Those already familiar with Dragon Quest XI S would be nodding, big grin on their face, when I write that this is not only one of the best JRPGs to arrive in years, but the single best entry in a legendary series that has spanned decades. That in itself is quite the feat, seeing as Dragon Quest the series has been around since the 80’s, always keeping its own eccentric throughlines but managing to evolve significantly with each chapter.
It has now been ported to the Nintendo Switch as Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition, and is absolutely necessary for any fans of RPGs. Following the PS4 and PC version last year, the port was to be expected given the Switch seems made for long-form games like this, where pick-up-and-play-anywhere completely matches the addiction that comes with being sucked into such a rich, genuinely emotional story.
Given the Switch’s portability, this version of Dragon Quest now allows for a more manageable, careful play style that completely works with the exhaustion of such an epic game. The story, meandering at times but surprisingly consistent for something of this scale, is so that players (with busier lives) will inevitably take long breaks between play, and for a JPRG this sometimes can completely break the immersion, as they struggle to remember plot points and figure out what to do next.
Yes, there’s a very welcome feature that kindly recaps the storyline for you so you aren’t left in the lurch, but the Switch also means it’s easier to avoid not playing Dragon Quest for weeks on end.
Warp the World
More substantive gameplay changes are packed into this version as well. Most notably, you can now choose to play through with (truly flat) SNES-style 2D 16-bit graphics for the nostalgia-fiends out there. You’ll get the frustrating random encounters going, but it’s a nice addition that can be toggled between save points. Some side quests will even require you to flip between the two graphical worlds, and while there’s no dynamic relationship, as say Super Paper Mario, it’s a good way to switch up the smaller, alternative quests that can feel a bit derivative at times.
Though the game is built to 3D your way through this expansive world and its distinct landscapes, Square Enix have done an excellent job in planning the overworld for 2D so that it still feels as rich, bountiful and diverse despite its limited retro style.
The excellent Draconian Quest options are now expanded to include some really wacky options, such as having NPCs lie to you frequently. Along with the standard “make the game harder please” options like buffing monsters, eliminating overworld money, and no XP (it hurts), these up the excitement for those who have already barrelled through the story.
A few additional tweaks include an easier crafting system (you can actually buy necessary materials now) and the option to have Japanese voice acting in the game’s enriched (and often meaningful) cutscenes. Dragon Quest XI heavily nods to its Japanese roots (I’m particularly found of the spa town fairly early in the story), so seeing this in a series so often confused by its clash of East and West is incredibly rewarding for those who have stuck with this series across decades.
The Chosen One
Other than those enhancements, both significant and playful, this Dragon Quest is very much the same that went on to become one of the best reviewed titles of 2018. Even though I wish they gave the protagonist more of a personality earlier in the game, you’re hero is a rather empty shell who discovers, through a marking on his hand, that he is the “Luminary” – a typical chosen one narrative, that smartly evolves through deeper, compelling characters that enliven this world and really hook the player in.
Although the script is a slow-burn, and it does take awhile before you fully give yourself over to the incredible job these writers have done. This is around about the same point some new side stories become noticeable, representing some thoughtful changes that make the overall arc feel that much more rewarding.
Those who are impatient and generally dislike classic turn-based JRPGs might be won over by the story, but they’d need to give this game a fighting chance for a solid 10 hours or so. Anyone not willing to do that should look elsewhere, but anyone who is a fan of the JRPG genre would be an absolute fool (absolute) to pass this one up.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Enriched story; simply the best Dragon Quest may ever get; beautifully designed and thought out changes to the original; meaningful character developments; fun skill tree; thoughtful 2D mode.
Lowlights: Requires a lot of patience at the start of the game; the hero lacks personality to begin with; ‘chosen one’ story can feel too cliché at times; side quests are often dull.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Review based on code provided by Nintendo