Spoilers ahead! Continue if you dare.
The Dragon Quest series is one of gamings longest lasting. In Japan, DQ is a cultural phenomenon celebrated with its own miniature holiday to its name. After the success of Dragon Quest 3 Square-Enix put in place a rule of only releasing main series Dragon Quest games on weekends. A rule not broken for 30 years, Dragon Quest 11 S was the first time since DQ3 we’ve seen a game released on a weekday.
Many in the west are familiar with Dragon Quest. Yet it still has slid under the radar for thousands of gamers in America, and other English speaking territories. I personally was aware of DQ because of the Wii’s Fortune Street, a crossover title where the Super Mario and Dragon Quest series fight over the stock market, yet never had much drive to pick up a game. For many, this changed the reveal of Hero in Super Smash Bros. Which spurred on both my purchase of this game and this series of articles in of itself.
Dragon Quest 11 is yet another entry into the prominent JRPG phenomena. The Dragon Quest series hasn’t changed much over the decades, but fans tout this entry as the most modernized yet. You as the fabled Luminary must travel across the world, and get to Yggdrasil to save the planet from the Lord of Shadows. Dragon Quest 11 has a simple plot, but don’t let that discourage you.
I felt like I knew every twist, and turn miles before they happened. Sometimes the game dropped particular hints about where the story was headed. Yet a lot of the time it just stuck to tropes of romanticism. The game throws a huge twist at the beginning, where you are being touted as The Darkspawn instead of a savior. Yet every little bit after that was easy to predict.
For what Dragon Quest 11 lacks in a unique plot, it has in character interactions. The game quickly hooked me on to the main characters it wanted me to care about. I became invested in how things would go, even if I knew where they were going. I completely forgave the games simplistic plot, if only because the games wonderful script sunk its claws deep into me.
The game is completely voice acted, and most cutscenes are in engine. Whenever I find out something has voice acting, I usually just assume it’ll be bad. Talent in games typically struggle with capturing the emotion the script calls for. It’s become sort of an infamy in gaming. Yet the voice acting here only served to positively impact the experience. There are a few duds, but mostly side characters. Even those side characters are more annoying because of their personality, than voice. It was a pleasant surprise.
I went into DQ11 expecting some grand gameplay twist. A huge gimmick that I’d either love or hate. However, what I found surprised me entirely. The game plays exactly as one “exaggerates” an RPG does. On the surface there was no big hook. The first two hours were weird because I wasn’t sure if I was missing something. “Could this be it?” I asked myself again, and again.
That’s all ignoring the fact that Dragon Quest 11 is the JRPG perfected. Menu navigation, item systems, battle pace, boss build up. It all feels like THE JRPG. Like there couldn’t possibly be something better than this. It truly feels like the pique of JRPGs.
Battles are very simplistic on the surface. You choose your party line-up, and then go pick between whatever attack, item, or spell you wish to use. Battles were fast, fluent, and often over very quickly. However, there are a lot of different things you can do. In battles, you can switch between your equipment at any time with the cost of your turn. I never did it, but it was always nice to have the option. As a trade-off, each character has their own item/equipment bags. If you want to use an item in battle, that character must have the item in their bag.
An interesting system I don’t see in RPGs often is optional CPU control. The game allows you to direct your party members AI with specific orders, or to just control them outright. You can have them do things like conserve MP, focus on healing, or go for the weakest enemy first. Usually, games that try this system have some awful AI. Yet 80% of my gameplay used AI-controlled party members. Very rarely did I think “WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU, IDIOT, HE’S ONLY TAKEN FIVE DAMAGE WHY DID YOU CAST FULLHEAL!?”… or something of the like.
I do mean to imply that Dragon Quest 11 is very formulaic, yet not that it has no depth. You will find most of DQ11’s depth within the Fun Sized Forge. A little minigame allowing you to create pieces of equipment using materials you gather, or buy. As you level up, your abilities within the forge increase. Giving the incentive to keep going back.
If you do poorly on an item within the forge, the game will dub it a failure. Yet you do get that item. It was perplexing to me at first, but there’s a good reason. When you “succeed” at making an item you can create one of three variants. A +1, +2, or +3. These give significant boosts to all stats on the equipment, and will also award you perfectionist pearls. Allowing you to try and reforge more items. If you try to reforge a +1, you can’t get rid of that level. If you fail, it simply remains a +1. You do lose those perfectionist pearls though.
The other big pool for you to dive into is the skill tree. Experienced RPG fans are no stranger to the skill tree, and DQ11’s certainly isn’t the worst I’ve experienced. I think that you deal with too little, for too long. Yet I didn’t find any “useless” skills, or skills obviously worth ignoring.
The Skill Tree in DQ11 is based much more on you building a character as a kit. A permanent decision you’d have to make in most RPGs. Yet a lot of people regret the decisions made in early game when they can’t switch them later. DQ11 lets you erase a tree, and get the skill points back for a relatively cheap payment of gold. I did end up course-correcting quite a bit on my journey.
There’s a decent bit of side content in DQ11 as well. Casino’s, lengthy sidequests, and even an option to play the game entirely in 2D. I never found myself getting too deep into these modes. Yet when the game forced me into the casino, I usually enjoyed myself.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Dragon Quest 11. For those who don’t like the “average” JRPG formula I don’t think they’d even want to bat an eye at it. Fans of JRPGs who haven’t played this game should IMMEDIATELY. The formulaic story can be a turn-off, but it’s something I had a very easy time overlooking. The Hero’s inclusion in Smash has lead me to a wonderful game, and a series I shall surely be checking out more of.
Does Smash Ultimate represent the Hero well? Smash features tons of content from the DQ Series. Eight music tracks, a spirit board, Yggdrasil’s Alter as a stage, and multiple other heroes of the series as costumes. Hero at first appears to be rather simple, but the command wheel with multiple spells set him far above the crowd.
Many think his spells “over-powered”, or “too easy to abuse”. Hero is random, he is silly, but above all else, fun. The Dragon Quest series is The JRPG so throwing those mechanics into a fighting game to represent DQ makes a lot of sense. Smash has always been silly. I welcome Hero, and his move-set, with open arms. I think without a doubt he is well represented.
I played Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition on Switch