I’m about a dozen hours into Dragon Quest 11: Echoes of an Elusive Age and the smile has rarely left my face. Dragon Quest is one of the most resilient RPG franchises in video game history. The latest installment proves why it’s such a winning formula by embracing its classic roots while sprinkling in many welcoming improvements and features.
If you’re a newcomer to the series, Dragon Quest is a bit like Final Fantasy. It’s a classic 50+ hour Japanese RPG with each entry a standalone adventure (save DQ 10, which was an MMO).
The series has been around since the 1980s. Many classic RPG genre conventions and tropes can trace their roots back to those early games, including young protagonists, destroyed villages, character classes and skills, turn-based battles, and lots of side quests and dungeon crawls.
Dragon Quest 11 doesn’t try to change or alter that basic formula at all. You play as a silent, unnamed young orphan boy. You’ve grown up in a quaint village and upon coming of age, discover that you are the chosen one and set off on a heroic journey. I’ve checked off several major JRPG boxes right there. Yet DQ 11 doesn’t feel trite or tiresome. It embraces its tropes and character archetypes proudly and earnestly. It helps that the production values are the best of any Dragon Quest game to date, including full voice acting in all of the numerous cutscenes.
Akira Toriyama’s instantly recognizable character and monster art has been beloved for decades, and looks amazing when blown up in all its colorful, charming glory. Battle screens play out like an action-packed Saturday Morning Cartoon, yet still operate exactly like a classic turn-based console RPG. You can move your characters around just for funzies, which is a nice touch without altering the formula of attacking, casting spells, activating character-specific abilities, and engaging in souped up Pep Powers.
The Pep Powers are a new element in battle. Occasionally characters will enter a Pep state that grants increased stats for a few turns. If multiple characters get Pep’d, they can unleash awesome combo attacks with various effects. I do wish there was an actual visible bar or meter for how close Pep is to activating. But retaining Pep though multiple battles is a nice feature.
Crafting with the Fun-Size Forge is also new to the series, and it’s one of the better crafting minigames I’ve seen. Acquire recipes from quest rewards, chests, and bookshelves and gather materials from slain monsters to make new equipment. New weapons, items, and accessories must be hammered out on the forge by hitting target areas using different abilities. Hitting the right spots grants better stats on the crafted equipment. The more you craft, the more abilities and stamina you unlock, making the entire system very rewarding and satisfying.
Crafting can be done at any campsite out in the world, which is another fantastic addition. No longer do you have to huff it back to town (or use the handy Zoom spell) to rest up and save your game. In every field or area there’s a campsite with a merchant, a save point, and a forge. You can rest to heal up as well as change the time of day, which alters which monsters are in the field. And speaking of healing, simply opening the menu screen and pressing a single button will heal your entire party as efficiently as possible, using healing spells, then healing items, so you can jump right back into the action.
The story is still getting started, and I’ve only recently acquired the fourth party member. These are very long RPGs – in fact DQ 11 has the audacity to play the opening movie and title screen after a certain event several hours into the game. The early game is a bit slow and battles have been fairly simple, but the deeper I get the more satisfied I am with the world, characters, skill system, and combat.
Given the length I can’t yet comment on how well the whole thing holds together. But my early impressions leave me very impressed. I’m a relative late-comer to the series, having first played Dragon Quest 9 on the DS back in 2009, before enjoying the 3DS remakes of DQ 7 and DQ 8. Dragon Quest 11 is probably most similar to DQ 8, and I mean that with all the praise that entails as DQ 8 is widely considered the hallmark of the series.
Dragon Quest 11 may just be the best Dragon Quest game to date. Even if you don’t know your Metal Slimes from your Healing Slimes, RPG fans are in for a treat.
Dragon Quest 11: Echoes of an Elusive Age is rated T for Teen.