I’ve never actually played a real genuine Dragon Quest game until now; I’ve always avoided it because it’s taken me until the last few years to finally be able to come to terms with Toriyama’s art beyond his women who I’ve always thought were enjoyable, plus until recently it always looked kind of bad in video game form to me even compared to the already mostly terrible version of his art in various manga and anime. It wasn’t until Dragon Quest Builders that I actually played something from the franchise even if it was just a spin-off, and I fell absolutely in love with that game to the point it was pretty much my runner-up for GOTY in 2016 with only FFXV stealing the spot. That game got me interested in the series, but then I learned there are basically no games on real consoles, just a bunch of JRPGs on handhelds which I’m not a big fan of for a billion reasons – P4G being a very obvious exception. Then, when DQXI got announced to be on PS4, my hopes of finally playing a real one were rekindled. During the wait I played DQ Heroes 2 as well, which was actually quite fun and surprisingly not at all a Musou game the way people made it seem like it was – very different, in fact, and very story focused. It gave me an even deeper look at the tropes, cliches, traditionalism, and overall feel of the writing these games are famous for even while being an action-game spin-off. It made me even more excited to play a “real” one, and now I finally have.
DQXI seems even to someone in my situation to be an absolutely perfect homage to everything Dragon Quest is known and loved for…perhaps to a fault.
Story wise it doesn’t disappoint, it’s not something crazy (not usually at least) but it does go to some really dark places I never expected or at least not to the level they happen and how much of an actual effect they have on the world and it’s people. It’s also just simple in a really fun way especially during the first half which is pretty much just “gather party members and stop the big bad because you are the good guy”.
The voice acting is really well done, fitting, and charming – if i was Japanese and had their version which has NO voice work at all I’d reverse import this game if I had the English knowledge to enjoy the puns and other effort put into all the localization. I’ve seen complaints about Erik’s voice but I actually liked it, it was weird; to paraphrase Jeff Gerstmann, he sounds like a British actor who has spent too much time trying to work in Los Angeles and forgot his real accent. Oddly enough they found someone else who sounded just like him but as a female. My favorite of the main cast’s voices would probably be Veronica’s because she’s got a great bitchy complainy sound to her all the fucking time and whenever I’d hear it coming out of a little girl’s head popping out of a fat cat’s body it was hilarious (it also made me keep her in that for a very long time).
Visually the game is beautiful. The character designs are interesting and good, the women are really goddamn cute, and the monsters are all creative and adorable…even though they’re all the same DQ monsters as they always were, they look really good here. Most stunning though is definitely the world itself, I noticed it throughout but the big moment for me of realizing how gorgeous this game’s world was came when I first landed at Zwaardsrust – the colors were so incredibly vibrant and the world looked so alive with an amazing clash of ready to harvest wheat patched throughout a very green grassy hilly area. However, I will say due to Toriyama’s style this does look more cartoon than anime overall – it’s not a bad thing but it adds to many other issues that make it hard to be emotionally invested and take it seriously.
I heard a lot of complaints about the music and that it’s still the midi but I actually loved it – and it’s not because of being “new” to me as it’s also literally the exact same files that were used in Builders and Heroes as well, but it’s all REALLY WELL DONE and used to great effect. However, it does kind of suck that they are limited by the fact they are only using these ancient tunes at this point; there are no area themes, city themes, character themes, or any sort of special insert songs. It loses something thanks to that, but NOT because of being the old music, because it sounds great and aside 80 hours of the same fight music it never got old – it’s just that this isn’t the NES and every town, area, character, and many boss fights should have their own specific track these days to add to them. Imagine Zesteria/Berseria without Zaveid’s goddamn amazing theme, it really would take a lot away from his moments in the games if it just played the generic background music of every area in the game and that’s kind of what you get in this game, in fact the moments his tune would start playing just before he showed up were some of my most favorite and memorable experiences with that game and always made me look forward to it coming on again because I knew my dude was showing up the moment it started. The bosses too, as I mentioned, really lack any memorable, well, anything – for one they’re all pretty forgettable to begin with but that’s another thing entirely, but the music for them is all the same generic boss music. Imagine Xenosaga without it’s amazingly crafted pieces for almost every main story boss encounter. It not only would impact the emotion and power of those fights, but it would make those moments a lot less memorable. I JUST beat DQ11 and I don’t remember almost any boss, including the one just before the “final” credits because there is nothing done to make anything ‘stick’ in this game. The point is you lose a LOT from not building an OST around aspects of the game, and so this aspect of the tradition does hold back a lot of potential for EVERY aspect of the game.
