“You never were one for a lot of conversation”
It’s been so long, five years in fact, since we’ve had a main entry into the Dragon Quest series. The last one, Dragon Quest X, was an MMORPG and the one before that was on the 3DS three years prior. As such, there is a lot expected of one of the world’s biggest RPG series. First published in 1986, Dragon Quest has spawned 11 main titles and countless spin offs through every avenue imaginable. While not as big in the west as Final Fantasy or the Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest is beloved and its fanbase vast, enjoying the series through the games, manga and anime series. With such a fantastic team on board, Akira Toriyama’s art, Koichi Sugiyama’s music and Yuji Horii’s design, every game has a distinct feel and flavour. Dragon Quest XI (DQXI from now on) is no different. Does the game do its predecessors proud or should Dragon Quest have ended with ten?
Firstly, I must tell you to brace yourself, the game is long. DQXI delivers a great narrative, filled with twists and turns, some of which you truly don’t see coming until they are upon you, over many hours of gameplay. I don’t think grinding was ever necessary until I reached the end, and I was looking at around 70+ hours of gameplay. I think that speaks volumes about the game, to keep interest of throughout that period of time is a feat in and of itself I really enjoyed bonding with the characters over fire places,
getting to know them over them through their various character arcs. Laughing riotously at the various team up and jokes the game is filled with moments that you can look back at and help you feel a part of the adventure, the protagonist is silent so you can replace him with yourself very easily. Almost too easily, I know silent protagonists are meant to be a placeholder for the audience but I had a couple of grips around this. The story is basic, you are the chosen hero, as a baby you were found in the river by your grandfather (who has since passed away) and when you came of age your mother informed you of your great destiny to bring peace to the world. You do so and that is it. It feels like a bland telling but what makes the game live and breathe are the nuances, the journey that you take, how and whom you travel with. The game does a great job of drawing you in and with clever storytelling as well as a lot of quests; you never truly get bored, always searching out the next mission or story quest. I can’t speak highly enough of the way the story is told, but as I said before I had some gripes.
Now as a silent protagonist, I’m used to having a modicum of choice, and you don’t really have that, your choices never truly seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. Honestly, if I’m strapped in for the ride, you may as well give my avatar a bit of personality. You have no choice for romance, you can’t really play towards a good or a bad side, this is how Dragon Quest games are but I was hoping for a bit more engagement from my character. You party members treat you wonderfully, but I never feel like I had the opportunity to reciprocate their feelings aside from wordlessly handing them some 3+ armour or making sure they have the right loadout before a battle. It feels like the one barrier that stands in the way of the game’s perfect story. From wordlessly accepting certain events that you really could have changed to your choice of romantic partner, you are a passenger the entire time. Without these choices, yes the narrative could flow freely and it gives a sense of purpose, but if that were the case, then why not just have the main character be a character? I sometimes have a hard time with silent protagonists for this point as they can be a great medium to experience a story, but as soon as that story goes down a path that you, the audience, could have stopped that is where they are less compelling for me. I can’t truly say the story is completely unpredictable however just like you can make a few correct predictions there are time when the story will sucker punch you in the gut with emotions you didn’t expect, or moments you weren’t prepared for. All in all, I greatly enjoyed the story.
The section for art is going to be short. The games graphics are phenomenal. They portray the world exactly how it wants to be portrayed, not even a blade of grass is out of place, however if you are not a fan of Akira Toriyama’s style, as in you hate the cutesy designs and the way the character’s look in Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball, this will not sway you. It is very similar to his previous worlds, and while it is incredibly well designed and portrayed, it is a unique style that you will love, hate or feel indifference too. Personally, I very much enjoyed seeing the world come to life, there were many monsters that made me laugh when I saw them, almost to the point of tears. (Och! And their NAMES!) I can also see how someone might not enjoy the art, how many of the creatures lack a severity to them that robs us of a feeling of fear or danger. I feel like this is a personal feeling, I hope that you would give it a chance because the whimsical nature of Dragon Quest is one I find truly enjoyable. Gameplay is wonderful, to the point that playing the game is never a chore. You can have most the game run on auto if you please, and take care of the tough bits yourself or you can just let the auto handle the tough bits too, of course if you aren’t adequately prepared the bosses will eat you alive. This aspect was nice because there were times when you want to get from point A to point B but you want to pick up item D and have to kill about 20 monsters C.
