Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Review

Good RPGs need not be elusive.

Review by Nadia Oxford, .

Square-Enix has delivered many children unto us across the decades, but the world takes special interest in two of its offspring: Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

Though he's over 30 years old, Final Fantasy never settled down. He probably never will. Whenever he feels like it's time for the world to give him the attention he deserves, he drinks a bottle of absinthe, puts on crazy clothes, and stagger-runs to the park. There, he climbs to the top of the backstop fence behind the baseball field, screams "LOOK AT ME, I'M BAHAMUT" and leaps.

Sometimes Final Fantasy lands beautifully after performing a flip, and we all gasp and applaud his grace. Other times, Square-Enix is forced to scrape up what's left of their son and haul the slop home to reform him into something bigger and better.

Despite being only slightly older than Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest isn't prone to nutty leaps and weird stunts. He dresses sensibly. He keeps both feet on the ground. Does that mean he's boring? Far from it: He's steadfast, dependable, and great company for extended periods of time. He's even capable of surprising you from time to time; he just prefers to serve up something he knows his company will enjoy instead of taking big risks like his brother.

That's why Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age for the PlayStation 4 and PC is as dependable as Dragon Quest gets. In fact, it doubles down on familiarity and nostalgia by design. The opening movie alone is threaded with "Hey, 'member this?" moments, including a glimpse of Loto's sword, a logo that echoes the first game's, and a quick flash of a flying creature that vaguely resembles at least one of the legendary animals that carry you in previous Dragon Quest games (I'm not telling). As for the core of Dragon Quest XI itself, it most closely resembles Dragon Quest VIII—right down to a bonus set of "Trodain Togs" that might be in your inventory if you buy certain editions of the game. It's not inaccurate to call Dragon Quest XI a bigger, better Dragon Quest VIII that's liberally sprinkled with callbacks and cues from other well-loved entries in the series.

Is that good? If you enjoyed Dragon Quest VIII, it's very good. Like VIII, Dragon Quest XI emphasizes travel, story, and characters. But if you're hoping for another Dragon Quest installment that gives you lots of control over your party builds via a job system (think Dragon Quest III, VII, and IX), you might be a bit let-down by Dragon Quest XI's mostly hands-off approach to building up your party.

However, that's a matter of which iteration of Dragon Quest is right for you (Ask your doctor). Even if you're not already a Dragon Quest fan, Dragon Quest XI is currently one of your best options for an accessible, character-driven, turn-based RPG with handy modern options like "Run away from enemies when you don't feel like dealing with them, or just mow them down with your horse." Dragon Quest XI should keep you enthralled through its 70+ hours—and there's a 20-hour post-game if you want to go the distance.

When they ask you "Whataburger or In-N-Out?" and you answer "McDonalds."

The first half of the game is a MacGuffin hunt that gradually introduces you to Dragon Quest XI's world, its characters, and its skill system (which, again, should be familiar to fans of Dragon Quest VIII: As you level up, you earn skill points that you can pour into characters' mastery of certain weapons, as well as their innate skills). Aside from your mute hero who's the supposed re-incarnation of an ancient warrior of light and therefore destined to Save the World, you meet a thief, a short-statured wizard, her cleric twin sister, an old martial artist and his spear-wielding charge, and a joyful performer to whom everyone is "honey" and "darling"—monsters included.

The first 30 or 40 hours of Dragon Quest XI are largely, to quote The Hobbit's Bilbo Baggins, a pony ride in May. You meet plenty of strange people and take in lots of quintessentially Dragon Quest sights, like a school for posh girls who learn the art of hunting for mini-medals, the series' most prized token. When I say "posh girls," I mean posh girls of all kinds—including a Hammerhood monster who runs a love advice column in the school paper, and a pink-frocked Walking Corpse who wears copious amounts of perfume so she won't stink too badly around her beloved classmates.

A quest needs a horse, of course, of course.

Before you get too comfortable with Dragon Quest XI's sense of humor, however, it offers up a reminder that while the series specializes in offering up plenty of puns and visual gags, it's not afraid to pull the rug from under you and go a little hard, tonally. Or a lot hard.

