Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Review
There has been peace in the kingdoms of Erdrea for longer than people can count, but monsters are starting to become a more common sight again. Could this mean that the Darkness has reawoken?
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is the latest of the Dragon Quest video games to have been released by Square Enix. Japan saw the release first in July 2017, and was only released worldwide in September 2018 for Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows. Nintendo Switch will be receiving its very own version at a later date, which is unknown at the time of writing this review. This is the first time thst the Dragon Quest series has made its way to Steam on PC, and so far the game has received many highly positive reviews. The hype for the game has been high for long-time fans of the series, and as someone who is completely new to this series, I can understand why.
Light Among Us
Like I mentioned above, I have never played a Dragon Quest game in my life, and I was admittedly a bit skeptical at first. I was, however, very pleasantly surprised when I launched the game and was greeted by some absolutely gorgeous animated cinematics, being introduced to this weird and wonderful world. And without warning, tragedy strikes… The home kingdom of our protagonist gets invaded and destoyed by an army of monsters. The protagonist, who you get to name just before the game begins, is at this point still an infant, and manages to escape in a basket, thanks to the help of a young girl. The two get separated, unfortunately, and the protagonist ends up floating down a river in his basket. He is then found by an old man, named Chalky, from the village of Cobblestone. The protagonist gets adopted by Chalky’s daughter, Amber, and raised in the village. Many years pass and when we get to control our character, it is time for his coming of age ceremony, alongside his childhood friend; Gemma.
Along the way to the top of Cobblestone’s mountain, the two get attacked by monsters, and upon reaching the top, they are attacked by a large bird-like monster, leaving Gemma hanging off the edge. The protagonist, having a strange symbol on his hand from birth, notices the symbol glowing in his desperate attempt at fending off the beast and trying to save Gemma, and manages to summon lightning, which strikes the creature down, giving your character the chance the save Gemma. Not long after returning, Amber reveals the truth about your birth and adoption, and how Chalky found out that you are in fact the reincarnation of the legendary saviour of Erdrea, the Luminary, and instructs him to go meet the king of Heliodor to find out more. Unfortunately, you get thrown in the dungeon by order of the king by Sir Hendrik and Sir Jasper, under the accusation of being the Darkspawn, the one who attracts darkness into the world. It is here where you meet your first companion on your journey, Erik, and it is only truly here where your journey begins, because the only reason that the Luminary would need to return, is that the Lord of Shadows has also returned. It is up to you to foil his plans and save Erdrea!
Prison Break Adventure
After realising who you are, Erik, being astonished at the timing of your arrival, reveals he has just finished digging a tunnel to escape from the prison. You and Erik make your way through the underground catacombs to escape from the prison, not without resistance from the Prison Guard, and a dragon that has decided to make the underground caverns its home. With a leap of faith, you and Erik manage to escape, and are once again able to traverse the lands of Erdrea. I must mention that the developers did a great job in the design of the environments. Running around the semi-open world is a treat in itself, as the visuals are amazing to look at. The game features a day-night cycle within the game as well, which allows for certain monsters to appear at specific times during the day, specifically at night, although the monsters are far stronger during the night than during the day. There are no random encounters. Monsters are minding their own business around in the area, and you can choose to run at them to start an encounter, or simply run past them to continue on to your destination. You also get the option to do a “pre-emptive strike” on the monster before you start the encounter. This deals a small amount of damage to them before the fight begins, which helps to defeat them in the long run. There is no benefit to starting an encounter without a pre-emptive strike, so give that goblin a good strategic smack above its head before you wollop them!
When you start your first encounter, you will notice that the combat is turn-based, which is true to the usual formula that many JRPGs follow. However, if you aren’t in the mood to manage everybody’s Attacks and Spells yourself, then you are also able to set specific modes for the characters in your party to comply with. When characters join your party, they start off with “Fight Wisely” by default, which means they won’t be wasteful with MP usage and will keep an eye on party members HP if they are able to use healing items or spells. You can even set the protagonist to do this, which is exceptionally helpful when you need to grind XP for levels. All you have to do is run up to a monster, slash, and the group will do the rest (just make sure there is a healer in your group). You are able to change this setting either mid-battle, or in the overworld. There are other settings too, like one that prioritise healing, and another allows everybody to let loose and focus on damage, even at the cost of MP. Fortunately, you can buy or pick up items in the overworld that will replenish MP. Unfortunately, you have to make sure that every character has the item within their own inventory. There is no “universal inventory”, which can be quite a nuisance.
