The perfect RPG does not exist, or does it? Enter the release of Square Enix' Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, the latest entry in the long-running Dragon Quest series. Not only is this title a joy to play, but it brings a particular kind of magic back to RPGs that has sorely been missing from recent titles.
The first Dragon Quest game released on the original NES in Japan in 1986 and the U.S. in 1989. Since then, there has been a slew of other Dragon Quest games, including spinoffs, as well as novels, manga, and two anime series. That's a lot of history, but the good news is that players unfamiliar with the franchise will have no problem diving into Dragon Quest XI. And that's the beauty of this latest title: it taps into what made the previous games so wonderful but also serves as a bold and beautiful introduction to the wonderful world of Dragon Quest.
Dragon Quest XI follows the quest of the Luminary, a boy who comes to realize that he is the key to saving the world of Erdrea from a dark force known as the "Dark One." As is the case with any such quest, he ends up with his share of allies, those characters that want to help him save the world from evil. That also means that he has his share of enemies, including an entire kingdom who have mistaken him for the Darkspawn that will destroy the world. The Luminary must travel all over Erdrea and learn what it is he needs to do to save his world from certain doom, all the while staying one step ahead of his enemies.
For those familiar with RPGs, especially JRPGs, there is nothing new or groundbreaking about Dragon Quest XI. This is a traditional JRPG with lots of traveling, lots of grinding, lots of combat against a variety of enemies and lots of quests that allow the Luminary to learn more about his world, its people and each place that he visits. There is no learning curve for those who already know how to play this kind of game because it's straightforward right from the start, throwing the player into the action almost immediately.
The primary mission is broken down into smaller tasks, each which will lead the Luminary closer to his primary goal. Completing missions earns items and skill points and progresses the story a little further. There are also side missions, which offer the Luminary a chance to help out others for additional items. The side missions also give the Luminary a chance to get to know the people of each of Erdrea's lands, as well as give him an opportunity to learn more about their culture, hopes and dreams.
Dragon Quest XI's turn-based combat is also straightforward. Players can choose to control every character in their party, or they can just control the Luminary and let an AI figure out how best to use other characters in fights. As this is a JRPG, grinding is essential, because leveling up is the only way the Luminary and his friends will beat the next boss fight. Boss fights are still challenging, though, but not to the point of frustrating players. Each character has a specific set of skills that they are automatically good at, but skill trees allow the player to determine which particular skillsets each character should focus on: this is determined by spending skill points.
Churches, or save points, are scattered throughout the world, making it easy not to lose progress. The "Zoom" function is nice, which offers a fast travel option to places the Luminary previously visited. It's highly recommended, though, that players spend more time traversing Erdrea the hard way: by foot, horseback or ship. This slower method of travel gives the player a chance to fully immerse into the fantasy, as well as grind to continue to level up.
It's the setting and story, though, where Dragon Quest XI excels. Erdrea is a beautifully thought-out and detailed world, with cities inspired by the real world (such as the Venice-like Gondolia) and fantasy (such as the underwater mermaid kingdom). Each land has its own theme, along with unique monsters that the Luminary and his friends must face. The monsters are as fantastical as their lands, although many will still feel familiar to JRPG fans. Each character is also interesting, with fleshed out backstories that the Luminary learns about as he continues on his journey with them. Even NPCs are well thought out. The overall storytelling here is top notch, the kind that might even make players get emotional at times.
Although Dragon Quest XI has a beautiful musical soundtrack to accompany its story, it's the voice acting choices that sometimes feel a little off. Although most of the voices are great, particularly with the characters in each land having specific accents, there are times when a character's voice doesn't seem to fit a character. This is particularly true for Erik, one of the first allies the Luminary acquires in the game, who has a sort of Brooklyn accent that doesn't seem to fit the world or the character. It's a small annoyance, but it can eventually grate on the nerves after hours of gameplay.
That small matter doesn't change the fact that Dragon Quest XI is a near-perfect game. It's a perfect example of just how good a traditional JRPG can be. Its beautifully-rendered world takes players deep into its fantasy, immersing them in a world they can only wish were real. Yes, the perfect RPG exists and it's Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age releases September 4 on PS4 and PC. Screen Rant was provided a copy for the PS4 for the purposes of this review.