Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition Review — Beauty and Feeling

Dragon Quest XI Definitive Edition makes one of the most joyous and downright wonderful gaming experiences of all time even better.

The first time you step out of your home village of Cobblestone and the world of Dragon Quest XI opens up, you're hit with a sense of adventure that’s missing from most games. It harkens back to classic moments like Samwise and Frodo leaving The Shire in The Lord of the Rings. It’s exciting and daunting, yet every step is more compelling than the last. And the Definitive Edition of Dragon Quest XI is a constant reminder of why there has never been a better time to dive into this fantastic JRPG.

Last year, the Definitive Edition was released as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Many fans, myself included, were disappointed by the absence of an enhanced version for PS4 and PC, but any excuse to jump back into Dragon Quest XI was surely something many were willing to undertake.

Just over a year later, PS4 and PC owners finally have that enhanced experience, with Xbox players getting the Dragon Quest debut with its inclusion in Game Pass. So here I am again, throwing myself into one of the greatest JRPGs ever made.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition Review — Beauty and Feeling

It’s hard to know where to begin with Dragon Quest XI. Should I start with the gorgeous, vibrant world that’s begging for exploration? The way the Definitive Edition streamlines many of its components to make this version the most accessible entry to date? Or how every monster contains more personality than 90% of the games released this year?

Those are good ideas, but I think the beauty of this game stems from a feeling.

It's a feeling of warmth and comfort that not many games possess. Sure, it can be fun to blast through waves of enemies in Doom Eternal or begrudgingly push yourself through the world of Demon’s Souls, but Dragon Quest XI remains so unapologetic in its tone that it’s hard not to be enamored by its purity.

With the world the way it is right now, it can be hard for any of us to muster the energy to push through gritty, dark games, so there’s something sweet and sincere in Dragon Quest XI’s presentation. It’s the polar opposite of many genre games in recent memory. Titles such as Final Fantasy VII: Remake pride themselves on bringing murky worlds to fruition, and they work for what they’re trying to achieve, but Dragon Quest XI often feels like comfort food both in its delivery and execution.

The story presented here is fairly basic. You’re a hero. The world is in peril. And you need to gather the help of friends to save the day.

It’s a tired trope that has been the basis for many games, but the difference is how the story is so well crafted and presented here. It takes the traditional conventions of many JRPGs and makes the Definitive Edition the best possible version of those it can be. Dragon Quest XI’s narrative pushes you through various locales, often built around their own story arc, and presents wonderful characters, stunning vistas, and engaging narratives in a way that the whole package can't help but create an unstoppable momentum that surges from beginning to end.

That energy extends to the game’s cast of characters, each of which you are able to learn about through unique side stories. Each character is larger than life, yet grounded and relatable. The flamboyant Sylvando is a particular highlight who steals every scene he is in.

Since building connections and relationships between your party members lies at the heart of what Dragon Quest XI is all about, and that core building block never disappoints over the game's 100+ hour runtime, some of the game's best moments involve the quiet scenes between characters or the bickering amongst your party members between combat. 

Exploring the world with your party, then, is an absolute treat, all the more helped by Dragon Quest XI's meticulously-crafted environments. Playing the game on the Xbox Series X, it was staggering to see how much more vibrant each area is by way of the console's fantastic use of Auto HDR. Honestly, if you’re going to play Dragon Quest XI, this is the version to play. Every element of the game’s world is beaming with wonderful little flourishes and interactions.

The town of Gondolia, for example, features gondolas you can control while taking in the gorgeous surroundings, and the starting village features a small path you can follow that ends in a jaw-dropping vista. These small instances may seem mundane, but they exist because Dragon Quest XI isn't just about clearing a map of objectives: it’s also about soaking the world in and living in every moment.

The same idyllic nature extends to the inhabitants of Dragon Quest XI, each of which has their own beaming personality, even the ones with very little dialogue. An early area features a shopkeeper attempting to sell you an armor set for 12,000 coins. Explore, and you’ll come across his brother who undercuts his price. Return to the original seller, and he attempts to undercut his brother in retaliation.

Alongside the game's detailed enemies, which all have wonderfully expressive animations and moves, it’s ingredients such as these that elevate the world-building of Dragon Quest XI to heights beyond any other JRPG I can think of. 

Dragon Quest XI unashamedly uses an age-old combat system. Outside of Pep Powers, special moves that can be used if a party member randomly gets "pepped up," very little has changed about it from previous entries. 

That’s not to say combat is generic — not at all. The system here is one that has refined itself over time, building into something gripping and special in its nostalgia. Many recent turn-based RPGs have attempted to do "more" in an effort to engross players, whether that be through button prompts or the ability to block attacks (Yakuza: Like A Dragon is a recent example). And while those systems may be fun, there’s something addictive about the classic JRPG battle system here that just clicks, best represented by Dragon Quest XI's intense boss battles that demand a perfect mix of status effects and heavy-hitting attacks.

When it all comes together, it’s magical.

Even with these already fantastic implementations, the Definitive Edition of Dragon Quest XI goes further in so many ways. The new version comes with enough changes — many of which act as nostalgic love letters to previous entries — to entice series veterans back to the table.

One of the most important new inclusions is the ability to play the entire game in 2D. Every single story beat, battle, and environment has been fully recreated in a retro-style package, and 2D and 3D modes can even be interchanged at a moment's notice by visiting a church. 

Those who want to experience a bit of both worlds can visit Tickington, a 2D village full of special Dragon Quest XI side quests. Here, players can venture into books that act as past entries in the series to solve small mysteries and take on minor quests. Visiting classic, fan-favorite games is truly wonderful and makes Dragon Quest XI feel like the culmination of everything that preceded it.

Wrapping everything up in a nice bow is an array of quality of life improvements that make returning to the original version impossible. Battle speed can be increased, you can now craft anywhere and purchase ingredients on the go, and a new quick-command menu lets you use new features, such as the ability to call your horse at a moment's notice, at a moment's notice.

If that wasn’t enough, Dragon Quest XI now has a full Japanese voice track, fully orchestrated music, and a photo mode that lets you soak in the beautiful world of Erdera.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • A beautiful, stunning world to explore
  • A classic formula crafted to perfection
  • Engaging characters that the Definitive Edition fleshes out
  • Wonderful quality of life improvements
  • 2D mode is a welcomed treat

Cons

  • It eventually all comes to an end

Dragon Quest XI is built with a sense of warmth and comfort that not many games possess, and it's a game we need in the current global climate. 2020 has been a terrible, dreadful year. While many of us are still quarantined, finding those cherishable moments of reprieve is more important than ever.

The Definitive Edition of Dragon Quest XI is the perfect salve. It's a game unashamed to be a video game, and it's one that embraces its roots in a charming, beautiful way. It's unashamedly jolly and light, but most importantly, it's comforting.

[Note: The reviewer used their personal Game Pass account to access the version of Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition used for this review.]

Our Rating
10
Dragon Quest XI Definitive Edition makes one of the most joyous and downright wonderful gaming experiences of all time even better.
Reviewed On: Series X

Contributor

Published Dec. 9th 2020

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