Dragon Quest XI is simply unique in its presentation and style – one can even say that it has its own ‘personality’. With one look at the game, you know what you are going to get. With my personal preference for dark, complex and perhaps even edgy stories, character designs and worlds, I have to admit that I was initially turned off by the whole style and the way Dragon Quest XI presented itself in its trailer, especially since I have never played a prior Dragon Quest game. However, before long, I found myself thoroughly enjoying myself despite my initial doubts.
Its charming style and unique ‘personality’ is no doubt the number one thing it has going for it. The main characters, NPCs, towns, monsters, environments all blend together extremely well in order to get the player absorbed into the game’s atmosphere. Nevertheless, despite everything blending together to create a consistent vibe throughout the game, the characters and towns in Dragon Quest XI are surprisingly unique. Despite there being quite a number of towns within the game, I can remember each and every town and their geographical and cultural quirks. Furthermore, the fields and dungeons in the game do not feel repetitive, not only in geographical design, but also in gameplay. This is helped by gameplay interaction with the environment. For example, there is a pond in a certain field that makes it impossible for the player to cross to grab the treasure chest in plain sight – however, by defeating a certain monster roaming in that area, the player can mount the monster in order to safely fly over the pond in order to obtain the treasure. Sometimes, such interaction is required for you to progress in dungeons, such as using the monsters to climb walls. This variety makes the gameplay a lot less repetitive and each field and dungeon does not feel like a mere rehash of the previous one.
Exploration in Dragon Quest XI was also a joy – with its unique towns, fields and dungeons, exploration never truly felt like a chore despite there being many hidden treasures in nooks and crannies in the various locations. Exploration feels rewarding as there is almost always something to pick up wherever you explore, regardless of whether you are a meticulous or a casual explorer. For example, the casual player can obtain items or recipes to improve his gear through opening a cupboards or smashing a pot that can be found in plain sight. However, at the same time the meticulous explorer can still find even more items or recipes if they search every nook and cranny – there is almost always something that is cleverly hidden away in the corner or behind something.
Dragon Quest XI also does a good job with its combat. While most of the game is straightforward and simple enough to not actually require the player to make full use of the wide range of skills and abilities in the game, there is an option to enable stronger monsters, or basically a ‘Hard Mode’, for players who want a more serious challenge, which can be turned off at any time, although it cannot be re-enabled in the same play through. Even without ‘Hard Mode’, the game does ramp up in difficulty in later parts of the game, so that strategy is required in order to survive against some of the bosses, and auto-battle not being sufficient. While its combat is not as punishing or unique as the Persona series when it comes to strategy in its turn-based battles, its challenge and strategy required is adequate for the casual player. Players can always reset their skill points in order to use a different type of weapon for each character and its related skills for various parts of the game, experimenting until they find something they enjoy the most.
Side quests, while generic in Dragon Quest XI, are quite limited in number. Furthermore, the rewards for side quests are also almost always worthwhile at the stage of the game at which you do them. This prevents side quests from feeling like an absolute chore unlike some other games.
Dragon Quest XI is also a prime example of a simple story done and executed well. It does not have the more morally complex nuance that I prefer in my stories – the main villains are unmistakably evil for no reason and the heroes are all forces of good. Without giving away too much, despite it being mostly straightforward, there are still twists that can catch you off guard. There are funny, touching and frustrating moments that are guaranteed to make the player feels all sorts of emotions – I felt that I was on a true adventure with its ups and downs. Dragon Quest XI proved to me that a simple story does by no means mean that the story is a weak one. It is all a matter of execution.
My main gripe with Dragon Quest XI is the character interactions in the game. While characters are unique and memorable, characters have little to no interactions with each other. They mostly talk to the player only and almost never to each other. This is unfortunately, amplified by the usage of a silent protagonist. As the core of the story revolves around the protagonist but with the protagonist being silent, most character lines are merely used to give suggestions to the protagonist on what to do next or give observations on what is happening rather than developing their personality or the main party’s dynamic. This leads to an overall lack of character development for the main party. Each character does come in with their unique personality, and they all have their backstories which are explored later in the game. However, these backstories unfortunately are not often used as catalysts for character development, but rather just used to give the player more background information about the particular character. I can only really think of two characters who actually receive character development out of the main cast.
Another major gripe I have with Dragon Quest XI is the music. The background music of the game feels extremely out of place compared to how good the game looks graphically. It is almost a requirement to download the orchestral overhaul mod to change the background music to a more dignified version befitting the atmosphere of the game. Even with said mod, the music is rather repetitive. Most towns, fields and dungeons share the same tune. While a good listen with the orchestral overhaul mod, it does get old when you hear the same tune in the field for the 50th time.
Overall, Dragon Quest’s main strength comes in its style and ‘personality’. Everything in the game – its main story, lore, characters, NPCs, monsters, towns, dungeons and fields go towards polishing and blending together to create a very refined experience. If you’re keen to try a Dragon Quest game but yet hesitant because of its ‘personality’ and the impression you got from watching its trailers, it is suggested that you do give it a try. Dragon Quest XI did manage to win me over and grew on me despite it not being my type of game at first glance, and it might very well do the same to you.
Overall verdict: 9/10