When I first started Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Other recent games in the series have always felt like they lagged behind other JRPGs out there, opting to stick to something more traditional and archaic instead of trying to experiment within the confines of the genre. While steps seem to have been taken to bring the western release of this 2017 title into the fold of modern day JRPGs, it’s clear that the series’s longstanding history still holds a significant amount of sway, leaving it at odds with its own legacy.
Dragon Quest XI opens with the usual plot points. You play as a child chosen by fate to save the world from darkness. It’s not particularly ground-breaking storytelling, but it serves its purpose of getting you up and out into the great wide world. Eventually the game’s narrative begins to take center stage. This is a big game spanning anywhere between 70 to 100 hours, and there’s a meaty amount of story to get stuck in that stretches all across the world of Erdrea. While the main protagonist is mute throughout the game, the companions you meet along the way have no problems speaking their mind, thanks in part to the English voice acting that has been added to the western release. It is a little grating however that the voices seem to have been plucked from a hat of different accents and dialects as some sort of misguided way to highlight that each character comes from a different background.
The companions that accompany you on your journey make up the traditional cast of adventurers—from the lovable street-rat rogue to the wise old sage, all the regulars are here. Fortunately, most of the characters have a bit more depth to them than just acting as walking templates, and as the story progresses, each companion gets a good chunk of time dedicated to exploring where they come from and why they’re willing to follow the hero on his quest. With that in mind, there’s something to be said for Sylvando, the flamboyant circus performer you meet early on in the game. He’s witty, brave, and full of joy, and while his sexuality is not specifically defined in game, it remains ambiguous throughout. While the inclusion of more diverse characters should be celebrated, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that the game is using the implication of his sexuality as comedic relief in some scenes, often making him out to be the butt of the joke by over exaggerating his behaviour as the stereotypical effeminate persona that regularly appears in Japanese media to illustrate gay men. In the wake of the anti-LGBT controversy surrounding the game’s composer Koichi Sugiyama, the way Sylvando is handled in Dragon Quest XI leaves a particularly sour taste. That’s a shame, as he is one of the best characters you’ll meet throughout the story.
In an effort to make the game friendlier and more approachable to both newcomers and the west in general, Dragon Quest XI has taken a slightly different approach to how combat is presented. After bumping into an enemy out in the field, the party is taken into a small arena. From here the usual turn-based combat happens, with each character being able to pull from their own list of attacks, magical spells and abilities. While there’s an original fixed-camera mode available through the menus, the default free-camera combat mode allows you to move around the battlefield with the currently active character. This is largely for aesthetic, though, and doesn’t have any bearing on how combat actually plays out, which is a shame as this could have added an extra layer of depth to each encounter. What is surprising is that, despite not actually providing anything to the gameplay itself, the ability to freely move around the playing field does offer a different perspective to battles. Manually angling and aiming your view as your team unleashes its devastating volley of attacks is a little more interesting that simply being strapped to a floating camera overseeing the action, and the illusion of freedom it gives you does make combat feel a little more exciting at times.
Unfortunately most of the fights in the game rarely pose a significant challenge. Even the boss monsters fail to offer up anything particularly difficult aside from the occasional debilitating condition thrown out here and there. While each companion comes equipped with their own unique skill set, the game rarely asks that you make use of their individual strengths, which means most fights are generally solved with liberal use of each character’s most powerful skill until the monster is dead. It’s not until you approach the final leg of the game that enemies actually start to become a threat, forcing you actively counter and work around their mechanics. Dragon Quest XI does offer a few options under its new Draconian Mode to help make things a little more difficult, allowing you to impose a number of handicaps onto your game like restricting armor and weapon shop purchases from stores. This option has to be enabled when you first start your save file, however, and if disabled during the game, the handicaps cannot be turned back on without starting a new save file. It’s an oddly restrictive approach that doesn’t really seem to make much sense, and it’s a shame that it only works one way as this could have been the perfect compromise to allow players more control over how difficult they want their experience to be.
It’s clear that Dragon Quest XI made a considerable effort to shake off the bad habits of past entries and, to a certain extent, the game succeeds in updating itself for the current generation. This entry feels a lot more accessible and welcoming compared to other games in the series, and the English voice overs help to breath a lot of character into the extremely long plotline. With that said, it feels as though the efforts made to appeal to a western audience for this localization have in turn caused it to become much tamer, especially when it comes to the game’s combat difficulty. Despite its minor flaws, Dragon Quest XI’s sprawling story easily outshines everything else and makes for an exciting adventure for you to lose yourself in.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age was developed and published by Square Enix. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for PC.
Andy Moore is a gaming freelancer based in the UK. When he’s not writing, he can be found staring blankly out of the nearest window, or spending way too much time on Twitter.