Dragon Quest, or Dragon Warrior as some US folks may remember it, is a seminal JRPG in my book. Many may look fondly upon the last big console release in the US, Dragon Quest VIII as the JRPG that got them into the series, but for years Square Enix’s other big RPG franchise has been releasing games solely on the Nintendo DS and 3DS. All that changes with the forthcoming launch of Dragon Quest XI in the West on PS4 and PC, and quite frankly – it’s about time. Dragon Quest XI is not only a sublime JRPG experience, but it’s gorgeous, reverent for its past, and downright addicting. This is our Dragon Quest XI review for the PS4.
Make no bones about it, Dragon Quest XI is a classic JRPG. Turn-based combat, big sprawling cutscenes and loads of text-based NPC chatter. There are a bunch of sidequests, but the main bulk of the game is in its 60-80 hour (yes, you read that right) main story quest. Fear not, though, DQXI doesn’t take long to get you into the world and onto the battles. Everything about this game, from the classic orchestral score to the 8-bit-esque sound effects on menus and things like taking stairs out of a dungeon, screams nostalgia.
And yes, Dragon Quest XI is every bit as gorgeous as you’d expect a 4K representation of the series to be. Akira Toriyama’s inimitable art style is front and center and rendered with the flare and aplomb that only Square Enix can master. It’s a living cartoon, with the story and world building of Yuji Horii right as present and charming as ever.
Now, there is a load of twists and turns in DQXI’s story, so I’ll try and refrain from going too far into it here – both for my own conscience and at the request of Square Enix. But I can tell you that you play the Luminary, a young man who must solve the mystery of his past and his heritage, while also welcoming the help of your friends and allies to save the world from a terrible darkness. It’s peak Yuji Horii fantasy writing, and while the premise may seem cliché, the adventure and path towards completing the game is anything but.
The Western version has been completely localized, meaning you can choose between English actors and Japanese from the menus. The English cast is actually fantastic, but diehards may opt to go for the JP release. The menu and UI have been overhauled to make the game more navigable, and to work well on the PC without the use of a controller. There’s also the Draconian Quest, which is basically a hard mode that can up the ante on the game’s difficulty level. You can also let the camera be free moving in battles, or leave it locked/cinematic depending on your preference. There’s also a dash function, which makes running around the world far less tiresome.
This is also the first time ever for the series on PC, and it supports UHD resolutions on PS4 and Steam as well. It’s worth noting that this is a complete experience. There likely won’t be DLC for DQXI, and that’s good because the game will take you dozens of hours to complete, and even after the credits roll, there are another 20+ hours of content to chew through. Yes, you read that right. If you thought Marvel was good at the post-credits extras, Square just ate their lunch.
There have been some quality of life adjustments that normally don’t come in JRPGs. Bit battle animations can be skipped, for example. You can skip cut scenes (but why would you when they’re this good), and the game can be saved often with an auto-save, as well as hard saves at camps and churches as is the series’ usual method. Lots of little touches like that make you able to spend less time in menus, and more time adventuring the world and fighting monsters.
There are a lot of fights in DQXI too, though I wouldn’t call the game grindy in the least. I’ve played over 50 hours so far, and I’ve yet to have to grind mobs to get to an appropriate level to progress the story. This may change in Draconian (Hard mode), but DQXI is easy at times, with only boss fights really giving me a time where I feel I need to hold my breath. And even then, I never quite felt tested.
Part of this could be because DQXI lets you automate you party’s actions, all of them, and assign them AI behaviors if you want. I chose to play the Hero’s actions, but automate my 3 companion’s actions according to needs – 2 damage dealers and a healer. At any time you can take back control, which I often did for boss fights. It really works wonders, and the amped-up system for what essentially amounts to super moves is a really nice touch and lets you figure out just who you like to have in your party. As an added quality of life feature, even people who aren’t in your fighting party receive XP and level up, so you never need to feel like you’re leaving people behind.
If you find yourself looking at Final Fantasy and wondering where your classic turn-based JRPG went, Dragon Quest XI is for you. While FF goes off and does the experimental in its gameplay and its worlds, Dragon Quest is firmly planted in fantasy with a more lighthearted tone and a focus on traditional JRPG gameplay. It’s an absolute treat from beginning to end, and more than once I laughed out loud at the writing and incredibly solid voice-over work done on all characters.