Let the Luminary be your guide through one of the most thrilling RPGs ever made.
Dragon Quest is one of those RPG franchises that I really adore. A traditional battle system paired with constantly evolving mechanics make for highly entertaining experiences. That is the big takeaway here honestly: Dragon Quest can do no wrong. Nintendo players have certainly been treated to some enjoyable Dragon Quest games, but the main course was yet to arrive. Dragon Quest XI, one of the first games ever to be announced for Switch, has finally come to our doorstep. Is it everything we always wanted and more? Well, yes. It certainly is.
In Dragon Quest XI, the player takes control of the Luminary. The young hero, hailing from the village of Cobblestone, discovers on his 16th birthday a rather important detail. It turns out that he is a reincarnation of the legendary hero who once saved the world. That world, being the land of Erdrea, has been silently awaiting his arrival. A horde of monsters as well as an impending darkness are threatening the balance, and it is up to you to restore it. The journey see you exploring various towns, strongholds, and dungeons. Along the way, you will be joined by a cast of colorful characters that will help fill in the fact that the main character never actually speaks.
While I wouldn't call the set-up the strongest in the series, Dragon Quest thrives on characterization. Every person you meet is incredibly well defined and has motives that immediately become clear to you. In my humble opinion, Dragon Quest XI has some of the best moments in the series' history. You always know where you are by how the characters will speak to you, or how they react to certain elements within the story. While I don't want to give individual elements away, as they are just wonderful, there is a place where everybody talks in haiku for example. Every town does something unique this way, even if it feels nothing more than skin deep at certain moments.
Where the various locations succeed is giving you unique stories to discover. It made me excited for what was coming next, and I constantly felt the need to push forward. While the demo might have given the first true glimpses, the experience becomes fully engrossing just slightly beyond that point. The members in your party and key characters get more time to develop with quests allowing them to do so. They provide a huge backdrop to what the game is actually about: scope.
While the towns are nice and all, the real flavour comes from traversing the world and finding beauty there. The game is quite linear, but you wouldn't know that from a glance. There are passageways to explore, fields to admire, and different architecture that make Erdrea very much a living place. There is a variety in the proceedings, even if you are mostly going from place to place. Players will travel back and forth to the various locations, seeing unique elements with each visit. While I could mark the game down for not being this massive open world, the reality is that it didn't matter to me all too much. I felt constantly involved with what I was doing, which is something you can't say for every game out there.
Dragon Quest XI S can't just live on world building alone, and luckily it doesn't have to. With the game being a JRPG at heart, there are instantly things come to mind. The most important part to mention is that the combat is turn-based. Just like the previous games in the series, you will choose your actions from a menu and decide what is best in the moment. Most of the time, you will find yourself picking an option from the Fight menu and choosing from a variety of attacks, spells, and abilities. You can also choose tactics for the party to follow, where they will act independently, or you can control them yourself. The action is simple yet extremely clean in the process. The player learns as they go, and Dragon Quest XI S ensures that you're well equipped for the next step. The variety of monsters present won't make the challenges ahead easy, but the action won't wind down either.
What I like about Dragon Quest XI S is the sheer quality when it comes to your party. From all the Dragon Quest titles I had the pleasure of playing, I can't think of a more diverse selection than the characters present here. While the hero tries his hand in a little of everything as a physical fighter with offensive and support magic, every other party member is perfect for handling a specific task. Serena is better at healing, while Sylvando likes to fight up close and personal. While the balancing can be a little off sometimes—you can only have four characters in a party—this isn't something that hard work can't fix. Due to a plethora of quality-of-life improvements, grinding isn't as demanding as it once was. You can even let the characters do their thing while you watch, which isn't a bad deal.
An important thing, which isn't uncommon in Dragon Quest games, is that the game never leaves you in the dark. You see, Dragon Quest XI S constantly checks on you in the form of mini bosses, which will prep you for the journey ahead. If you pass with flying colors, no problem. If you’re too weak, it is basically a warning that 'you aren't ready for this part of the journey just yet.' In addition, the game tells you clear as day where to head to, so getting truly lost in this world is pretty much a non-issue. NPCs and even your party always give you clear indications, which doesn't leave much room to think things over yourself. That being said, there are ways around this aspect, allowing you to go and do stuff on your own.
