Dragon Quest: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a traditional JRPG developed and published by Square Enix for PlayStation 4 and PC. A 3DS version was released in Japan only, and a Nintendo Switch version is planned for a later date. This review focuses on the PlayStation 4 version. DQXI is the latest game in a series that has spanned more than thirty years, and the first to be released on a home console in the West in over twelve. Whilst Square Enix’s other long running series, Final Fantasy, attempts to reinvent itself with each iteration, Dragon Quest firmly sticks to its core gameplay elements.
DQXI opens with the protagonist partaking in a coming-of-age ceremony in which he must make his way to the top of Cobblestone Tor, a mountain just outside his home of Cobblestone. Accompanied by his childhood friend, Gemma, the duo makes their way to the top of the mountain only for Gemma to be attacked by a gryphon at the peak. Whilst trying to save his companion, the protagonist awakens to a mysterious power. Discovering he is the Luminary, a reincarnation of a hero from long ago, the protagonist sets out on a journey to see the king and discover his birthright.
DQXI utilises a turn-based battle system (yes, it does still happen in 2018), but players can micromanage combat or totally ignore it if they wish. All party members, including the main character, can be set up with AI play styles (fight wisely, do not use magic, etc.) that will dictate how those characters behave during combat. By bringing up the tactics menu the player is able to switch styles, or take control themself, between turns in combat. Players can move characters around during combat, a feature introduced in Dragon Quest X, but this offers no advantages other than being able to view combat from different angles. There are no random encounters in the game, as enemies are visible in the world and can be challenged by walking up to them or striking them with a weapon.
Speaking of the world, each location in DQXI is beautifully designed with verticality in mind. Players are able to jump over small obstacles or climb ropes to higher planes, but there are also various mounts that can be ridden by the player allowing them traversal into otherwise inaccessible areas. Some mounted enemies will have a slight golden glow surrounding them, and should the player challenge and defeat them in combat, then their mount will be left behind for the player to ride themself. Often this will lead to hidden treasures, but some maps require certain mounts to progress further or escape from traps.
Each character has a few different weapons they can wield in combat, and players can specialise them further by using skill points to unlock new abilities or stat increases on the skill tree. For example, should the player wish to make their hero more proficient with greatswords they need only unlock a couple of nodes that give a bonus to damage whilst wielding the weapon. Some nodes start out locked and require purchasing those surrounding it before it can be unlocked. These are often powerfully abilities, especially those that require the player to be deep into two different branches of the tree to unlock them.
Most cities in DQXI have vendors that sell items and equipment to the player. Camps in the wild often have traveling traders that also have a limited range of supplies, though the best way to power up characters is for a player to make the gear themself with the fun-sized forge, similar to the alchemy pot from Dragon Quest VIII. Recipes must be discovered before a player can craft anything, but once they have the plans and ingredients, gear can be forged through a quick mini-game. Players need to strike different spots on the item to improve the gauge for that area and get as close to the ideal as possible. Each strike requires focus, a resource that increases as the hero gains levels in the game, and can be spent on different techniques that are also learnt whilst leveling. Doing well in the forging game modifies the gear (+1 to +3) and increases all the stats on that gear. Crafting gear also awards perfectionist pearls which allows the player to reforge existing gear again, even those purchased in shops.
The main story of DQXI is told over two chapters with an additional third chapter that can be played after the credits roll. Whilst the story makes complete sense playing only the first two parts of the game, it would be a crime to finish there and not play the third chapter. Without giving anything away, it is safe to say that the any lingering questions a player may have had are answered in the last chapter, even those that one may not have realised needed answering!
Sound design in DQXI is okay, but lacks anything truly memorable outside of the fanfare that plays over the opening cinematic (the same one that plays in all Dragon Quest games). It is also a shame to go from the fully orchestral soundtrack found in DQXIII to one that is not. That said, there are a number of retro sounds that have been added from older dragon quest games that remind players that this is a series with a lot of history. As this is a Dragon Quest game, each of the cities has a unique regional accent that range from European, Asian, rhymes, and even sentences in haiku!
Graphics are where DQXI really shines. The design work of Toriyama comes alive with highly polished enemy models. Each character has a number of alternative outfits that can be worn by equipping the right gear. These outfits will also be worn throughout all cut scenes in the game. Often when the player has to make an important decision the view switches to first-person so that it feels as though people are talking to the player directly rather than watching the scene play out in a first-person view. Everywhere feels alive with monsters roaming around the place and it looked as though none of the geometry was reused over the course of the game.
DQXI is a game where traditional meets modern and successfully bridges the gap between the two. Fans of RPGs in general will be right at home here, newcomers will find an engaging story that will sweep them along. Veterans of the series may just find their new favourite entry. At fifty hours to roll credits and seventy plus to complete the story, DQXI is by no means a short game, but the pacing keeps it from feeling like its dragging on. There is little need to grind for most of the game, but for people looking for a little extra challenge there are a number of draconian difficulty options to keep things interesting.
Title: Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Genre: Japanese Role-playing
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 29 July 2017