Dragon Quest XI S Review
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition is the latest main series entry of the Dragon Quest franchise, returning to Nintendo's main console. Although not a really popular franchise outside of Japan, Dragon Quest has been gaining some traction in the West in recent years, partly due to things such as putting the Luminary (along with other heroes from previous Dragon Quest games) into the renowned Super Smash Bros franchise.
We reviewed last year's PS4 & PC version here, where you can check out Liz's 10/10 review.
In Dragon Quest XI, the story begins when the hero discovers his identity from the marking on his hand, that he is the Luminary, the hero meant to save the world. The narrative of Dragon Quest XI starts with a simple premise, but the plot manages to make it compelling by keeping a tight pace without leaving you bored. The party members that join you also bring another compelling side to the story from their motivations to their personalities, and you can even catch a glimpse of these by interacting with them whilst on the field. The top-notch voice acting also adds a lot to the overall presentation. For players that played the original, new Japanese voices are added to the package, so if you want to hear a different take on the voices, you can do so with the Switch version. For players that are more curious about the story changes, those don't really occur until much later in the game, which also includes new side stories that will make the transition to the later part of the story much smoother. There is even an additional story option that wasn't included in the original that will occur in the post-game.
Like any good RPG, a major focus will be on both combat and level building. Although Dragon Quest games aren't really known for being particularly innovative in the west, the game is built on a solid foundation where it keeps its traditions to the very core. While seemingly basic from today's standards, the battle system is actually engaging and fun due to its skill system in regards to how to adjust your character builds. Each party member can use basic commands from attacking to using skills and magic. Upon taking damage characters can also go into their Pep state which will greatly boost their stats and if you sync up with other party members in their pep state, you can trigger Pep Powers, incredibly powerful combinations between your characters quite like the Dual or Triple Techs in classics such as Chrono Trigger, although less spammable.
When party members level up they will gain skill points that can be spent to learn new abilities. In the original version of Dragon Quest XI, changing your skill point allocation isn't possible until much later in the game. Fortunately, however, in this version, the option becomes available much earlier, in case you manage to screw up building your character horribly somehow. The characters are also each unique in battle such that you won't neglect using anyone, even when you reach the party limit. Overall, the battles aren't really super challenging, but at least the game will never force you to grind levels to get to the next area. The most challenging thing you will face will most likely be certain bosses due to them having multiple actions per turn.
If players find the difficulty too easy, there are also optional features such as the Draconian Quest to make the game a tad more challenging for those seeking more of a thrill. If you're interested in the Draconian Quest, you can play the entire game by limiting your options by toggling options such as NPCs misdirecting you from your next goal, making all enemies more powerful, getting no experience and money from encounters, to forcing the player to rely exclusively on item drops and treasure found on the field. The list goes on with how you really want to challenge yourself. There is also a crafting system in Dragon Quest XI that acts as a fun mini-game where you get to mash things at the precise mark for better gear. This crafting system went through one major change that might have made the game considerably easier than its previous release as you can now automatically purchase materials without hunting for them, minus a few extremely rare materials, which makes shopping in the game almost irrelevant.
The Switch version also now lets you play in 2D mode, which was exclusive to the unreleased-in-the-west 3DS version. If you decide to play the game in 2D mode, the core experience of the game will end up like classic Dragon Quest games with random enemy encounters in battle, and of course, voice acting also is not included in this mode. There are also other drawbacks to playing in the 2D mode as you you can only switch modes after reaching major story events, which makes it more limited on when you can switch modes. Also if you choose to go back too far in the game, you won't able to resume your progress from where you left off and have to reach that point again. The option makes it feel more like starting a New Game+ rather than switching your progress over, as you retain your experience points and items at the start of a "chapter". Overall playing in 2D mode is a fine feature, but I would still prefer playing the main game in 3D mode as there are more battle options such as adjusting the battle speed.
The next exclusive feature is the 2D dungeons found in the Town of Tinkerton. This will occur shortly after where the official demo concludes, where you meet a spirit to revisit past worlds of Dragon Quest and complete optional side quests. During your visit to Tinkerton, the world there can only be played in 2D mode. Most of the worlds you can visit can only be accessed after obtaining key Past Words from your adventure. Overall the content here is kind of hit or miss, you're getting something that will sidetrack you from your adventures while doing optional fetch quests. There are better quests later, which will let you revisit dungeons from past Dragon Quest games, though I believe this feature is more for the hardcore fans that are well versed in the Dragon Quest lore. The other drawback of playing this mode is that if you don't like playing the game in 2D mode, this feature will be a huge pass for you.
Game performance-wise, the game obviously doesn't run as well as the PS4/PC version, but for a Switch game, this is one of the most beautiful games on the Switch to date. The game still runs at a solid 30 FPS in most areas, just with a little lower detail on textures, mostly unnoticeable until certain event cutscenes where the camera starts to get too close to the background. The field of vision is also much lower on the switch version, so you will see more things pop up as you approach them as opposed to the PS4/PC version. Playing the game in the docked mode shows little change in performance, though you probably will notice the lower texture quality in locations much more when playing on the big screen.
Another big improvement is the soundtrack, you can now listen to the orchestrated versions of the songs, which is a huge improvement in sound quality. And if for whatever reason you don't like the orchestrated version, there is even an option to revert back to the Midi tracks from the previous release. If you don't like the overworld theme either, getting the free starting DLC pack lets you change the main overworld theme to the Dragon Quest VIII one. If players remember that the soundtrack from the original version were kind of weak, hearing the orchestrated versions leaves a much better impression, though I would say a lot of the best songs in Dragon Quest XI were songs reused from older Dragon Quest titles, such as the theme of Nautica which first appeared in Dragon Quest VI.
Dragon Quest XI isn't going to be a game that is going to win any award on innovation, but it is a game that has great fundamentals on what makes a traditional RPG good and does it perfectly. If you have already played the previous release of Dragon Quest XI on PS4 or PC, there are plenty of quality of life changes added here to give it the Definitive Edition tag and Dragon Quest XI S is a must-have title for anyone's game library. However, I feel the newly added content doesn't really add all that much if you have previously beaten Dragon Quest XI from last year, so you're basically paying a full-price game for quality of life improvements. If this is important to you, then you should get this right away, and if you haven't played it before, this is one of the best RPGs of this generation and the perfect port on the Nintendo Switch.