It’s been a long while since a main title from this franchise has graced the west’s shore, Dragon Quest IX in 2010, but for a game this polished and expansive, it seems a worthwhile wait. If you’re looking for a modern and innovative take on JRPGs then this title is not likely to be your cup of tea, as the Dragon Quest franchise is one that celebrates its origins and has immortalised many aspects and mechanics from the good old days of RPGs, like turn based combat. However, that’s not to say that it hasn’t also kept up with the industry in the important things such as graphics and scale which use every bit of the modern consoles available power. To me, variety is the spice of life and if every game followed the current fads of open world, action orientated gameplay then every release would start to merge with every other.
What Dragon Quest XI is, to me, is a breath of fresh air. It is a bright, light-hearted tale following a traditional RPG journey to save a world from encroaching evil. The characters are charming and each bring something unique to the team in terms of personality and combat skills. True, they don’t have the deepest back stories, but it’s still a joy having them in your party. As a Dragon Quest newbie, the blank slate of the main hero felt a little frustrating to me, as a blank slate hero is usually so for the player to stamp some of their personality on the character which I don’t feel is really an option in this title. I, personally, would have like a little more than simple yes/no dialogue options. In all other respects, I find myself quite taken by the cast both party members and storyline NPCs.
The world is a joy to explore with some of the best cel-shaded style graphics, I’ve seen in a JRPG. The graphics are both detailed and cartoony and each different area of the map has its own characteristics from forests and beaches to ruins and crypts. There is some wonderful use of water in the environments with some picturesque waterfalls and lakes. I did feel that the placement of chests and items could have been a little better as there were many corners that seem to lack any incentive to explore whereas other locations, right on the players path, had item pickups. I just felt that on many occasions my exploration didn’t feel amply awarded which is a shame because the well-designed maps deserve to be admired. I did love the enemy mounts mechanic. Whereby on defeating certain monsters you could take over their mounts granting access to areas that otherwise proved inaccessible, giving access to waiting chests and items.
Another aspect I enjoyed was the crafting system which while starting simple, quickly progress to a satisfying mini game, where you need to gauge the power needed and chose from an increasing number of hit types to forge your molten armour into the perfect form. The game also manages to maintain a fine balance where while forged armour can be better than vendor armour, the difference is not so much as to force the player to engage in forging, if they would just rather hand over their hard-earned gold in the shop instead. I found myself getting quite obsessive in my determination to forge the perfect piece which becomes increasingly complex to do as the game progresses.
Another thing that people play Dragon Quest for are the monsters, which seem to be unending in variety. Some of the monsters are so cute and well animated that I feel quite guilty beating them up. The combat is very enjoyable and I like the fact that you can choose to have your party members fight themselves rather than dictate their every move through the combat menu system. The AI on the characters was good enough that it never left me feel frustrated that they had let me down or were directly responsible for a party wipe. In a pinch all those characters with healing will heal and if little healing would focus on defence. It left me little need to dictate their play style, while the option was always there. Another thing I love about the combat system is the ability to change characters in combat, which leads to much more fluid gameplay and the ability to adapt to the changing needs of a fight or boss battle. The pep system was quite enjoyable as well. There is something satisfying in lining up multiples characters with full pep gauges to pull some of the more powerful moves and I love the way that each move is in line with the characters combat abilities.
All in all, this is well polished gem of an RPG that has plenty of playtime for your money, around 80 hours for a simple completion. If you want a traditional styled RPG then this is one of the best. It is the full story with no planned DLC and no online elements, so there is no need to fear about locking yourself into the need of further investment or a PSplus subscription. In the current fad of DLC laden titles, I find that very refreshing. That being said, if turn based, traditional RPGs aren’t your thing then there is unlikely to be much here that will change your mind on that front. You might be better off looking at titles like God of War or Spider-Man.