By William Haderlie / October 11th, 2018
|Title||Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age|
|Developer||Square Enix, Bird Studio, Armor Project|
|Release Date||September 4th, 2018|
|Platform||PlayStation 4 Pro|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age represents the fourth entry in the storied franchise that I have reviewed for Operation Rainfall. The previous three games were the remakes of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, as well as the side project, Dragon Quest Builders. As a huge fan of the series, I always go out of my way to play as many Dragon Quest games as I can get my hands on. That is especially true of the primary numbered entries in the series. Final Fantasy was a pivotal series for me, but that being said, Final Fantasy was not my first JRPG; Dragon Quest (Warrior in the US) on the NES was. To my surprise, after the SNES era, my favorite series became Dragon Quest (although it might be Persona now). Unfortunately the most recent main entry, Dragon Quest X, never came out in the US and, as an MMORPG, will have a limited life cycle. So for a huge fan this has been a very long-awaited game, and this review will be mostly centered around the long-time fan perspective. And for the fans, is this game worth the wait, and where does it rank among the greats of the series’ past?
Ever since Dragon Quest IV, character has become a huge part of the series. Even in Dragon Quest IX, a massively underrated game in my opinion, you had a party of four created characters, but the NPCs were all just as full of personality as any of the other entries. Unfortunately, the hero of each game has always been a tabula rasa, which has never really appealed to me. This game is no different in that respect. The hero definitely looks a lot different than any of the previous main characters, but he is still unvoiced (other than a few flashback sequences when he was a child) and he is given a past but not really a personality. This is one of the areas where I would like the series to evolve into the modern age. I could understand not voicing the main character if you are going to give them a lot of options for how they want to deal with situations (like ATLUS does for SMT), or when gender is an option, but Western studios like Bioware manage to still voice all those options. There is just no good reason for that to still be an issue in the modern entries. Thankfully the contrast to the blank slate of a main character is all the different party members you will recruit in your travels.
The hero will have the opportunity to recruit seven other party members in total. There are only six shown in all the promotional art, and some might consider it a minor spoiler, but you recruit your final one about one-third of the way through the game. So I’m not going to worry about such minor spoilers when talking about such a massive game. In the first 25 percent of the game, your party members are interesting but they don’t quite reach the depths that they will later on. Erik is probably the one that took the longest to come into his own, even though he’s the first party member that you gain. His full story contains quite a fascinating take on the legend of King Midas. And at first I wasn’t that fond of Sylvando, even as interesting as it is to have a fairly openly gay character in a JRPG. But for me I kept on comparing him to the stereotypes of gay men, and also Morrie from Dragon Quest VIII (due to their similar outfits). He also really comes into his own, especially after you meet his father in the later half of the game. The stand out character for this game, in my opinion, is Jade. Not only does she have a good story and personality, but she is also virtually indispensable on the battlefield.
Much like in Dragon Quest VIII, outfits that can change your appearance are back. Of course the classic bunny suit is back, but this time there are many more outfits than there were in that game. Each character has at least four different outfits that totally change their appearance. Many of them also have strong ties to their story, even Jade’s bunny outfit and Sylvando’s Mardi Gras set. This might seem like a mere gimmick, but they actually do something with the outfits by making them have special stats that are often exclusive to the glamour sets. In fact, the best armor for each character also changes their appearance to be similar to some very famous people that you will learn about in the game. All the characters are extremely well voiced, and there is a shocking amount of dialogue in this game. It might have more voice acting than any other game that I’ve ever played. And by the time I finished my game, I think they are the best cast of characters in any Dragon Quest game, taking the title previously held by Dragon Quest VIII. Unfortunately, they really had to do a lot of heavy lifting in the personality department because there were so few options in the ability development department.
Dragon Quest III for the NES introduced class changing to the series, and to JRPGs in general. That being said, it has been a part of less than half of the entries overall. So far only Dragon Quest III, VII, and IX have used that system. (I’m not sure about the MMORPG since I never played it) That is a little sad to me, because I love class changing in general and I was hoping for a similar system for this game. Instead this is much more similar to Dragon Quest VIII in character development. The chart is a visual representation this time, but in practice it works exactly the same. You can eventually learn all of the skills, and you mostly only earn skill points by leveling up. (Skill Seeds are still quite rare) You simply choose which area you want to develop first, and spreading out your points among several different areas is highly discouraged until you have finished off at least one region. In practice the visual representation really didn’t do much for me, and the only major option was in choosing between the two to four different weapon types that the character would specialize in. The system isn’t bad—it’s slightly better than the DQ VIII system (which many people loved)—but it did feel like a step back from the wonderful Dragon Quest IX character development.
One welcome change is how the battlefield is represented once you enter combat. You can set in the options the ability to move around during the fights, but that is a strictly cosmetic option. The larger change is that you always see your characters along with the enemies on the screen and they are extremely well animated. With each successive entry from VIII on, the combat has been getting progressively more dynamic, and a giant leap forward has occurred in this game. It is nice to see your characters all the time now, and their moves are beautifully animated, but nothing compares to the enemies. Almost all of the classic Dragon Quest baddies are in this game, but they look so much better than they ever have and they have so many different moves and even rest animations. Add on to that a whole slew of new monsters that have never been in the series before, and you will be stunned at the sheer enemy variety in this game, not even counting the Vicious and Malicious versions of the monsters (more on this later).
A much more substantive change to the combat is how they have altered the Pep system from the previous modern entries. Pep was extremely powerful in Dragon Quest VIII, but you needed to rely on it to beat most of the really difficult content. As a result you spent a lot of your battle time Pepping up your characters and crossing your fingers that enemies wouldn’t dissipate it. In this game, only the hero can Pep Up at will, and it is always in one action (although at the expense of MP). In all other cases, you just have to wait for it to build up on its own like a Limit Break from the Final Fantasy series. But it builds up extremely slowly, not reliably (or quickly) within a single battle. Thankfully as a counter to this, it is quite powerful. Not only does it last between battles (so you can potentially carry it into a fight you might be planning on having), but it can also be used in conjunction with other characters to perform super moves. Not only are these Pep moves extremely powerful, but they are very flashy and often feature scenes that are most similar to the Summoned Monsters from Final Fantasy games. This comparison felt a little ironic to me during my playthrough of this game considering how I felt about what they did with the Summons in Final Fantasy XV. (I was not a fan)
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