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Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (PlayStation 4) artwork

The JRPG is one of the most criticized genres in games today. "The games refuse to evolve" or "Turn-based combat is for grandpas" are just some of the accusations you'll see levied at it. Dragon Quest in particular gets its fair share of licks, but how does a series not only survive, but thrive, for 30 years if it's not doing something right? And let me tell you, Dragon Quest XI does a whole lot right.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is the latest mainline Dragon Quest game, and the first to reach our shores since Dragon Quest IX on the DS in 2010. We never did get Dragon Quest X (for obvious reasons, as it was an MMO), but fans arenít going to miss a beat when getting into Dragon Quest XI because it takes a lot of its cues from perennial favorite Dragon Quest VIII.

For newcomers, Dragon Quest XI is the latest in a long line of quintessential turn-based JRPGs that are finely honed to a razor edge. The games, including the latest, are meticulously written, designed and balanced to offer an enjoyable experience to anybody of any age. The stories speak to themes from the simple joy of adventure, to the more emotional and complex feelings of love, loss and what it means to be a hero.

Like most Dragon Quest games, this newest adventure begins with a young boy named by the player setting off to fulfill his destiny. The destiny in this case is that of the Luminary, a legendary hero born whenever the world is in danger. Our hero is told to go to the local kingdom to receive his first instruction, but soon finds himself in the dungeon as the king says the Luminary is only a harbinger of doom. He quickly escapes with the help of a thief, and the two leave to find out the truth behind the Luminary and what threat, if any, the world faces.

At face value, Dragon Quest XI's tale isnít a particularly novel one, but thatís not the point. Dragon Quest has almost always been about the little stories that unfold along the way. How helping those in need shapes who you are as a hero, and how those experiences frame the adventure to build more than just the usual "hero saves the world" narrative. In essence, you canít save the world if you canít save the person in front of you, and Dragon Quest XI excels at making the player care about every little interaction along the way.

During the journey, the player will do battle with all manner of creatures from Toriyama's extensive gallery of goofy and frightening monsters. Battle takes the form of a standard turn-based system where the party and enemies attack in turns depending on their agility stat. Players have access to the standard attack, and to abilities and spells that differ drastically between all eight party members. Each party member is also proficient in certain weapons, allowing players to further modify their style of play. For instance, the mage can either use a wand for increased magic damage or a whip for increased physical damage.

A big change from previous games, however, is the way players no longer input all their actions at the start of every turn and then watch everything play out in response. Now, players input individual party member actions at the time of the action. This is a pretty big change for long time players, as it gives a better idea in regards to the flow of battle and when to use healing and support skills. Battles also allow players to switch out party members and equipment during battle without any penalty. The importance of this change can't be understated as it makes Dragon Quest XI not only a much more approachable game, but a more strategic one as well.

The new gimmick in Dragon Quest XI's combat then is the introduction of Pep. After taking and dishing out a certain amount of damage, party members will enter the Pep state, which increases certain stats for a short period of time. During this time, players can either wait out Pep to enjoy the stat buffs, or use up their Pep to perform a powerful move that will either deal a lot of damage or perform an even larger buff or debuff. The only downside to this is the seeming randomness of Pep at the start. Certain abilities require multiple party members to be pepped up at once, and the player is never guaranteed to have the requisite lineup. Abilities can be obtained later on to better control Pep and to determine when it happens, but there is always that air of uncertainty surrounding it.

As for its difficulty, Dragon Quest XI is a markedly easier game than its predecessors, especially Dragon Quest VIII. Random mobs are no longer likely to wipe the party like they would in previous games, and boss battles are fairly manageable as long as the player was careful to fight every monster in the dungeon and come prepared with plenty of healing items. The latest game is even nice enough to include a save point and healing altar before most major bosses in dungeons. Dragon Quest's difficulty has been compared to mountain climbing by its creators. The idea is that as long as you keep climbing (i.e. grinding), you'll get to the top eventually. Dragon Quest XI still has that climb, but it's now more of a lovely day hike instead of a grueling week-long climb.

When youíre not battling monsters or questing to save the world, the return of item synthesis from Dragon Quest VIII will give you another place to spend your time. Unlike the system seen in DQVIII, the one featured in Dragon Quest XI has players taking on an active role in the forging process. No longer are players just tossing ingredients into a pot to make an item, but rather hammering out the shape of a sword, helmet or breastplate in real time. As the player levels up, they unlock new abilities that make it easier to achieve perfection. Even if they mess up, the game includes a reforge option that allows players to do it again until they perfect the item.

This is the part of the review where I tell you Dragon Quest XI is the game to make the naysayers finally change their mind. I honestly can't say for sure, but I have a feeling Dragon Quest XI might just turn that nay into a yay. I certainly feel it's the best Dragon Quest game since Dragon Quest V. Sure, the midi-music is woefully out of touch and turn-based battles might not be as exciting as pressing X to win, but there's a clarity and sense of purpose within Dragon Quest that no other RPG franchise has yet to beat. It's as perfect as Dragon Quest can be, and as far as I'm concerned that's as perfect as video games can be.

Phazonmasher's avatar
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (October 05, 2018)

Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.

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