I do have some bigger issues too, but they’re a little hard to really explain how I feel about. These aren’t things that “ruin the game” or even truly damage it in any big way, just things that could have been done better, maybe should have not been done at all, or that are perfect for what this game is yet hamper it in a way that makes it not able to compete with it’s competition properly.
Let’s get some smaller other things out of the way first. Side quests – there are 47 in total (the second half unlocks after the big mid-game twist…actually there are more than 47 that unlock even later on, oops) and most are totally fine and typically just fetch quests or ones to craft certain weapons. However, a handful are these really fucking shitty ones focused around using a specific Pep Power on a specific enemy type. You have no control over when your pep pops and most of these require 3 of the 4 characters in the party to BE pepped up to do them, so you’re stuck just grinding on the same enemy 3000 times in hopes that by pure RNG luck the three people you need to have pepped up are pepped up and that nothing else fights you by mistake while pepped up or else you risk losing the pep on any one of them. I did one of these quests, the first one you get, and it took literally like an hour to finally get it to happen. It might be the worst possible idea for side quests they could have managed to think up, it’s pure chance – and not a chance with a high probability. I simply wanted to do all the quests and couldn’t, which is upsetting, but at the very least be aware you CAN get the PSN trophy without doing any of the pep ones at least.
Another smaller issue, though more forced on you, would be the boss fights in the second half. I’m far from underleveled to the point that almost all enemies ! and run from me if they spot me even in new zones, but every boss during this portion of the game has 3 billion HP, 5 turns in a row half the time, and all their attacks are either AOE or fucking status effects that you can’t defend against even if you have leveled up accessories specifically to help block against them because they don’t fucking do anything anyway and you end up with your entire party dancing, beguiled, turned to gold, not able to use magic, etc for the entire fucking fight and some of those you have no way of stopping as no item or skill exists to undo them. Even if you survive and win it’s still just not fun.
Now, one of the largest and most noticeable problems is definitely the cast. While the second half certainly develops them further, the truth is thanks to “tradition” even then they still don’t do great with it and/or drop that development moments later when they return to mutes. When you first meet them they’ll talk a bit but once you finish their short story part they practically stop existing outside of combat. I think this is partially due to the game originally having no voice acting which is ALSO a major issue that comes about from this misguided attempt at continuing tradition in an overly severe way. JRPGs these days are all about the characters and world being really fleshed out and made to be believable and whole as people and places, not only a change brought on by different times but also the advent of newer technology, more space, and more ways of expressing elements important to doing all of that. It’s hard to care about any of them when they all have their only lines packed in at the one part where you meet and befriend them, then they just go fucking silent the next 60 hours or say one or two things every 10 hours with the exception of a few scenes during their 2nd half story bit.
The only noticeable exception really is the only hidden party-member (hidden as in not told to you upfront, I won’t spoil who it is – though I was very pleased by the surprise) who not only has a lot more personality and character than the rest of the cast, but is continually prevalent throughout all cutscenes the entire rest of the game once they join the hero on his quest. This person is probably the most fitting of a JRPG both in how relevant they stay even when they aren’t directly related to something and also in how their personality is a great mix of serious and ANIME instead of just slightly lighthearted like the rest of them can be, to the point that there are even multiple Pep Powers that involve super over the top jokes involving them and a few scenes of them freaking out over dumb shit like porn. They’re probably the best character in the game for the simple fact that they are the most full OF character.
Aside that one though, everyone really is lacking – even the MC is a serious issue, maybe the worst of all of them, because he’s just nothing. Not a blank slate, but an absolute nothing of a person. He doesn’t even have any sort of emotion shown on his face 90% of the time no matter what is happening and he doesn’t even have enough to him to claim he’s a self insert. He is an absolute nothing and that never changes at any point. Not only does that leave him a bland unlikable thing, it ruins the immersion for the player. To enjoy a role playing game there has to be a character – a ROLE to PLAY – even if he’s a self insert you make that self…here he is forced to be nothing the entire time, as the audience you have no way to really put yourself in his shoes or in your own shoes in his world.
He is TOO empty so it leaves you with this really disappointing disconnect from the world and story taking place in it – you are always well aware that you are playing a video game, you never can get lost in it and see him or the rest of the cast as anything but characters in a game.
