Despite being a 32-year-old series somehow, until recently I had never played a mainline Dragon Quest game, only stumbling onto the Builders series when they came to Switch. Don’t get me wrong, I love my RPGs and JRPGs but this franchise was one that I continually missed. Builders 1 and 2 left me hungry for more and curious as to the main series. Dragon Quest XI S – Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition finally gave me the opportunity to jump in, and I was curious to see if this introduction would be a smooth or steep learning curve.
The game starts with a beautiful cutscene that shows a strange see-through monster wandering into a castle town. The creature is drawn towards the light coming from a room containing a regally dressed woman and a little baby. Later that night, monsters attack the castle during a storm, causing the woman to flee with the baby and a young girl, but they become separated. The baby is found after the storm floating in a river by a cheery old man. Years later you are all grown up and coming of age in the small village of Cobblestone. To come of age you are required to climb the Tor, a stone spire outside of town, with your childhood friend Gemma and her dog Sandy. Upon reaching the top, the three of you get attacked by a monster revealing your Luminary powers, setting you off on a quest to find out who you really are.
Light and dark are inevitably intertwined and this results in your Luminary arse being thrown in a dungeon as well as chased all over the world. Given the affectionate label of Darkspawn, it turns out your reincarnation as the Luminary also signals the return of the Lord of Shadows, who as the name suggests is one bad hombre. I won’t give any spoilers away but the story in this game is wonderful, with great highs and lows that tug at the heart strings, and many funny moments that make you attached to your motley crew of characters.
Dont mind me
Let’s get this out of the way, this game is MASSIVE. With approximately 100 hours of content, including new character-specific content exclusive to this version; be prepared to sink a lot of time into this game. The world in this game is huge, with the first 10 hours having you visit only about 20% of the map. The huge map is thankfully not only traversable by foot, but by horse, monster, magic and ship. Your horse is a great way to get around and you thankfully get access to your steed very early on. You can also plough through enemies, sometimes one-shotting them and still netting that sweet EXP. However, when you are steed-less you can press ZR to dash infinitely, which is awesome when you’re in a hurry or in a horse-free zone. Once you’ve been to a town and unlocked the Zoom spell you will be able to teleport back at no MP cost, which I underutilised initially. Don’t be afraid to clamber up things and jump between buildings, the game has no fall damage, allowing you to explore and trial things with no penalty. Returning to monsters, if you see a sparkly enemy and defeat it you will be able to ride it! My favourite was the Horknight’s hornet. It’s worth giving them all a shot just for the heck of it but they can be useful too.
There are so many material items in this game, most found by killing monsters. Most weapons or armour you can buy from merchants are also craftable with the right recipe, and you might save yourself some money if you have all the right ingredients. Crafting can now be done almost anywhere using the now portable ‘Fun-sized forge’ (previously only at campsites). I highly suggest being super nosey and obnoxious, doing the typical RPG traditions of smashing any pots and barrels you find, checking inside of bookcases and wardrobes and picking up every sparkly spot you find; there are so many items free for the taking. The inventory in the game is also suitably sized, I have yet to run out of space and I have kept one of everything I’ve found. With such a high amount of loot thankfully all items automatically go into your inventory when you harvest or discover them, an improvement from the previous versions.
Turn-based battles get some life breathed into them with great visuals, and the monsters all look universally awesome (I particularly like the Cruelcumbers). All of the pun-based names are a hoot. You can see all of the monsters walking around in the overworld, occasionally jumping out or swooping down on you as you wander around. This makes it easy to sneak past enemies, but do so at your own peril as you will most likely end up having to grind if you skip too many monsters. There is an added completionist incentive to fight every new monster you see as the game records which ones you have and haven’t battled. In battle you can either have complete control of the camera (free-form fighting) or have it controlled by the game (Classic camera). I greatly preferred the classic mode and once I switched I never went back. In this Definitive Edition you can also change the battle speed to ultra-fast, which can help you power through battles quickly.
Its calamari time
One thing that I learned the hard way is you can’t access your bag in battle (unlike most RPGs), only the items you’re holding directly in each character’s personal inventory. You can hold a lot in the character inventory so space is not an issue, but I was caught out a few times when I’d recruited a new character and forgot to give them things. You can however change your equipment on the fly in battle which is really handy, especially when you change from versing lots of enemies to a single boss or mini boss. Though again you need to be holding the equipment on your person, so having a few options on your characters at all times is a good idea.
The English voice acting (there is a Japanese option too) and writing is great and had me laughing and connecting with the stories of the various characters (and sometimes cringing at some of the weird ones). The localisation team had a fun time with this game, and a lot of care was taken. In one town all of the NPCs speak in haiku (it’s hard enough to write one), and another group of NPC’s dialog are all rhyming poems. The characters and NPCs all have accents stylised to match the inspiration for each region, with particular cities stylised after a different place on Earth (like Hotto after Japan and Gondolia after Italy). This brings great diversity to the game and makes it feel even bigger without tiring you out.
Many games have had to be restructured or take hits typically to visuals in order to run on the Switch and this game is no exception. This version has taken a couple of hits to mainly textures, but for the most part the game looks great running on the Switch, aside from where some cutscenes zoom in really closely on certain textures and laid their lack of detail bare. These textural changes are less noticeable in handheld mode, though I think the visuals look a little bit muddier compared to TV mode, so it’s more of a personal preference. I played in both modes quite happily. Despite some downgrades to textures, everything else looks great and I thoroughly enjoyed roaming the land of Erdrea and seeing all the different scenery. There are also very, very few to no significant frame drops either which I was pleased to find as many heavier games have been plagued by them on the Switch. The game performs really well, especially in battles where you can have up to eight enemies and four team mates on screen at one time. The Definitive Edition also has all of your party members follow along behind you in the overworld, which enriches the experience and is a welcome new addition, and there is also the 2D 16-bit mode if you’re feeling retro. This is essentially optional (you can change to 2D at any church/statue), except for Tickington, a town in an alternate dimension that was featured in the 3DS version but one that’s been tweaked for Switch.
Going back in time in Tickington
Loading times are low even in handheld mode, allowing you to continue progressing through the story or areas quickly without awkward pauses. Loading screens are also fairly infrequent as the game lets you roam large areas without having to reload. This is a double-edged sword if you die however, as the loading of the map acts as an additional but infrequent autosave, from which you are free to recover from as opposed to your last save which takes half your coins (ouch). Saves can be made through ‘confession’ at a church, holy statue or at specific moments in the game. You can also resurrect your dead characters at the church or statues for a price relative to level, which is handy as revival items are not very common.
From a bit of research the Definitive Edition comes with a number of great quality of life improvements over the PS4 and 3DS iterations such as cutscene autoplay/skipping at any time, outfits (change your look while wearing your best gear), ‘Horse Heralder’ (call your horse wherever possible), a treasure hunting skill (lets you know how many goodies are still in an areas) and more. These are all incredibly helpful. There is also a fully orchestrated soundtrack that brings the game and many familiar tunes to life. The music is a little repetitive if you spend a long time in one area but I didn’t find the need to turn off the music due to the great sound quality.
Despite not playing a proper Dragon Quest game before, Dragon Quest XI S welcomed me into this long standing franchise with open arms. I greatly enjoyed all of the major aspects of this game, from the story to the classic RPG elements brought to life by bright, colourful and pun-ful visuals and writing. I heartily recommend this game to any RPG lovers and to any fans of the Builders series that are wanting more.
Reviewed on Switch // Review code supplied by publisher