Dragon Quest XI Review
Over the past month or so we’ve been working through Dragon Quest XI, and have been publishing our thoughts over 5 chapters, detailing the story, game play, characters, and more. Today we put those all together and give this game the score it deserves! Check it out!
From the first few moments of climbing the Tor to the heart thumping escape from the dungeons and sewers of Heliodor Castle, the visuals in the first few hours of Dragon Quest 11 are top notch. Sure, there are times where you look at something and wish that more detail was present, but the game’s cartoony graphics work well with the story that is being told, and the vibrant colours more than make up for the lack of details in minor areas of the game. Things can become a big bland if you wonder way off course in the open world rural environments, but major city centres more than make up for that.
When walking around the city of Heliodor, I was fascinated by the things I saw, and the exploration I was able to enjoy. So many buildings around town are detailed inside and out, and while most places only have a few jars or barrels to break, or a book to read, the developers still took plenty of time to craft interesting and varied environments. I entered a number of personal homes around Heliodor, and found them to be varied enough to feel different. Sure, the same dressers appear in each, and other furniture around the homes will look familiar as well, but the way the houses are laid out, and the colours used inside, still make each feel unique.
And I completely believe we shouldn’t fault Square Enix for asset reuse. Doing so in video games is incredibly common, and when you think that most open world RPG’s don’t allow you to visit almost every building in a city, what Square Enix has done here is incredibly impressive.
The colours used are what wow me the most, however. Everything is coloured perfectly to set the mood, and generally these colours are incredibly vibrant. When muddled textures and dank colours are required, Square Enix isn’t afraid to pull out the grey, brown and black brushes. But the use of colour is thoughtfully planned throughout. The most beautiful areas of Heliodor are colourful beyond belief, with deep rich blues, vibrant reds, and shimmering golds. The slums of city, however, are much drearier, cueing to the player that they are no longer walking with the rich, but rather walking amongst the poor.
Outstanding Voice Work
So much of Dragon Quest 11 is voice acted. I would have assumed the major characters you meet and who join your party would be voice acted, but I wasn’t prepared for how many other characters have received unique voices and characteristics. Sure, sometimes the choice of voices sounded a bit odd – and even more odd when people in the same village or town don’t speak the same, despite not being world travelers – but overall, anytime a character opens their mouth, I’m quite shocked at the quality.
Square Enix has always gone above and beyond to make sure their games are unique as possible, and their uniqueness isn’t good enough unless everything that surrounds it is top notch. I think that is an accurate picture of what we have here. Do these characters need to be voice acted? Likely not, but it definitely adds to the overall charm of the game, as well as the perceived value I’m getting while playing it. The development team could have easily sliced the voiced portions of the game in half, perhaps only focusing on the major plot points presented in in-game cinematic, or perhaps when something major happens. But not, they opted to do almost everything.
The good rule of thumb in Dragon Quest 11 is that if the quest or moment you are playing through is part of the main story, it most definitely will be voice acted, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of the narration and conversation. Usually in these types of games, I quickly read through the text and get past it all as soon as possible. Despite being text / speech and story heavy in the first few hours, I took my time listening to every conversation. If Square Enix was going to put the time into getting voice actors for all these characters, I was going to spend the time listening to what they had to say.
Typical Battle Sequences
One of the major advancements in Dragon Quest 11 could possibly be a precursor for what we will see in the next installment of the franchise. Players can either use traditional battle mechanics – where players are stationary on the playing field and actions are performed in order – or they can play with the new free roam mechanic, which allows players to move their hero around the battle arena with fluidity.
I’ve stuck with the traditional mechanics, but only because free roam doesn’t actually do anything extra. I would have thought free roam would have allowed you to maneuver around the back of an enemy, and perhaps deal extra damage; sadly, it does not. Could I see this being a real thing in future Dragon Quest titles? I think based on what we’ve seen in Dragon Quest 11, that is a very real possibility.
Outside of major boss battles, I’ve elected to set all my other party members to auto. With 4 players on the field at one time, it’s definitely time consuming to perform all the actions for each specific character; instead, I opted to control my character, while letting the other three work as they see fit, only taking control in more tense fights were strategy definitely outweighed outright prowess.
When setting others to auto, there was an extra depth of customization that would allow you to set them to specific tactics. Perhaps you want one character to focus on healing, or another to focus on magic. Either way, the options given for battle sequences make it so they are easy enough to complete, yet still engaging and exciting.
