Dragon Quest XI Proves That Traditional JRPG Experiences Still Work in the Modern Era

by Bryan Clutter
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Dragon Quest as a franchise will undoubtedly always hold a special place in my heart. As we discussed on a fairly recent episode of BGMania, our video game music podcast, Dragon Warrior on the NES was my first introduction to the world of Japanese Roleplaying Games, and I’ve been hooked on them like phonics ever since. After the first four games in the franchise, my next foray into this grand adventure of games wouldn’t be until Dragon Quest VIII on the PlayStation 2, which still to this day is one of my favorite games of all time. I talked extensively this past week on the Max Level Podcast about my recent adventures in Dragon Quest XI S on the Nintendo Switch, and I feel like I can honestly say that this one rivals DQ8 in almost every way. I’ve been enthralled with the grand sense of adventure, and even having put over 40 hours into the PlayStation 4 version before stopping when I found out the Switch version was going to include an immense amount of extra content, nothing has felt like a chore, and I’ve enjoyed every single second I’ve spent in the world of Erdrea.

For those unfamiliar, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition is an enhanced version of the release that we saw on the PlayStation 4. It not only includes the full 2D version of the game that was present on the Nintendo 3DS version of the game over in Japan, but it also adds several new main story elements between Acts 1 and 2, as well as several new side missions and things to do in the 2D world that ties DQXI into all of the previous Dragon Quest releases. You play as the Luminary, a hero that gets reborn time and time again when an evil darkness needs vanquishing. While there are several people who pledge their loyalty to you and want to help you succeed in bringing peace back to the world, not everyone is thrilled that the Luminary once again lives. What unfolds over this 100+ hour epic tale is a deeply satisfying experience that is rooted so far into traditional JRPG mechanics that I feel comfortable saying this is one of my top games in the genre when it comes to the classic experience these types of games used to provide back in the golden age.

The development team handled everything about Echoes of an Elusive Age with a precision and care unseen and unheard of in the modern era of the genre. Side missions, though not overly abundant in their amount, actually led to more plot development for many of the main cast of characters. And they were actually fun to do! Sure, some of them may have had “fetch-quest mechanics” which often get looked down upon, but a good chunk of what was offered actually had purpose and meaning. The same can be said about the main story you follow over several acts. It was a beautifully put together experience that anyone who has ever enjoyed a JRPG would most definitely cherish as much as I have.

Dragon Quest XI does a nice enough job wrapping up some of the main plot elements you come across throughout Act 1 and Act 2, but the ending you’re seeing here isn’t really an ending. Yes, the credits are rolling. Yes, the game feels like it’s over. Square Enix and the development team painted what happens after the credits as “post-game content”, but it’s anything but. In fact, there’s an entire third act that is most certainly required to fully appreciate and understand the depth and lengths that the team has gone through to not only tie this release into every other Dragon Quest that came before it, but also… there’s another villain entirely that’s been lurking in the shadows we haven’t even seen yet.

The game actually shares a glimpse of this near the end of the second Act, and it’s glossed over so quickly that many people may have been left scratching their heads to what it meant. We don’t get to fully realize the severity and impact that small little cutscene would have on the overall development of the story until well into the third act. Trust me, everything is worth sticking around for. Yes, you’re going to have to re-level your party back up because why wouldn’t they force you to do that. But in the end, the overall experience is why you most likely are going to purchase or already have purchased a Dragon Quest game. Even though I’ve dived into somewhat spoiler territory in this editorial, I’m taking proper care in the words I’m using and what I’ve generally said. If you’ve not played the game yet and are reading this article, you can trust me when I say nothing has truly been spoiled for you.

The traditional JRPG experience is so alive and well right now with games like Dragon Quest XI and Persona 5 leading the charge. Action RPG’s are perfectly fine, and I’ll always play those when they release, but there’s something about feeling like you’re being whisked away to a time when gaming was relatively new, and the genre was trying to find its place in the sea of other giants. I felt elated and overjoyed with each passing moment that I spent in the world of Erdrea. Was it a perfect experience? Not by a long shot. But it’s a personal enjoyment level for me that I felt compelled to try and see as much of this game that was there in a time where I generally play through games as fast as humanly possible due to the line of work we’re in and because I’ve made 2020 the year to wipe my backlog clean before the next generation arrives this Holiday season.

And that has me more excited than ever. The next generation and what that could mean for the future of Dragon Quest. We know the team is hard at work on Dragon Quest XII, even though we won’t see it for quite some time. And I say this with the purest of intentions. Do not rush the game. Take as much time as needed. Years. Put the polish and shine on DQXII that DQXI had, and if it can recapture even the smallest amount of that whimsical nature this one had, fans of the traditional JRPG experience are going to be in good hands for years to come. And that, my friends, will always bring a smile to my face.

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