This is something that most RPG players know and hate, grinding. However DQXI doesn’t force you to do this, you only really need to fight a few monsters per screen to keep your level around the recommended area the Normal difficulty, and you can gather most items pretty easily. If you want to go above and beyond, the game wants to help you any way it can, giving you several options for how you want the AI to play, how many character you want the AI to play as well as what techniques you want and don’t want them to use. One of these is Pep, which I will get into later. The ability to have two or more of the party on auto was a gift, I could have someone constantly fighting the boss while I strategized, I could have time to think about something while my party vengefully execute a king of slimes. It was great and whenever I wanted, even in between enemy turns, I could take back control. It is a great system that also keeps the game fresh, if you truly have to kill monster F 30 times, well, just run into him and let the AI handle it while you wonder about your next quest. Battle is turn based and you can set the camera about, I liked the dynamic feature to be able to move about and move the camera as I wished to get the perfect view of each attack, movement made no different to the substance of the battle but it was great for personal use, nothing like having the Main character leap from the side to deliver a killing blow captured at the right angle. In Combat, you have simple and standard options, what skills you want to use, their respective costs and whom you want to do them to. A small niggle with the system was it would treat groups of enemies separately. So if you had a group attack, it would only target enemies that shared the same type, and there were only a few abilities that bypassed this. Meaning that if you were facing 5 unique enemies there were maybe three or four abilities that could hit all involved available to only a select few members. Some of these moves were only available when your characters were Pepped up!
Pep is a state where your character is filled with vim and vigour, then levitates from the ground and charges up, arms pulled to the sides, with a fierce and fiery aura. Yes… it looks exactly like what you are thinking of. And it’s awesome. The little moments truly make you feel like an excited child and it means youthrow everything you’ve got at your opponents. You can use pep and other abilities to set of a chain of attacks that will leave your enemies dazed and confuse; however, your enemies have access to the same abilities. I cannot count the number of times a boss double attack and then paralysed the majority of my fighters, which as the remaining fighter was slow, lead to a third attack which would disable him or her. A free transfer system between Party and Back up sometimes helped this but the battles could become incredibly frustrating when you were the same or a lower level. It was less difficulty, more that the enemy’s abilities and ailments were far more effective than you had access to. The sound, I usually have a section laid off to discuss music and ambience, but it’s going to be shared with something that the game had in abundance, its humour. The music in the game is often times fitting…. Often times. I enjoyed it but I was begging for more variety by the end. Something, I felt, let the game down was its seemingly limited number of tracks. Something bad happened? It’s the same charming ditty… every time. Boss got mad, an aggressive riff that chimes in without fail. Something moderately good happening, there is a song for that too. In fact, the battle music is always the same unless you are in a battle with a specific boss and often times, the song is just a slight remix of the regular battle tune. Right now, despite having not played the game in a week, I can still hear the battle tune. And it’s driving me crazy. It’s not bad, it’s just not great. If you want a battle song stuck in your head, something like Seymour’s battle theme from Final Fantasy X or the Boss Battle music from a Link to the Past, those are songs that can give you chills. This one didn’t really inspire me that much, like many of the songs, they were good and/or funny for the moment, but hearing them repeatedly really took away from the moment at times. At least the game never truly takes itself too seriously, the game is filled with humour from the comedic timing of some of the music to EVERY SINGLE MONSTER’S NAME! Everyone one of them is some form of pun, and sometimes they are just too funny to keep playing. I think I have a moment where I couldn’t play the game for five straight minutes because I was laughing at a monster’s name. The game has a wonderful side to it, whether it be the rampant fun that everyone is having, or the occasional naughty joke. It’s a game that has you laughing most of the way through, which is so refreshing when most games in the RPG genre are so incredibly bleak that a moment of laughter is few and far between.
All in all DQXI is a great entry to the series that some might say stays for too long, but I never found
myself forced to play or even inconvenienced by the length. It takes a while to get to the end but every
moment along the way makes it easier and easier to give time to a wonderfully crafted game. It is
flawed in several places but these flaws don’t really harm the game enough to stop you from playing,
although they do stop the game from being perfect. If you like Dragon ball, the humour and art style
within, you will love DQXI, if you liked previous Dragon Quest games, the same will carry. If you are new
to the series and are not sure either way it is a great place to start because it helps you into the series
gently. It’s a fantastic game to spend a holiday with and it will keep you laughing well into the night.
“I knew you’d say that”