But no matter how dark Dragon Quest XI gets, there's one constant you can count on: Its monster designs, animations, and behaviors are delightful. Dragon Ball manga-ka and Dragon Quest illustrator Akira Toriyama continues to have no peer as a monster-maker, and Dragon Quest XI's world feels like a living, breathing place thanks to his touch. Dragon Quest VIII's fully open world is gone in favor of a semi-open world wherein chunks of territory are connected by loading screens, but as a trade-off, those pockets of land are stuffed full of secrets, collectables, and the happy sight of monsters doing their own thing. Sabre-cats nap with their sabre-cubs under trees, undead priests lead skeletal soldiers on slow, eerie marches, ravens glare at you from broken fences, and more. The monsters' unique behaviors and exaggerated animations make them as much a part of the world as your hero. Early in the game, you stumble upon a Black Dragon—one of the strongest monsters in Dragon Quest's monster menagerie. As you run from the beast, the low-level enemies you struggled with moments before run alongside you: They don't want to tangle with the dragon king any more than you do. These instances of the monsters showing some semblance of intelligence make Dragon Quest XI's world feel alive, and not simply a place where you kick around enemies for some experience points before you're allowed passage to the big bad guy of the hour.

"This *is* the National Air and Space Museum, isn't it?"

In a just world, Dragon Quest XI's music would be on par with its graphics. As we all know by now, the world's kind of a dick. Koichi Sugiyama's score for Dragon Quest XI is far from his best, even though it starts of strong with a rendition of Dragon Quest's opening theme from the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, outside of that lovely melding of strings and brass, you won't hear many orchestrated tunes in Dragon Quest XI. Worse, the sometimes-harsh MIDI just doesn't do justice to Dragon Quest XI's living world. It's telling the best pieces of music in the game call back to famous compositions from other games, e.g. a Japanese-style mountain town that features a remix of Dragon Quest III's Jipang theme, and a series of arena fights that remixes relevant compositions from Dragon Quest IV. I quickly turned the game's music down, though I left the voices cranked way, way up. Yes, the very British localization that's come to define the Dragon Quest games since Dragon Quest VIII is present in XI. There's no option for Japanese voices, so either turn the voices down or learn to love 'em, guv.

Even though Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is the 11th installment of the series, it feels like a natural follow-up to Dragon Quest VIII. That makes it a good entry point for Dragon Quest-curious players, too. There's a lot of RPG here, but it all goes down easy. Enjoy it: Games like this only visit us once in a rare while.

If you're a fan of Dragon Quest VIII, you'll find a lot to love about Dragon Quest XI. Its character-driven plot and skill system recall the series' breakout PlayStation 2 installment, though Dragon Quest XI's lively world and expressive monsters lend it a unique feeling and flavor. Some fans might feel let-down about Dragon Quest XI's lack of job system or other options that let you fine-tune every aspect of your party (what I wouldn't give to see Dragon Quest V's monster-friending system make a return), but if you're in the market for a turn-based RPG that feels nostalgic but doesn't force you to deal with old genre mechanics, you won't find a better quest.

5 /5

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age Review Nadia Oxford Good RPGs need not be elusive. 2018-08-28T14:01:00-04:00 5 5

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Comments 40

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  • Avatar for daverhodus #1 daverhodus 2 months ago
    Hopefully somebody can mod in orchestrated music for the PC version.
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  • Avatar for Mr-B #2 Mr-B 2 months ago
    That midi soundtrack news is a huge bummer. DQ8 still has some of the best music of any game I've played, and the orchestral version sounded so good on the PS2. That overworld track is phenomenal. This is such baffling step back.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #3 Gamer-Law 2 months ago
    @nadiaoxford’s comments regarding the soundtrack left me surprised but grateful that I passed on the $150 Collector Edition this game received (the 2 cd soundtrack in that CE was the big draw for me). It is disappointing to hear that the game takes a step back after the amazing DQ VIII soundtrack.
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  • Avatar for daverhodus #4 daverhodus 2 months ago
    @Mr-B I guess I am in the minority, but the orchestrated score in DQVIII just didn't quite match the graphics for me. I would love to have an option though. A Japanese voice option would be nice too.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #5 cldmstrsn 2 months ago
    I wonder if they will patch in an orchestrated version that would be fantastic. Great review and I have next Tuesday off so I can play this all day!
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #6 TheWildCard 2 months ago
    Sounds hype Nadia! Wasn't sure I was feeling down for a big jrpg at the moment, but your review and praise elsewhere has me itching for some quality Dragon Questing. Shame about the music though, considering the orchestration is the single best thing about DQVIII, but I'll get over it.
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  • Avatar for Thad #7 Thad 2 months ago
    DQ8 was great but I'll admit to missing the job system. Guess I should finish 7 again. And I conked out on 9 at the last boss.

