When anyone mentions the JRPG genre, a chock-full of iconic series may come to mind, such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, Chrono, Xeno and Mana. But what do they all have in common? Square Enix is responsible for bringing these classics into inception and takes the cake when it comes to being the developer with the most JRPG experience. The latest installment from the long-running Dragon Quest franchise is Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition, an enhanced port of the 2017 original. It’s essentially the same game but with a few added features specific to Nintendo Switch.
The story revolves around the journey of a character known as the Luminary, who embarks on an enormous adventure in an attempt to save the kingdom of Erdrea. The Luminary is also branded as “Darkspawn” by an opposing power that sees him as a major threat to the sanctity of the land. As the Luminary, it’s your job to set out and join forces with other warriors as you try to prove your worth, clear your name and ultimately prevent destruction from befalling. It’s a dramatic plot, complete with exciting twists and gripping scenes that motivate you to continue playing in order to find out what happens next.
Gameplay mainly consists of exploration, traversing the vast land, conversing with NPCs, fulfilling quests and engaging in combat. In typical JRPG fashion, combat takes place in the form of turn-based battles. If you touch or get near an enemy, you’ll automatically trigger a battle with several options at your disposal. You can attack, dispense spells, use items, change your tactics or even attempt to flee. After successfully defeating enemies, you’ll be awarded with experience points that level up the characters in your party. If all this sounds familiar to you, that’s because it probably is. It uses practically the same exact formula that’s been established by previous JRPGs and Dragon Quest titles. It’s fun and can be wildly addictive, but there admittedly isn’t much innovation here.
Aside from the Luminary, the most important characters are the ones who join your party. They’re a handful of vibrant and charismatic warriors, each of whom is equipped with their own set of abilities that can be used to your advantage during battle. Some may excel in strength and agility, while others specialize in magic and long-range attacks. Regardless, you ultimately have the final say when it comes to who you want by your side. It’s up to you to mold them into a force to be reckoned with to help you get the upper-hand throughout your journey. Your first (temporary) partner in combat happens to be a good doggo who you instantly fall in love with. Speaking of, animals are an integral part of Erdrea and can be found roaming around towns as companions. As a major plus, you can pet and interact with them.
The most notable animals are none other than noble steeds, which you can ride in the fields for a quick and reliable mode of transportation. As memorable as these characters can be, the same can’t always be said about the Luminary. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate players will be happy to recognize him, but he’s a silent character (even more so than Link) with no personality. In a game that emphasizes vocal dialogue, this can prove to be incredibly awkward in many instances, especially during cutscenes. It also doesn’t help how all characters are almost entirely expressionless, despite the severity of any given situation.
The world of Erdrea is massive, filled with a wide variety of environments, unique locales, bustling towns, menacing enemies, hidden collectibles and different routes to take. At first, you’re only allowed to explore certain parts and it tends to shift toward the linear approach, but you eventually gain access to more areas and the freedom to pave your own path. For the most part, the graphics are fluid throughout and look good both on the Switch in handheld mode and on the TV screen. With that being said, sound and visual effects are sometimes lackluster. This is particularly noticeable in the overworld, which is made up of a plethora of environmental elements. For example, if you go through static items such as bushes, you appear invincible and pass right through them as they remain completely motionless and don’t make a sound.
Dragon Quest XI S is already a huge game. The Definitive Edition is equipped with a modest set of unique features to boot, such as the option to swap between English and Japanese voice acting. If you’re feeling extra nostalgic, you can also choose to play with a 16-bit-inspired coat of paint. This mode works really well and the transition is pretty smooth. However, it fails to offer the full experience and there are apparent sacrifices that come into play; you won’t find any voice acting in 2D and you’ll be forced to endure random encounters.
If you haven’t invested in the original game before, Dragon Quest XI S can easily provide you with countless hours of JRPG fun. It plays it safe in many areas and doesn’t necessarily revolutionize the genre; but it does a mighty fine job solidifying it.
A review copy of Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch was provided by Nintendo UK.