The party also doesn’t even truly have any motivations for what they are doing with the exception of the twins whose entire backstory is “we were told we were supposed to find and protect the Luminary so we are” which is almost as compelling as the MC’s own “I am the hero because I am the hero so I will do the hero things”. There is nothing pushing these people forward or even making them work together at any point aside from Rab and Jade at least having excuses to stick by your side, and even they suffer the same lack-of-screen-time issue as the rest.
That isn’t to say I didn’t LIKE the cast, it’s almost the opposite – I wish they were more developed and had more interactions with each other and the story because I DID like them. It’s even worse when their backstory chapters in the second half are actually pretty good, the ones for the MC and Erik really stood out to me and honestly the MC’s was one of the best parts of the game even though it’s almost all about the past when he was just a baby. Then you’ve got the opposite – easily the absolute worst thing in the entire game, the way Sylvando turns from a suave pretty flamboyant guy to mega-faggot out of nowhere after the mid-game twist. I’m not even exaggerating, he LITERALLY ACTUALLY has a gay pride parade with him now who are all the most insanely gay fucking people possible to the point that I’m sure SJWs will be angered when they see it but ALSO to the point it was actually genuinely uncomfortable the whole time because it was just SO fucking gay yet not even comedic about it. Not “lol that’s gay” but actually just this complete display of immense homosexuality with feathers shoved up their assholes that they wag around with their limp wrists and their super stereotypical faggy talking and lisps. It was fucking terrible and Sylvando was the worst of all, especially because he was never like that before and this jumped from how he was to like 1000 times worse. It felt like an even more exaggerated change than Lando was in Solo.
The game is somehow too focused on just the main story rather than those involved in it and what it means beyond BEING the main story. I loved the way it had town-based storylines going throughout, but it’s a bad sign when I care more about those than the MAIN FUCKING CAST. My favorite character is a little girl who lost her “da-ddyyyy” who exists for like 30 minutes early on in faux-Japan pretty much just cuz she was adorable and also all the buff masked guys because they’re great, not any member of the party or anyone involved more heavily in the main story because none of them have personality yet the side nobodies DO. One of my biggest concerns was whether or not Gemma and my dog died because one is a dog and the other had a cute voice and whether they were killed or not was left very ambiguous, yet if Erik or Rab died I really wouldn’t give much of a shit beyond an immediate “oh shit” which would wear off 3 minutes later when some little girl tells you about their gruesome death in haiku format while next to a slime going “I’M FEELING GOO-REAT TODAY (SLURP)!”
While everything works perfectly for this game and it is very consistent and doesn’t get in the way of making you care (in general, even if not deeply) or feel something about the events unfolding, the fact is this IS Dragon Quest. It’s a game full of charm, puns, quirky everything, a massive amount of adorable enemy designs – and maybe its biggest personal enemy, the fact it IS so covered in tradition.
It is impossible for it to achieve the same emotional investment and impact, let alone the immersion level, of almost any of it’s competition in the modern era or really with any classics since the PS1 era. That doesn’t make the game itself any less fantastic, but it does make that “fantastic” mean something different than when I say Tales of Berseria or SO2 or even Atelier games are fantastic. It’s a whimsical, cute, all-ages, family-friendly fantastic that you might hear someone say about a Pixar or Ghibli film, not a Final Fantasy 7 or Xenosaga fantastic. That isn’t to say there aren’t really surprising and often sad or screwed up situations, it’s just that they don’t carry as much weight to them as they could.
For the best and most direct example right from the game; when the biggest and most fucked up thing in the game happens it is presented to you by a mermaid who rhymes every single sentence she says while you are a funny-looking fat fish with big anime eyes staring at her the whole time. It’s hard to take the death of millions in an apocalypse seriously in that situation beyond “oh that’s pretty messed up but also I look fucking hilarious…and did that last line actually rhyme?”, and that kind of applies to everything in the game. No matter how screwed up, dark, sad, or even with positive emotions it simply didn’t have much impact because it feels like a cheeky cute little cartoon even during the serious stuff from actual canonical suicides (though as mentioned before, I was able to care about that at least thanks to it being a town story and thus more well developed than the main cast) and genocide to romantic aspects which barely existed anyway.