    Still bummed we're not getting the 3DS version, and I don't have a current console or use Windows. Here's hoping the PC version runs on Linux with the new Steam Play compatibility library -- but I'm concerned SE will go with Denuvo again.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #8 Godots17thCup 2 months ago
    The world feels a little less crummy every time a new Dragon Quest enters it. I can't freaking wait to play this one.
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  • Avatar for Jeremiah-Jones #9 Jeremiah-Jones 2 months ago
    I'm glad to see that the game still ended up being good. It still doesn't seem to be the hybrid of 8 and 9 I so desperately want (the storyline of 8, with the main character creation of 9,) But it looks fantastic. I just want to rock being a bad ass mage main character in such pretty graphics.
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  • Avatar for Mr-B #10 Mr-B 2 months ago
    @daverhodus That's fair. I mentioned the midi soundtrack to a friend of mine earlier, and his response was pretty much the same as yours. The orchestra worked really well for me, but everyone's got different tastes.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #11 Funny_Colour_Blue 2 months ago
    I still remember the slogan they used in Dragon Quest 8's Review in OPM. It was a throwback to playstations slogan at the time:

    "Live in your world, Play in ours".

    I've tried many times to get into the other Dragon Quests entries, but nothing seems to hold. I will definitely check this one out. Thanks Nadia!
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #12 NiceGuyNeon 2 months ago
    Really crappy timing since the semester started a week ago. I wish it came out during the summer. I'm torn on whether I should just buy this and slowly make my way through it over months or wait until winter break lol

    I've never played DQ but I really want to. It's just generally not released on platforms I own until now.
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #13 The-Challenger 2 months ago
    I remember saying something about 100+ hour rpgs having over stayed their welcome...I might have to eat those words.
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  • Avatar for SpoonyBardOL #14 SpoonyBardOL 2 months ago
    Waitin' for the Switch version. I COULD get it for PC, but I can only really enjoy Dragon Quest games these days untethered to a TV or desktop.
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  • Avatar for moochan #15 moochan 2 months ago
    @daverhodus I'm feel someone will. Don't know if they released the orchestrated version audio yet but once they do someone will manage to rip it and mod it.

    "There's no option for Japanese voices, so either turn the voices down or learn to love 'em, guv"

    Fun fact there is no Japanese voices. Based on what Horii said Japanese can get more out of just text while English has subtleties that only come out from full on voices. Had how close this is coming out right after I started to play Monster Hunter on PC. But I'm completely willing to hold off on Monster Hunter if it means playing more Dragon Quest.
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  • Avatar for GreatLordAbsu #16 GreatLordAbsu 2 months ago
    That FF / DQ comparison at the beginning of the review was on-point. Also, AMAZING.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #17 VotesForCows 2 months ago
    Never played a DQ game until Builders, and really enjoyed that - the charm and history of the world and monsters shone through. So I may well be picking this up. Just one question (anyone!) - can you customise the main hero's appearance, gender, etc?
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #18 Flipsider99 2 months ago
    Sounds great to me! Also I dont mind a midi soundtrack at all, it matches the more old school vibe of the game. And quite frankly, I still love and listen to the music from the old games!

    So theres gonna be a Switch version? Thats awesome, seems like the ideal platform to play this on!
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  • Avatar for Moggraider #19 Moggraider 2 months ago
    It seems to me that the text of the review doesn't really match up with the score. I read it and was expecting a 4, tops. "The music sucks" and "it's just like Dragon Quest VIII" doesn't translate to 5 out of 5 in my book, but that's just me. I didn't see praise meriting the 5. Now I'm wondering whether to cancel the preorder and pick it up later...
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #20 Vonlenska 2 months ago
    I'm a bit torn on this now. I don't really want to support Sugiyama at all anymore (even though I still love a lot of his work), but I do want to support Dragon Quest, and this entry in particular seems to offer exactly what I want.