The overworld is filled with opportunities to loot great items, as well as very common items. Just look out for a sparkle in certain locations and stand a chance to loot an item. Other, more rare, items will be found within a red chest, and they are also found in the overworld or dungeons. But be careful, you might end up caught in a trap, because some chests are monsters as well. These monsters are really tough, but they reward a decent amount of XP. Many times, these items are the same across every playthrough, giving you a chance to find out where to find certain items that will be used when crafting. Yes, there is even a crafting system of sorts in this game, with a portable forge called a “Fun-Size Forge”. It’s not overly complicated, and can be fun when you have the materials required to craft. The real trouble comes in when you need to find the materials, because it’s not always clear where you will be able to find specific materials. Once you have the items needed, you’ll play a mini-game where you need to magically meld the materials together and “temper” it into the item needed by hammering specific spots until meters fill up to a green zone. There is a specific sweet spot within this green zone that will apply a bonus to the item. Once you’ve finished forging the item, you will receive perfectionist pearls which can be used to rework an item and add those bonuses to the item. The max bonus an item can receive is a +3 rating, which gives a nice boost to the existing stats of the item. It’s definitely worth the effort.
A World Awaits
It wouldn’t be an RPG without a leveling system. Dragon Quest XI’s leveling system is an odd one to get around, mainly because of how constantly uncertain you are of how far your progress is before the next level-up. The monsters you attack will reward XP, some more than others, but there is no XP Bar indicating the progress of each of the characters. The only way to find out how far your characters are, is to visit campsites or churches where the Angel statue or Priest/Nun will be able to “Divinate” how much XP you require to level up. When you level up, you get awarded ability points that you will be able to spend on Skills to unlock abilities to strengthen your characters during battle. The amount of XP you need increases the higher level you are. Fortunately, the monsters you take on give more and more XP as you go as well, though at times it felt like it was taking forever, because the “required amount” had shot up by an exponential number. In order to gain the most XP, you need to encounter rare monsters called “Metal Slimes”. Even though they have very low health, these buggers are slippery, not just in their name, but also in how quick they run away after you’ve started an encounter, so I would recommend upgrading your abilities or getting items that will ensure you hit them. Bear in mind, no matter how strong your character is, somehow, an attack will either miss, or only lower the enemy’s HP by 1 point. It will take about 3 or so hits, so all I will say is, good luck!
Beyond the fighting and item gathering and leveling up, the story is genuinely enjoyable. After the events of the castle, you are thrown entirely off course and have to progress through the world and story from the bottom to the top. Along the way you will meet more of your companions and spend some time in the various cities taking part in events that will reward you information on the next step you need to take in your quest. It’s a slow progression to the main goal, but a lot happens during these moments. You’ll get to learn more about the world of Erdrea and various peoples within it, the cultures, the quirks or various NPCs, take part in tragedies as well as many comedies. The best part for me was progressing through the story and learning more about my companions. Some strengths and quirks are more obvious than others, like yourself for example, a majorly silent protagonist who only “speaks” when the game prompts for you to answer someone, and even then it’s as though your character telepathically gave the information to the person you are “speaking” to. Not once does your character speak a single word, unfortunately.
My favourite companions have to be Erik, Jade, and Rab. Only 4 members of the party are able to take part in a battle at a time, as well as a guest (who you have no control over, and is immortal somehow) but you can swap out a companion during battle at any point, including your own character. Lastly, without spoiling too much of the story, I need to mention that there is more game to be played after the credits. This section of the game is just as important as the events that take place prior to the credits, so I would recommend sticking with this game for a while longer. You won’t be disappointed. There is a lot to do in this game, and well over 80 hours worth of gameplay to enjoy, so get ready to become part of a whole new world for a while.
Dragon Quest XI is a fun and quirky JRPG filled with moments of joy, tragedy, comedy, fantasy, and more. There are a couple of irritations, such as the inventory and leveling systems, but you manage to work your way around them. The story is captivating, and coupling that with beautiful graphics makes it all the more better. Admittedly, the music felt a bit repetitive and ridiculous at some points, especially when roaming around the overworld between kingdoms. There is one dedicated track for all of the areas outside towns and kingdoms, and it gets old fast. All of the game mechanics still complement each other well, especially during combat. You are able to run around during combat, but it’s only for cosmetic reasons, it doesn’t increase your chances of dodging any attacks. All the characters are unique and fun, even ridiculous in their own way, and makes the adventure to the World Tree a lot of fun. Square Enix has given us another great game with a great story and loads of it to explore with over 80 hours of gameplay available. You can get your own copy for PC on Steam for R799.00 and on PSN for R929.00. Sorry XBox, you’ll be missing out on this title.