Dragon Quest XI is an absolutely charming and very fun game that does an amazing job at bringing you back to an older era of the genre – not just if you’re a fan of DQ or even JRPGs, even to the point of being very accessible through pure nostalgia for people who don’t usually play this type of thing. It’s gorgeous looking, it’s got a very well made classic turn-based combat system, it has a nice sense of adventure, the music, sound design, and character designs are all wonderful, and the story is actually really intriguing for being so simple and in many ways by-the-book. Yet how I really totally feel about it is so hard to really put into words – I did love my time with this game, and I definitely recommend it without hesitation as it is a fantastic game, but there are so many things that keep it from being what it really should be when I say those things. Again, when I say this game is fantastic, I’m not saying fantastic in the same way I do with most of it’s competition and that’s kind of disappointing.
This is a game aimed at children and middle aged men who want to remind themselves of when they were children, it’s the main reason DQ ever got so popular and still remains such a staple of Japanese culture to the point that even nowadays on release days stores are backed up with students skipping school and salary-men abandoning their job. That doesn’t make it bad at all, but that fact kind of oozes out of this game at all times and gets in the way of emotion, immersion, and any strong personal attachment to anyone or anything in it. There is no “You guys are the best” moment a la FFXV, it’s just not that type of game, and that really makes it lack something I feel is maybe the most important for this genre to me personally. Not necessarily being dark or edgy or serious or sad, but making you feel real and meaningful emotion – even the most lighthearted of Atelier games pull it off. It’s not about grimdark and death, it’s about the bond between the player and this world and the people within it. This lacks that bond near entirely.
That isn’t to say there’s NO emotional moments, there’s one that actually really stands out as very well done and planned out so well from the very start of the game and built into the history and lore of the world in a cool way, and there are several small ones along the way too.
Yet, I absolutely loved DQXI anyway and was compelled to play it near constantly and non-stop since it came out until I completed it – going anywhere from 5 to 14 hours a day and enjoying pretty much every minute with it and its story. I’m very happy I finally got to experience a real Dragon Quest and I don’t think I would feel that positive about it if it wasn’t this specific one, though I do plan to play any further ones released on real consoles as well. This is an excellent game that you shouldn’t miss out on, just go into it understanding that it is what it is and that it’s not willing to break too far from tradition, though they do at least experiment some with subverting that tradition in pretty good ways from time to time.
Well, I was going to end around there, but just like the game has a false ending so too does this review – not because I wanted to be cheeky and do such a lame little joke, but because…really, that’s what happened. I was near the end of the game, wrote up almost the entire review aside proofreading, fleshing out some notes, adding the last whole bit based on how it felt overall/ended, adding images, etc and then credits rolled and it wasn’t the end at all. I wouldn’t spoil that but it kind of has a profound impact on the quality of the game because of how things go after you beat the main antagonist (again for a second time in this second half) this time…a new main antagonist shows up the same fucking night out of nowhere and the entire game becomes as hard as a bonus dungeon when this isn’t some optional epilogue it’s not “bonus content” this is how to actually see the real ending of the game, it’s mandatory. You literally have not beaten the game unless you beat this…and it kind of isn’t worth it. Also calling it NOT bonus content is really dishonest – while it isn’t, it certainly feels like it is a meaningless and poorly made DLC with practically no connection to the main story (and canonically doesn’t even take place in the same timeline).
The story had really good closure originally after you defeat the “final boss” after about 60-65 hours, then it continued and I was excited for an epilogue of going around and seeing my old friends in each town and checking in on Connie and Derk’s cute wife.
Then it turns into this pretty cool seeming if not pointless and kinda stupid twist that actually ends up making this a 3 part game rather than two halves – but it quickly leads to bad game design and story decisions. Once you do the twist and finish THAT story off it, again, has good closure – you (in kind of stupid fashion) encounter the same main boss again who does the same trick again and you kill him pretty easily because of the story around the situation at the time. You’ve now beaten the game 2 times. Then it says, no, actually this is a 3-ending game because after you defeat him about 10 minutes later of playing a new main antagonist appears out of nowhere for no reason. Again, I was fine with that because “oh, I get to play more DQXI!” and “oh this is actually still pretty cool” before IMMEDIATELY being fucking destroyed by the literal first monster I ran into once I left the castle to start this new storyline. I pushed through and found that the rest of the characters are given back their powers and levels (they were removed at first at this point in the game) and figured it’d be back to how it was and I could continue enjoying the story and game.