    Sigh. Oh, well. I'll probably just pick it up for cheap and/or used when the price drops like I would have anyway. By then, I hope someone will have modded in the fully orchestrated music.
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  • Avatar for funktron #21 funktron 2 months ago
    Argh. I pre-ordered this on Steam months ago. I should take Tuesday off so I can sink into it for the day. >_>
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #22 cldmstrsn 2 months ago
    @Vonlenska I totally get where you are coming from but there are just so many more people who are involved with the game that it would be a shame to not support DQ coming west even though the music is a big part of it. Good on you for having that conviction though.Edited 2 times. Last edited August 2018 by cldmstrsn
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #23 Kuni-Nino 2 months ago
    This is a really well written review. Great job Nadia.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #24 SatelliteOfLove 2 months ago
    Toriyama's art is again shown to look real good in HD.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #25 donkeyintheforest 2 months ago
    Now I just have to wait and see if the PC version is a mess or not. I think my beating of monster hunter world now hinges on whether or not they have to patch DQ11 or not haha.
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  • Avatar for ronin_cse #26 ronin_cse 2 months ago
    Dannit why does this have to come out the same day the raids open in WoW: BfA?! Probably gonna have to pick this up anyways.

    I was hoping to get this on PC but the lack of any reviews of that platform is worrying me about the port quality, has anyone seen any reviews that mention the PC version?
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #27 NiceGuyNeon 2 months ago
    Question: how does this game handle with short playtime? I'm able to commit 30-60 minutes to playing games and would this game actually be enjoyable at that pace or should I wait until my winter break?
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  • Avatar for Sidewaystranger #28 Sidewaystranger 2 months ago
    MIDI? Really?

    Anyways, you've sold me on this Nadia; I'll be getting this day one and start on it as soon as I wrap up AoE 2 or Hollow Knight.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #29 MetManMas 2 months ago
    @moochan@daverhodus The original PS2 version of Dragon Quest VIII was very much the same in that regard. Japanese original was text only, English localization adds voice acting to a formerly mute experience. Offhand the only non-DraQue game I can think of that gained voice acting in the localization process was FromSoftware's Eternal Ring.

    Frankly, I was a little surprised when I first learned that Dragon Quest XI originally didn't have voice acting, given how it's become so commonplace nowadays. Not to mention the Dragon Quest Heroes games had extensive voice acting, and DQ8 finally got a Japanese dub when it came to 3DS.

    Dragon Quest VII 3DS didn't, and Dragon Quest Builders only had grunts, but that could easily be written off as the former already being a friggin' ordeal just to localize text for and the latter's presentation not being the kind that would really benefit from voiced dialogue.
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  • Avatar for Humperfunk #30 Humperfunk 2 months ago
    Can't wait for this guyz
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #31 cldmstrsn 2 months ago
    @Humperfunk shit yazzz man!!!
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  • Avatar for Daikaiju #32 Daikaiju 2 months ago
    No job system?

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  • Avatar for moochan #33 moochan 2 months ago
    @MetManMas I mostly pointed it out because there will be someone reading this and thinking SE stripped the option for dual audio when there wasn't any Japanese voice acting to begin with.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #34 riderkicker 2 months ago
    How is the Remote Play?
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  • Avatar for Gaminggumper #35 Gaminggumper 2 months ago
    Certainly disappointed about the midi music. That said the composer is now 92 and should probably not have been bothered to keep at it just for the sake of nostalgia, he deserves a break.
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  • Avatar for Gaminggumper #36 Gaminggumper 2 months ago
    @NiceGuyNeon As has been said in a couple of reviews. DQ titles play like bed time stories. You can completely digest the game in 1-2 hour sittings across several weeks and still be making progress in the game and story.
    Its more like several episodes of a season of serial TV rather than one huge meal. Each main city or character meetup works like a chapter with several steps, so no real need to burn through quickly.
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  • Avatar for Gaminggumper #37 Gaminggumper 2 months ago
    @VotesForCows No. The series is pretty well know for giving you a fairly cookie cutter generic protagonist, who is also basically mute.
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  • Avatar for Gaminggumper #38 Gaminggumper 2 months ago
    @Moggraider That may largely depend on how you feel about DQ VIII. Many have missed such a classic large scale DQ story in the last 14 years since DQ VIII came out. Anything remotely as well crafted is a solid title.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #39 NiceGuyNeon 2 months ago
    @Gaminggumper Yeah I heard that term used in the Kotaku review after I posted my comment. It's good to know because 1-2 hours is about all I can give at the moment. I think I'll pick this up over Divinity Original Sin 2 just because that one sounds like it needs longer play times.

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  • I love how the same sound effects carry through from the very first game. Hey, it's the original "going up and down stairs" sound effect.
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