Square Enix has just released the Western version of the latest entry in the long-running Dragon Quest franchise, after having been released in Japan back in 2017. Its full title, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, couldn’t have been chosen better. Here’s our look at the PS4 version – there’s a PC version coming out this week as well, followed by a Switch version at a later date.
I often like to compare the Dragon Quest series (that started out as Dragon Warrior in the US) with the Final Fantasy series. Both have already gone beyond a tenth game in the series and like to use Roman numerals to illustrate this (Final Fantasy currently sits at XV). They’ve also very recently dabbled in the MMO genre (Final Fantasy XIV and Dragon Quest X), and both series arguably entered into the mainstream domain during the PS2 era. And yes, while Final Fantasy has gotten more “Western” over the years, Dragon Quest is firmly rooted in its JRPG origins. Dragon Quest XI is no departure, no doubt to the delight of many fans.
Despite being the eleventh entry in the series, Dragon Quest XI is very friendly towards newcomers in terms of both the story and the gameplay. That’s probably a good thing, because the last proper console release was back in 2005 with Dragon Quest VIII (IX was a DS exclusive, X an MMO). Plenty of today’s gamers will have never played it, or will have forgotten about its plot by now – no matter how good it was. So yeah, “Echoes of an Elusive Age” indeed….
In Dragon Quest XI, the subtitle actually points to the core plot, which revolves around the hero learning that he’s descended/reincarnated from a legendary hero from a long forgotten time. You’ll meet plenty of friends and companions along the way, but not everyone’s ready to welcome this new hero with open arms – and thus an epic tale filled with mystery and wonder begins to unfold. I won’t go into any details here as it would partly ruin the narrative experience, but will say I thoroughly enjoyed the renewed focus on a strong narrative – something I never quite connected with in Dragon Quest X.
I’m probably biased because I was never too thrilled about Dragon Quest heading down the MMO route, but XI isn’t just a better narrative fit with the rest of the franchise. You still have your turn-based confrontations, the ability to recruit teammates and level them up and a plethora of weapons to use. There’s also that typical Dragon Quest vibe to the story and tone, as well as the usual wacky enemy designs (including the slimes!) and epic music tracks. In fact, Echoes of an Elusive Age more or less picks up where VIII left off, as a classic entry in the franchise that’ll be remembered even after we move on from the PS4.
As you progress through the story (which will take you well over 40 hours to complete, even when rushing), you’ll unlock more and more of the game world, stumbling across towns and campgrounds. You’re not restricted to trading posts and blacksmiths in towns either, as you can upgrade/craft weapons at these campgrounds as well – it’s done through one of many minigames in Dragon Quest XI.
Traversing the game world and engaging in battle can take up quite a bit of time, but you have the ability to fast travel using horses and run past enemies to avoid a battle if you so choose. I’d recommend against fast traveling across the map for a while though, as exploring the map yourself isn’t that much slower and you might happen across a secret area or two when you do it that way. This isn’t really a worry when it comes to side quests though, as the game does a good job of signposting these both on the map and in conversations. There’s an incredible wealth of content here if you count all the minigames and side quests, and I could see a playthrough where you go after them all lasting anywhere up to twice as long.
When I first saw screenshots for Dragon Quest XI, I wasn’t so sure about how it would look compared to other titles of this generation (such as Ni No Kuni 2). Turns out I was wrong to worry, as Dragon Quest XI is gorgeously drawn and animated, and brings an entire game world to life in an almost fairytale-like fashion. What helps in that regard is the wonderful dubbing work – with lip synching to match the English narrative.
If I had to fault Dragon Quest XI – Echoes of an Elusive Age for anything, it’d be the fact that it’s not overly ambitious in challenging or updated the tried and true game mechanics that made the franchise into what it is today. But since IX and X tried to do that and I like this one a lot better, it’s a “fault” that’s easy to forgive. As I mentioned before, this is an instant classic that will define Dragon Quest for the PS4 generation.