Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Review (PS4)

Dragon Quest is one of the most popular gaming franchises in Japan but it has never seemed to carry over to the Western markets. Thankfully, this has slowly started to change with this generation where localization is getting easier and leads to more games that were limited to Japan getting a chance in the Western market. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is special in a way because it is the first mainline game after Dragon Quest VIII to get a release on a home console in the Western market. Previously, the series shifted to handhelds since they dominated the sales in Japan, however with a global marketplace, more games are now targeting a wider international market.

Dragon Quest XI is one of the most visually gorgeous games that I have played on the PS4 Pro. It is possible thanks to the visual style and I don’t know how Square Enix did it but despite many iterations, the series has retained its traditional art style. This helps keep the spirit of the series alive even if there have been numerous transitions for the visuals heading into the different generations, Dragon Quest still retains the charm of the series even with the recent entry. It is a feat that deserves praise for sure, considering how many of the classic well-known IPs keep evolving with each next entry, even sometimes leaving their legacy behind them.

My experience with the Dragon Quest series is unfortunately limited. I only played Dragon Quest VIII to completion and haven’t really played most of the other mainline games aside from the spin-offs like Dragon Quest Builders and Dragon Quest Heroes. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t a fan of the franchise since I absolutely enjoyed my time with Dragon Quest VIII and consider it one of the greatest JRPG released on the PS2. So heading into Dragon Quest XI, I was simply hoping for an experience that was as good as the last game that I played in the series, and I was completely blown away by it as a result. It has easily shattered my expectations to become my fondest gaming experience of this console generation.

Dragon Quest XI is a perfectly crafted masterpiece, to put it mildly. I have played through and experienced almost every major JRPG released this generation, from Persona 5, Tales of Berseria to Final Fantasy XV and Ni No Kuni 2, however, Dragon Quest XI is just something else. It is a big budget game for sure, and this is easily seen with the production values offered here, but it also uses the budget wisely to craft a gaming experience that I doubt others can come close, at least in this console generation. You can call me biased since I mostly favor JRPG games but even taken as an RPG, Dragon Quest XI is easily one of the best games released this generation irrespective of the platform.

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So why exactly the high praise? Let me go into detail to explain why I absolutely adored the game. Right from the beginning, you will know that this will be one heck of a ride since it opens with a gorgeous pre-rendered cinematic that gives you a glimpse of some of the major story characters and scenarios that you will encounter in the game. This is a good way to set your expectations right from the beginning and it never slows down afterward. The pacing of this game is just that good without any notable filler that can bring down the overall experience. Yes, there are certain story segments that can feel like they pad the length of the game, but even then, the narrative keeps you occupied by giving you things to do, so it is never a dull experience.

Speaking of the length of the game, it is absolutely massive. This is a good thing or bad, depending on how you view it. The play time offered by the game means that the story is naturally a little slow to start, and will take a while before it starts to shape into something good. Given the time it takes for you to get all the characters, which is around 15 to 20 hours depending on how much time you are spending on the battles, it is something that can end up being a negative for some people. It was absolutely not the case for me though since the world design enthralled me with its lush landscapes, and the delightful storytelling made me feel attached to the characters that joined my party, so time just flew by and I never felt the urge to stop playing the game.

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Set in the world of Erdrea, this is a story that will take you through many remarkable locations including many cities. There is a lot of intricate detail and time spent in making sure that the locations that you will explore are unique and each will offer their own place in the story. It is always fun to head over to the next objective and stumble into a scenario that can offer a new mystery or twist for the main narrative. It is a long voyage that spans across many cities, small-scale towns, and landscapes, all offering a distinct charm of their own. The cities in the game are impressive for a JRPG of this scale and put many others to shame. You can also fully explore them even going so far as to vertically climb over some of the homes and walk a tightrope to discover secrets.

Just like it was in Dragon Quest VIII, the main character this time is a player-driven avatar that has a pre-defined character model. He might have a purpose in the story but he doesn’t seem to speak that much himself. Since you will name the character, it makes you feel like a part of the adventure. The game does a remarkable job of building up his backstory and personality, thanks in part to his interaction with the other party members. It cleverly uses the other characters as a plot device to present the point of view of the hero. The character development offered here is top-notch and a lot of time is spent simply on neat little story elements that could have been skipped in other RPGs, but in here, they are given their well-deserved attention helping create a memorable cast of characters that are essential to the experience.

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I feel bad in saying this, but as I have grown older, I have started to avoid a turn-based RPG mostly due to the slow pace of battles. Dragon Quest XI is simply amazing in this regard because it has found a way to avoid combat fatigue. The game uses a basic turn-based combat system but it offers an auto-battle mechanic as well that lets you set the tactics of your character including the main hero himself. You can pick from a set of pre-defined behaviors like ‘fight wisely’ or options on fighting offensively, defensively or simply focused on healing. There is a good amount of variety here although, for the most part of the game, I felt over-leveled enough that I simply stuck with the auto-battle system and it worked brilliantly for me. Later in the game, as the difficulty starts to ramp up, you can choose to pick manual control over the characters. The AI is honestly pretty good at figuring out the weakness of the enemies and it almost feels like I was cheating the game this way since they knew what kind of state or weakness the enemy was in, and used the right ability to attack them.