With many ways to explore the world, it is easy to forget how side-quests are a driving force in keeping the game fun. Under normal circumstances, this is mostly extra content that you could skim over or ignore, and it wouldn’t overly hurt your progression. With Dragon Quest XI S, however, that might not be the best idea. The various NPCs will give you unique tasks to deal with, ranging from gifting them specific items to performing certain tasks. A majority of these side objectives will reward you with some pretty handy equipment and items, some even exclusive to the quests. It is totally possible to finish the game without them, but I don't think that it’s wise to do so. You will be missing out on crucial help that will make every next step easier to get through.
The fun doesn't stop there either. Throughout Dragon Quest XI S, there are two casinos where you can try your luck and earn unique prizes. Players can participate to the best of their abilities in Poker, Slots, and Roulette to try and win tokens. With a firm emphasis on ''trying,'' as with real gambling you will need some luck on your side. Another activity that I found really enjoyable is using the Fun-Sized Forge. In this crafting minigame, players will have to hit spots on the equipment with a set of tools, like a blacksmith forging a piece of armor or a sword. If you can manage to do this effectively, the player will be rewarded with better gear. Some special gear can net you a costume or two, which makes using the Forge even more entertaining.
While most of what I’ve said could be applied to the original version as well, I want to dive deeper into the Switch version specifically. The most important one is that both the gameplay styles of the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS versions are included. The PlayStation 4 style is the modern Dragon Quest style that we know and love, which started with Dragon Quest VIII. The player will explore 3D landscapes and see monsters freely roaming across the land. You also have a better idea of the world around you, which adds atmosphere. New to a console version for the first time is the 2D mode of the Nintendo 3DS version, which only released in Japan. By opting for 2D, players will experience a style that isn't unlike the 16-bit games of yesteryear. Battles are now randomly occurring, like in the original Dragon Quest games, and all the elements can be seen at a glance. I found myself constantly switching back and forth to compare the two views, even if there can be some backtracking involved. You can only start at the beginning of a previous chapter when you switch from one graphical style to the other. While moving across the map is so different in the two styles, you could still feel that this is the same world. At the end of the day, the style you choose depends on your preference.
The number of stories told throughout the journey has been markedly increased as well. There are quests in which you will travel to the worlds of past Dragon Quest, and here you are treated to familiar music and sound effects that aren’t normally found in the main game. Another big inclusion are brand new stories for each party member. There is a point in the game where everybody gets scattered around, but we never got to know what each character did to pass the time, at least in the PS4 and 3DS versions. Brand new stories in the Switch version see party members become the protagonist for a spell and experience some of their own unique adventures along the way. The characters will get their own unique party members to fight with, NPCs they haven't seen before, and some remarkable revelations. They didn't just make this the best version of the game, they added to it in a sizeable way.
To be completely honest, the thing I'm most impressed by is the dedication to make smaller changes. For example, the way Dragon Quest XI S controls is a lot smoother. There is increased movement speed as well as improvements made to the camera, which gave problems in the PlayStation 4 release. The swiftness of battles has also been increased, with a quick menu and a third faster option, allowing you to grind really fast. If you want to explore the world quicker, the player can now call on his horse at almost any time. In addition, there are more rideable monsters, including a Great Sabrecat. While I could go on and on, there are two additions that really made me happy. There is Photo Mode where you take pictures of the characters and place them however you like. More importantly, you can now set costumes on your party without them impacting your overall stats. In the original, this constantly forced me to move on and leave cool looking outfits behind. No more I say. No more!
From a performance perspective, Dragon Quest XI S is quite an impressive feat for a Nintendo Switch title. While it doesn't look as sharp as the PlayStation 4 version, the fact that it can run without barely a hitch is quite good. The game runs strong at 30 frames per second, and barely dropped a beat throughout my 90 hours with the game. The most surprising changes are found in the audio department. The Nintendo Switch version offers a brand new orchestrated soundtrack, which is a far cry from the MIDI music of the other versions. You can freely swap between the two arrangements, and the same goes for both English and Japanese spoken dialogue. It is clear that the developers put in a fair bit of work to make everything look and sound just right.
Dragon Quest XI S is one of the finest RPGs on Switch. With its classic yet refined battle system and plethora of side content, the game can easily keep you chugging along for 100 hours or more. While the world at large may not be all that open, it offers a lot of flair and interesting elements to experience. Everything from entertaining characters to amusing quests, it all comes together in a way such that the journey never slows down. I do feel that the game tries to hold your hand just a teensy bit too much. You can change it in the settings so that some NPCs will start lying to you, but even then, it was hard to really get lost. That is, however, a slight misstep in a game that I adored from beginning to end.