Erdrea is a beautiful place to explore.
While Square-Enix’s signature RPG series Final Fantasy has steadily drifted away from its traditional, turn-based roots, Dragon Quest has largely remained pure (well, the mainline series, not the assorted one offs). The latest entry, Dragon Quest IX: Echoes of an Elusive Age, incorporates a handful of modern touches, but the core remains the same turn-based, menu-driven JRPG it’s been for decades.
As noted, combat is menu-driven, so all you’ll be doing is selecting what type of action you’d like to take and watching it play out. You can move around during combat, but unlike some games there’s no advantage to be gained by your positioning. We’ve long been fans of that turn-based, tactical style of gameplay, and on that front Dragon Quest XI acquits itself well with menus that are easy to navigate.
Outside of combat there is some rudimentary platforming, typically to nab some hard to reach object or location, but there’s no real precision to the jump. You’ll also have the option to mount your trusty steed or even some designated, area-specific monsters, which allows you to cover ground quickly and easily avoid combat — you can also charge through enemies, netting you zero experience but knocking them out of action.
With its beautiful world and memorable monsters, Dragon Quest XI is a visual treat, and its colourful and often whimsical creature design was a surprisingly endearing change of pace from the type of hard-edged, more realistic fare we typically favour. The stylized world begs to be explored, and we frequently found ourselves framing a particular impressive view on our PS4 Pro and just soaking it all in.
Its audio isn’t nearly as clean. The voice acting is solid, but it felt like every character had to have some distinctive hook or accent to their delivery. While some are good, others are kinda goofy, like Erik sounding like a bad Christopher Walken impression. Given the game’s length we eventually went old school, turned off the dialogue and read subtitles to move things along. The music is mostly good, though the de facto exploring music gets repetitive.
In Echoes of an Elusive Age you’re cast as The Luminary, a silent blank slate of a character, said to be the reincarnation of a legendary hero sent back to vanquish an ancient evil once again. While some welcome your return, others are less than thrilled, seeing your presence as the harbinger of ill times and the actual reason for evil to return.
After an early incarceration, you meet up with Erik, a thief that recognizes your true identity and helps bust you out of jail. This puts the two of you on the run, but you’ll soon draw others into your service, filling out your party with a collection of unique personalities and abilities. Together you’ll try to piece together what you need to do and then go about the business of actually doing it, which promises to be no easy task.
Although it won’t go down among the best RPG stories, Dragon Quest XI does more than enough with its plot to keep you moving forward, and the constant metering out of rewards and loot encourages no shortage of secondary exploration and completing of side missions. There’s tons of content here, a good bit of which opens up after you finish the main game, and RPG fans should have no trouble buying in for the long haul.
As noted, combat is turn based, and the game allows you to customize your approach by either assigning pre-determined behaviours and having the CPU control characters or taking direct control over every action. We typically let the computer handle things in standard encounters and then micro managed tougher battles. Party members can be swapped in and out on the fly, and it all comes together to create a satisfying old-school battle system.
Outside of a few areas, there are no random encounters, and you’ll initiate combat by striking an enemy during exploration or by having them come in contact with you. In a game that’s grounded in a lot of traditional RPG mechanics, this is a nice quality of life improvement that spares you the tedium of facing overmatched foes unless you so desire.
Each time you level up you’ll pocket skill points, allowing you to grow each character in whatever direction you see fit. For example, you can invest in general improvements (Erik’s class-specific trait is Guile, Serena‘s is Harpestry, and so on) or dive into weapon-focused areas for whatever they’ll be wielding (Sylvando has swords and knives, Veronica has whips and wands). The game is pretty judicious with giving you points, so it takes a while to build up your party.
Rounding out the combat is pep, which party members will gain as they fight, making them more dangerous and opening access to special powers. Some of these are individual moves, while others work in tandem with specific teammates (provided they’re “pepped up” too). Although some of the actual skills are cool, it’s not a great system as it’s never clear when you’ll enter the pep state or when it’ll end.
Dragon Quest XI also features a crafting mini-game in which you pound raw materials into weapons, armour and more. It starts incredibly simple but as you level up you’ll learn new flourishes that deplete your limited pool of action points. Reach the sweet spot in each meter and you’ll churn out better gear while also earning perfection pearls, which can then be used to rework existing equipment to make it better. It’s a really cool system that’s used throughout.
With a gorgeous world, engaging combat and a solid story, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age should easily scratch the itch of any JRPG fans out there.