Nope. Instead you quickly realize the entire last portion of the game is in fact the extra bonus dungeon every JRPG has except now it’s the entire world itself and it’s required to see the game to its conclusion. Every enemy ranges from overly difficult final boss dungeon difficulty to straight up LITERALLY spamming insta-kill AOE spells every turn that work almost every fucking time on at least 2-3 of the party. You get a lot of busywork sidequests that include pep-based RNG again (and with the worst character having to be part of it) and even “hey go to these towns and read every fucking single book AGAIN to find this SPECIFIC book in each of them”, “hey we undid a decision you made even though it happened before this situation”, and “hey go redo a thing exactly how you did it before” type of quests.
The story was still interesting, but the moment you hit that wall with every enemy you encounter at that point in the game it just feels fucking terrible. It saps away almost all your motivation to even bother finishing and not just counting seeing the credits as beating it. It goes from being balanced (if a little weak) for a level 50 average party in the final dungeon and even against the true final boss to feeling like you’re 50 levels under what you should be even to fight random monsters in open fields.
On top of that, while I say the story was still interesting…it was also completely fucking irrelevant. This whole part of the game is nothing but a lot of reveals of things all you can really feel towards is “who cares?” and “why are you even bothering to explain this?” and “why didn’t they mention this in the real game if they wanted me to care?”. It’s a meaningless bunch of overly difficult bullshit to tell you a story that has no connection to the last 70 hours of the game you just played. The only positives from what I’m told are that it apparently connects this into the first 3 DQ games directly which might be cool if you’re a long time fan, but you can just watch that on Youtube if you care that much.
I’d love to say “it’s worth it” to push through this terrible end-game but it just fucking isn’t. It’s extremely boring, a total slog, it rehashes all the zones you’ve been to without adding a single new one to be as lazy as fucking possible (enemies included, even the bosses), and ends up with THE GAME LITERALLY SPELLING OUT FOR YOU THAT YOU SHOULD GRIND FOR DAYS. Multiple story NPCs now outright say “you should go out into the world and get stronger before continuing :^)”, rather PRITHEE PRAYETH THEE GO UNTO THINE WORLDE AND GATHER MORE EXPERIENCE AND LEVEL UP THINE CHARACTERS BEFORE THINE PROGRESSETH IN THINE GAME, and you basically are forced to because it’s so unbalanced and broken that they even knew it was enough to make story NPCs tell you to fucking grind.
Then you go through the extremely lazy “it’s the same dungeon BUT BACKWARDS!!!!” trials you’re forced to progress through and realize the final boss of that trial must be beaten in 25 turns or less or else you still lose (for some reason it doesn’t even cut off at 25 it just makes you keep going and then tells you nah you failed lol go grind btw). Not just once, but 3 times. It simply isn’t worth it especially because it’s absolutely the antithesis of fun for the entire endgame and is just brazen hour-padding to make the game seem longer.
You can “skip” most of the end game and aside a few doable parts then go directly to the main boss, but if you do you quickly find your entire party is wiped within it’s first 2-3 turns no matter what you do even if you HAVE completed all the trials and grinded for awhile while doing so yet you still will not be able to survive his normal base attack which does over 450 damage without even being critical, let alone the fact he has 3-5 moves per turn and uses them to do much more powerful things than just that. Honestly, I blame this on the “tradition” too – I’m not sure with DQ specifically, though in Heroes 2 it had the same problem – as old JRPGs always pulled shit like this with a final boss or final areas that were balanced to be impossible without you spending tens of hours grinding to beef up the playtime to market the game better.
I recommend playing the first 70 or so hours of Dragon Quest XI, getting the credits, going around to the towns after the credits to enjoy seeing how they’re all doing and then just stopping before you ever go to The Tower Of Time and kill everyone in the timeline to save one character who was fine with their death and that everyone already accepted the loss of (as well as break a bunch of canon events that happened well before when this end game takes place). You’ll miss out on some cool reveals and lore twists but you’ll also miss out on making yourself grow a disdain for the game and losing all interest in finishing it at all like I did. This was something I thought could fight it out for at least 3rd in my top 5 games of the year, but it really is gonna depend on if it’s acceptable to me to ignore the huge chunk of endgame that is complete shit and ruins the entire game especially given there is already a full closure ending before it.
So I guess I loved like 90% of this game at least and, luckily, you get the real ending to the relevant story during that so the last bit being so bad has little impact on the overall enjoyment, so I’m still really fucking pleased with this game even with how upset I am about the closing portion of it.