And then there are PEP powers, which allows each player on the battlefield to get fired up in order to unleash a powerful, team attack. These aren’t as useful when crawling cross the games open fields, but when taking down larger, more challenging enemies, it definitely is something to be aware of. Getting everyone on the same page to pull of this move can be a bit of work, and when the timing doesn’t quite work out, it can be frustrating. But when it does work, the satisfaction is tremendous!
And this wouldn’t be a typical RPG without some great loot drops along the way, and Square Enix provides plenty of those. From crafting materials to weapons and armour, to consumables, you’ll often find items in treasure chests after hard fought battles. It’s not every time, mind you, but enough to make you excited about the post-game loot prospects!
The battle system in Dragon Quest 11 is very traditional, and that’s perfectly OK with me. It makes this Dragon Quest experience incredibly accessible to all players, and is the perfect gateway game to the vast world of Japanese Role Playing Games!
Lack of Musical Numbers
Many would argue that recent Dragon Quest adventures had beautiful tracks to accompany the game that was being played, and early on this was the case for Dragon Quest 11 as well. Until you quickly realize the same tracks get played over, and over, and over again. With so little variety as you move across the games sprawling world, it’s hard to get really invested in the experience with such a sub-par audio track in the background.
Can you get into the experience? Of course, because the rest of the game is such a fantastic experience. But from time-to-time, when the game might be dragging a bit or you are doing some grinding to take down a particularly hard boss, the music can wear on you, and wear on you quick. When other things are grabbing your attention – like moving through a dungeon, exploring a new field, or searching for resources – it’s not as noticeable. But when you are just hoping in and out of battle every few seconds…you’ll notice.
If you are coming into Dragon Quest 11 expecting a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack throughout the experience, I think you are in for a rough surprise. But if the central focus of your purchase was a fantastic story with great RPG mechanics, this should be of little worry to you. Annoying, perhaps. Game breaking and worthy of a major score decrease? Absolutely not.
A Fantastic Story
We’ve always championed a spoiler free environment here at GamesReviews.com when it comes to story driven experiences, and that policy will stay for this. That being said, there is a lot of the game we can talk about without ruining the overall arc. From the opening cut scene, through the games most emotional moments, Dragon Quest drops new and exciting story paths on you at a great pace. Early on, the game is definitely slow, and getting out of your hometown and on the road does take a lot longer than it really should. BUt after that lull, I never once asked myself, “Where is this game going?”
And that is a huge compliment to the work of the development team. With an easy 80 hours of content – we are clocking in over 100 at this point – it can be difficult to craft and experience that is always changing and that is always engaging. Somehow, the development team was able to do both. And even if there were times of story lull, it was never apparent to me thanks to the large array of side quests and activities I could engage in. All the small teams working on Dragon Quest XI did a great job of working together to make sure players never felt lost, and to make sure players never felt bored.
Part of the fantastic story goes back to what we talked about in a previous review chapter, the fantastic voice acting. This adds so much to the experience, and while I’m generally a dialogue skipper when playing long RPG titles, I’m not sure I ever skipped through text in Dragon Quest XI, except when I accidentally initiated a dialogue sequence for a second time.
What puts this experience over the top, however, is how the game reminds you where you left off whenever you load a new save. So whether you’d been playing a few hours prior, or perhaps you are coming home from a week long vacation, the game does an excellent job of keeping you up to date on where the story is, what you’ve done so far, and so on. Having this small, yet incredibly beneficial window pop up during the loading sequence is fabulous, and should be a staple in all sprawling RPG titles going forward.
There is so much to discover in Dragon Quest XI, and the story is only one aspect of that. On it’s own, however, it could stand up well even in a poorly created game. That is how good the Dragon Quest story is, partially thanks to the work done on this title, and partially thanks to the lore of the franchise. Don’t worry though, this release is the perfect entry point for those unfamiliar with the Dragon Quest franchise. While a few things might be a bit foreign to new players, the vast majority is explained incredibly well.
This literally is a game built for everyone. RPGs are rarely accessible, but somehow Dragon Quest XI finds a way!
There are few games more accessible and engrossing as Dragon Quest XI, and the development team deserves a lot of praise for what they have created. For my part, I cannot wait to give this game a bit of rest, before jumping in and doing it all over again!