The major focus of the combat and the one that will take most of your time to customize each character is the skill point system. You will earn them after each level up or through meeting certain special requirements. It divides the skills for each character in your party among a set of different categories. It all depends on the character but some can learn to master 3 different type of weapon styles, while others are much more restricted. These weapons can range from daggers, swords, spears to whips. I liked how the game never made me feel restricted in keeping a certain weapon equipped to the character, so I was free to customize my party with my play style. The abilities that you can unlock with the skill point system range from stat boosting effects, magic to special skills that also use the MP gauge. The good thing is that if you have already allocated skill points to a class, you can easily get them all back for a set amount of gold coins.

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Dragon Quest XI has kept almost every traditional elements for which the series is known for, ranging from the church acting as the save point to the standard inns and weapon, armor vendors. Akira Toriyama also returns here to design the main characters while the main composer is Koichi Sugiyama. It is basically a game with a focus on its roots and what made it great so far but presents it with a new modern twist that is creative enough to bring in new fans but also retains the old ones. It has worked well for Dragon Quest XI and leads to setting a new benchmark on how to innovate and modernize a legacy series while not forgetting what made it great in the first place.

The combat system is an example of it since it is pretty old-school with a lot of tweaks that now make it work better. Your party gets limited to just 4 characters but you can easily swap them in and out of battles, and they also get equal experience points hence making it easier to decide between them. Enemies are no longer appearing randomly as you walk around, but instead, you can watch them move around the field and attack them to get a benefit at the start of each battle. You can also move using a variety of methods and don’t simply have to run long distance. On the world map, you will be able to call a horse that can also help you avoid most combat if you run fast enough with it, but in some dungeons or certain key locations, it is possible to find a mount that is basically a shinning enemy, that once defeated, gets unlocked for the player. There is a lot of different variety of mounts that you will find in the game, and some of them can also let you access hidden treasure or other secrets. Overall, this is a fun game to explore due to the different options that it offers. Even fast travel will get unlocked through a special spell so you don’t have to worry about backtracking through the same world map.

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The world map in Dragon Quest XI is huge. It is full of exciting content and secrets waiting to get discovered. You can reach it directly from a simple button press. I really liked the design of the world map and how effective it was in making me get to the next objective. There are items scattered around the world map known as shiny spots. You can simply use a toggle to see all the undiscovered shiny spots and this makes the journey a lot less tedious since instead of simply looking into every nook and cranny, you can easily go to the shiny spot with the world map in hand. I consider this a major lifesaver since as I have said before, the world in Dragon Quest XI is large enough that you will easily spend a lot of your time just exploring around randomly once you unlock more type of traversal options.

Monster design in this game is a delight to see. I loved many of the classic monsters that are from the previous mainline games and while there are not many new ones, and you will fight through plenty of reskins of each monster design, the game still offers a little under 400 monsters for you to hunt. There is a neat little bestiary that will let you keep track of each monster that you have slain in the game. It is always satisfying to stumble into a new species of monster and not to forget the rare metal slimes and their king variants that will basically shower you party in experience points making it easier to level up for your party members.

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There is a lot of side content to dip your toes in, even the casino makes a return here. Don’t forget to keep your money spending under limit since it can get addicting. Side quests are mostly simple but they always offer an interesting backstory. The game does a good job at letting you know if a particular person is offering a side quest by showing them on the map, hence saving you the hassle of talking to everyone. There are also mini-games that pop out occasionally and offer a nice distraction from the main story. If you get stuck, talking to the party member can usually help you get an idea of the next story goal, and there is a nice summary each time you load your game that gives you a rundown of the events so far.

Equipment forging is a side activity but I consider it a very important part of the core game experience. If you can get recipes that help you craft a better type of weapon or armor, this can help you get access to better equipment early in the game without having to spend much money. It plays out as a mini-game with the outcome often determined randomly by carefully bashing each side of a diagram. The shiny spots that you find on the map are essential to this forging activity because each recipe has a certain material requirement that is found in these shiny spots. It is another form of collectibles with a reward tied to them.

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Dragon Quest XI is everything that I expected from a current-generation JRPG. It places a strong emphasis on story and character development making it a pleasant experience overall. Even if you end the main story, there is still a lot more to see and we are talking about 70 to 100 hours of just the main campaign. The new addition for the Western release of Dragon Quest XI is a hard mode called Draconian Quest. It is unlocked from the start and you can go through the story again with this mode which adds a stronger variety of enemies aside from the changes focusing on making it more difficult like getting fewer experience points. Among other tweaks for the Western release, improvements to the UI makes navigating the items and equipment easier thus making it less confusing to keep track of the inventory.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Review (PS4)
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Game Reviewed on: PS4

Game description: DRAGON QUEST® XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age™ follows the perilous journey of a hunted Hero who must uncover the mystery of his fate with the aid of a charismatic cast of supporting characters.

Summary

Dragon Quest series hit its peak with Dragon Quest XI offering one of the most engaging stories in a JRPG full of unforgettable characters and a turn-based combat system that can tailor to your experience. This is a classic JRPG that is worthy of being considered one of the best games released this generation.

10/10

Khurram Imtiaz

Editor-in-Chief at GearNuke. When I am not posting news, I can be seen sharing my thoughts over at Twitter.

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