers determines the final quality of the craft, up to +3. Of course, crafting can be done in both 2D and 3D modes, but the former felt slightly more difficult than the latter due to slight differences in their UI.
Craftable gear generally requires multiple reagents, which can be sourced from vendors, monster drops, and resource nodes found across Erdrea. Unlike many crafting systems in other titles, most reagents are relatively easy to acquire – some can even be purchased “on the spot” from the forge menu. All in all, it is an easy to learn, but hard to master system that will reward patience while punishing the opposite. This “fun-sized forge” can now be used almost anywhere in the Switch version, as well.
Games, Treasures, and More
Thrill seeking explorers have much to look forward to in Dragon Quest XI. A fully functional casino becomes available after a certain in the journey, complete with multiple card and slot machine mini-games. As expected, the casino provides access to some pretty great rewards, on top of just being a nice change of pace from the main adventure. Hidden mini medals incentivize the player to explore areas thoroughly, as they serve as a currency-based treasure hunt that offers up incredibly useful items for the effort. Search everything – you may even find a spare garter or two along the way – giggity!
Dragon Quest XI handles most of its traditional side quests well, but is not completely free of faults. While the framework is very much your traditional “kill x enemy, find x item, speak to x person,” there is always a believable, contextual reason behind the excursion itself. Not only that, they tend to take little time to complete and provide an additional avenue of content for those wanting a break from the main grind.
There are a few outlier side quests, however, that require you to use a specific Pep Power against a specific enemy, which can be frustrating depending on your patience (and luck). These can be put on the back burner to some extent, but could trigger those that prefer to fully complete an area before moving onto the next destination. Dragon Quest XI makes it easy to backtrack thanks to its fast travel system, so this matter should only be considered a minor hiccup in an otherwise wide range of engaging activities available to the player.
Graphics, Performance, and Sound
Erdrea is, no doubt, a true beauty of a game world. While the overall package is not near as sharp as one can experience on other platforms, Square Enix has done a fine enough job of translating the definitive Dragon Quest XI version on the overwhelmingly popular “pick up and go” platform. Although it aims to hit 30FPS at all times, there are moments where it can dip lower than normal, especially in some of the larger, more populated areas. Texture pop-in is also quite obvious in locations with dense foliage – a cut that certainly had to be made to achieve the otherwise acceptable performance on Switch.
Akira Toriyama’s iconic character design is what really sells the aesthetics though, and every individual is brought to life by wonderful animations. Many age-old Dragon Quest enemies make an appearance, and are equally pleasing to the eye – yes, I find even the drooling, eye-bulging zombies adorable. Erdrea features an assortment of locales that change right beside the aforementioned ethnicities and dialects – again, no two locations (or conversations) feel the same.
Folks tend to have a love or hate relationship with Dragon Quest music, and Dragon Quest XI will certainly fall in that same category. While I found absolute joy in what is offered here, it may not live up to everyone’s expectations either. Regardless, fans of the series will feel right at home as Koichi Sugiyama, once again, takes the podium for one of the best Dragon Quest soundtracks to date. This Switch edition features an option to flip between an orchestral score, and a more traditional one at any time – something which was unavailable at the launch of the PC version.
The Definitive Edition
“Definitive” and “complete” editions are a dime a dozen these days, but Dragon Quest XI on the Switch absolutely lives up to the often overused title affix. This version comes packed with everything from the previous versions, as well as some brand-new content. Though there are too many additions to list all of them here, the biggest ones – beyond the previously mentioned bits – are the inclusion of the 2D mode, and the brand-new world Tickington.
Dragon Quest XI S can be played to completion in either 2D, 3D, or a mixture of both. The player can swap between the two perspectives from churches and shrines, though the change can come with some setbacks. Transitions between 2D and 3D can only be made at certain points in the story, and it isn’t always clear where these points begin, meaning that the player might have to re-play certain areas if they opt into the mode change in the middle of a story bit. It isn’t the most elegant system, but let’s not forget that there are two completely different ways you can play Dragon Quest XI on Switch. As someone who invested 60 hours into the PC version last year, I spent a solid 40 hours in 2D mode for the sake of this review – before reverting to 3D for an additional 30 hours of gameplay – and it almost felt like a completely different game.
The world of Tickington is a sizeable amount of side content that is clearly designed with Dragon Quest fans in mind. The hero’s journey will lead him to befriending Tockles, strange creatures that will provide him with “pastwords” to use in their peculiar world. Only accessible in 2D mode, Tickington becomes a gateway to a handful of Dragon Quest worlds from previous games – worlds which events are in jeopardy of changing forever, unless the hero intervenes. The hero can enter these worlds via the pastwords, and solve these problems before anything gets too out of hand. Not only is this a clever nod to the undeniable legacy of the Dragon Quest franchise, it is also a rewarding piece of side content accessible to every player. It is worth noting that accessing Tickington is an exception to the aforementioned “2D/3D mode swap rule” that will NOT cause you to potentially lose story progress.
As far as traditional JRPGs go, Dragon Quest XI easily deserves to be a nominee for best title in the genre in recent years – if not of all time – and the meaningful perks provided by the definitive edition only sweeten that pot. The world is beautiful, the characters are unforgettable, and the mechanics are finely tuned despite some minor quirks here and there. As it stands, Dragon Quest XI S: Definitive Edition may very well be the gold standard of AAA JRPGs for years to come.