By William Haderlie / October 11th, 2018
Another innovation in the series that was added for Dragon Quest VIII was the Alchemy Pot. Several other games have also used a similar concept since that title. However, for this entry they decided to upgrade the Alchemy Pot into the Mini Forge. Unfortunately you can no longer make general use items like Panacea from combining base materials together. But what you lose from that you more than gain by all the weapons, armor, and accessories you can craft with the Forge. Not only can you craft those items from scratch, but you can upgrade special items to much more powerful versions, and you can upgrade general equipment to +1, +2, or +3 versions. As a result, when you are traveling around the world it is very important to always stop by gathering points on the map to farm for materials. Considering the diverse array of items, you will rapidly find yourself running out of specific materials and have to go back to that map to farm for more. It’s not quite as tedious as farming resources in an MMORPG, but you can see the inspiration there. Thankfully the rewards are more than worth the effort, and there are some items that are absolutely necessary if you are going to defeat the ultimate content in the game.
The other major innovation for the series, other than the Forge, is mounted transportation. Of course you have had mounts in the games before, even a horse-drawn carriage clear back in Dragon Quest IV. But in this game the mounts are much more dynamic and more important to the way you traverse the world. Almost immediately you have a horse, which has value both for traversal speed and because small to medium enemies are knocked out of the way if you run into them on the field while using Gallop. The mounts grow in diversity from there, from dragons that you can use to fly, to horned mounts to break apart obstacles, and even jumping machines to traverse obstacles on the map and in the dungeons. The map for this game doesn’t seem quite as large as some of the games in the past. But what it loses in sheer size, it more than makes up for in dynamic areas that can be just as tall as they are wide. You also gain a ship super early in this game as well as a flying vehicle much later.
I was worried initially about this game because I heard that it was short for a Dragon Quest. And that might be true, if you actually stop at the first credits. There is just no way to properly review this game without talking about the credits issue. In previous modern Dragon Quest games, you don’t have an NG+ option, but there is always a bonus dungeon that opens up after the credits are done and some even have a special optional ending you can achieve by clearing out that final dungeon. Dragon Quest VIII in particular had some decent story moments that told you a lot more about the main character, and Dragon Quest IX basically had a never-ending series of randomly generated dungeons that you could tackle (hence why my save file is over 400 hours for that game). What I’ve seen in other reviews is that many people stopped playing this game after the first credits, assuming it was over. That is a little understandable, other than the fact that the game specifically tells you there is more before, during, and after those credits. However, it is much more than what happened with the last two single player entries. In fact, the first credits happens at almost the halfway point of the game. Not playing after those credits is the same as beating the Dark Wizard in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and not going to the Dark World to face Ganon. That comparison is very apt story-wise, but I won’t say any more than that.
If I had stopped there, I would have found the story to be good, but not exactly memorable. And there were many extremely noticeable unanswered questions, including the very opening scene of the entire game, that would have remained unresolved. When you actually play through the entire game and reach the True Ending, I put this story easily up there with Dragon Quest V and VIII as the best in the series. When you reach the first credits you might find that you have seen every monster in the game, around 300. However, as soon as you start up your game for the second half, your monster list more than doubles. There are new Vicious versions that you didn’t see in the last part of the first half, there are way more powerful Malicious versions that can even challenge level 99 characters, and there are even all new enemy designs that you didn’t see in the game at all prior. While the game was a little too easy for me on Normal difficulty, (You can use Draconic difficulty when you start a new game to add challenge to it.) compared to previous entries in the series, the second half of the game does add some extra challenge. I still never had a party wipe and I never had to use a single item in the game, so if you are looking for that classic Dragon Quest challenge, you might need to start your first run on Draconic difficulty.
They do have difficulty options so I’m not really going to knock how much easier this game is on Normal than previous entries in the series. And while I don’t like the skill progression system as much as I do the class system, that is also more of a personal taste situation. But there are some real annoyances that did lower the overall experience of the game. There is fabulous voice acting in general for this game other than a few exceptions. The first is the mentioned silent protagonist, but the next is that even characters who normally are voiced do not have vocal singing. There are more than a couple songs, so this is quite noticeable. This is a really questionable decision because every single voice actor I know is quite a good singer. They could have easily found voice actors to sing the lines if they really wanted to; even if it sounded like amateurs that can have its own charm.
There are also a few issues of a character being voiced in a way that makes them seem not quite congruent with the character, whether that’s a few children that definitely sound too old or a certain mermaid that grates a bit on the nerves. But as good as the vocal performances in general are, and some fantastic Foley for sound effects, the music is a real problem. I’m a long-time fan that has been around since the first game on NES, but even for me the music might be nostalgic but it is really hard on the ears for a modern game. It is generally too loud, but there is an option to turn it down. Beyond that it sounds simply too basic to fit the themes that it’s trying to match. The games are becoming more nuanced and the music needs to follow. The MIDI format isn’t as much of an issue as is the lack of any remixing or modernization of the songs. Square Enix is the best in the business at rearranging and reorchestrating their old songs in games like the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. They really need to apply that ability in this series as well.
The music issue is a noticeable one, but even more noticeable is how amazing the Akira Toriyama designs are in this game. There is just no prettier JRPG that has ever been made, and I’ve played hundreds of them. Some of the enemies are frankly so cute that I didn’t even want to fight them. Even the general NPCs can be delightfully quirky and expressive. Of course some of the characters will have a decidedly Dragon Ball flavor to them; it is Toriyama after all. But you will be surprised at how many new designs there are, both for monsters and for humans.
I was actually surprised at how much I loved this game, even as a long-time super fan of the series. I can’t ignore the issue with the music, and I have a few other minor gripes, but this is easily my RPG of the year and if it wasn’t for God of War, it would also be my game of the year so far. By the time I rolled the True Ending credits, I was at 196 hours. It earned me the Platinum Trophy, but there are still several things that I would like to go back and finish up. I wish the random dungeons had made it over from Dragon Quest IX just so that I could keep playing the game with my original group. Instead of that I will be still happy to go back and start the adventure again from scratch. It is more than worth the standard $59.99 price of a AAA game. Not only is this a modern JRPG classic, but it also stands toe to toe with the best entries from the past. Just do yourself a favor and ignore those first credits. They are only there for the non-fans and non-JRPG veterans.
Review Copy of the Game was Self-Purchased
Pages: 1 2Akira ToriyamaArmor ProjectBird StudioDragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive AgeJRPGPlayStation 4 proPSNSquare Enix