Dragon Quest XI is Engineered to Try and Woo a Western Audience (Again)

If any game is going to make the West fall in love with the Dragon Quest series, it's going to be Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

The Dragon Quest series' arduous journey to gain a level of Western recognition comparable to Final Fantasy has yielded some of the most robust localization efforts in the JRPG genre. It's up for debate whether "robust" always equals "good;" not everyone appreciates Dragon Quest's cockney accents, puns, and ample alliteration.

But long-time Dragon Quest players are generally fine with mixing the Queen's English into their adventure like so much milk into tea. If nothing else, it gives the plucky series a distinct character and sound. It also reminds us of spending time with Yangus in Dragon Quest VIII, and every memory of Yangus is a blessing.

In any case, Square Enix is sticking with the unique voice it's given to the modern entries in its decades-old RPG series with Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age. The hour-long demonstration Square Enix Japan gave me of the game in February offered enough assurance the localization's got everything fans should expect by now: The tinder-dry sense of humor, the groaner puns, and the wordplay that makes you furious for not thinking of the jokes yourself, publishing them on social media, and becoming internet famous.

What's more, Dragon Quest XI's localization shadows Dragon Quest VIII's job in subtler ways, like the return of equipment and item menus dressed up with icons and a scroll aesthetic. The cinema scenes are fully voiced, and the English actors are accurately lip-synced with the character models. It's clear Square Enix is trying very hard to win over Western players with all of Dragon Quest XI's primp and polish, something it's been attempting with its excellent localization efforts since—well, since 1989's Dragon Warrior for the NES. As established fans know, those efforts have yielded mixed results. The last mainline Dragon Quest game to recieve a localization, Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS, enjoyed some success in North America and Europe. The combined million copies sold was still dwarfed next to Japan's feverish devotion for the series, however.

But Square Enix's persistence may finally pay off. It's been a good couple of years for niche Japanese properties seeking a presence in the West. Monster Hunter finally has a sizeable English-speaking audience, and Westerners went mad for Persona 5 and Nier: Automata in 2017. The Dragon Quest series' character designer, manga-ka Akira Toriyama, is as relevant to American children as Walt Disney thanks to the worldwide success of Dragon Ball Z, so Dragon Quest XI's crisp and colorful HD visuals are guaranteed to turn heads by themselves. And when the game comes to North America on September 4, it'll be available on Steam as well as the PlayStation 4.

Your adventure begins as all adventures must: With innumerable Slime murders.

Finally, though I didn't go hands-on with Dragon Quest XI, the hour I spent watching Assistant Producer Hikari Kubota play through an early story scenario mad me wish I was playing it. Though Dragon Quest XI technically isn't an open world RPG, there's no lack of sprawling green spaces teeming with monster life. What I saw reminds a bit of Monster Hunter: World's ecosystem: The landscape gently corrals you, but also treats you to an environment where monsters truly live in their habitats instead of simply hanging around. You glimpse them in trees, catch sight of them patrolling their territory, and spy them napping at the side of the road. It's hard to resist the call to dive into the game and see what you can see—especially since you're gifted with a horse at the beginning of your adventure for swift travels (and to kick foes out of the way in case you don't feel like letting them get up in your business).

You can't solve every problem with a hoof to the face, however, and sooner or later you get pulled into a fight. Traditional turn-based battles are the order of the day in Dragon Quest XI: You and your party members are on one side, and your foes are on the other. You can trade blows, sling magic, and make use of a semi-mysterious system called "Pep Points" that replace Dragon Quest VIII's Tension-building system. The full potential of Pep Points wasn't demonstrated during the session, but a quick description was offered. As you perform action and take damage in battle you and your team build up Pep, which can go back into coordinating massive group attacks. Pep-based techniques can technically turn the tide if a battle is going badly for you—but the flip-side is also true, as enemies can make use of Pep as well.

Another way Square Enix hopes to coax more Westerners into giving Dragon Quest XI a try is with its options for self-imposed torture. The "Draconic Quest" feature lets you customize the difficulty of your journey to an almost-hilarious degree. Basic options include making enemies much harder or limiting the armor and weapons your party can buy. A less orthodox means of making yourself suffer involves inflicting your party with "Shypox"—a permanent status ailment that randomly causes members to falter, get embarrassed, and miss their turn when they're supposed to perform in battle or heal an ally.

The stage is once again set for Dragon Quest to make a big impression on a fresh Western audience. Will this be the series' breakout moment? Will Square Enix see a massive adoption movement akin to Capcom's recent Western success with Monster Hunter: World? Dragon Quest XI looks great, it sounds good, it's getting a Steam release alongside its console release, and the success of another turn-based RPG—Persona 5—proves North America isn't as allergic to "old fashioned" JRPG systems as some people initially thought. If Dragon Quest is going to shine on these shores, it's now or never.

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Comments 26

  • Avatar for Macuelos #1 Macuelos 5 months ago
    I'm mildly disappointed by the lack of 3DS version for the West, it's still my console of choice for RPGs. I suppose they don't want to spread their bet, going for the very popular PS4 only to begin with. At least there's a Steam version, I wasn't expecting that! I'm still very much looking forward to this, though, though I still haven't gone through IX... which is a shame now that the WFC is down. Sure would be something if they remade that for Switch.

    And speaking of Switch, we still have that version of XI to look forward to, too! Even if it doesn't launch this year (or probably next year, either. What version are they going to put on there, anyway?).
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  • Avatar for moochan #2 moochan 5 months ago
    I feel the only time the accent really hurt the game was Dragon Quest 4 DS. With NPC you want easy to read dialog to get a feeling of the world, town, quest, and other things. And giving a almost James Joyce level of accent just made me hate wanting to talk to anyone. But after that they seem to learn to tone it down enough. Still something I don't personally care for but even Dragon Quest 7 didn't really go that far.

    But back to talking about happy things which is just us finally getting Dragon Quest info! Don't know what else is coming out around early September (know Monster Hunter PC just has "fall" and that's really it) but that date seem fine by me. If they finally put out images and video of the Switch version before the release I might hold off to by that version but if even at that time we have nothing on it I'll just buy the PC version and maybe get the Switch version later. Since best thing about Dragon Quest 11 is it having a weird Password feature (Nadia did they talk about that feature with you?) so you can switch between versions without having to deal with starting all over.
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  • Avatar for davedalrymple11 #3 davedalrymple11 5 months ago
    @moochan I'm not sure if I'll wait for the Switch version or not. It will probably depend on whether or not I have anything else to play when the fall comes.
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  • Avatar for johnpading95 #4 johnpading95 5 months ago
    I kinda preferred the slightly chibi-esque character proportions of the 3DS version, sorta like Toriyama's character art for Chrono Trigger (not that the PS4 version looks bad). Wouldn't mind if the Switch version ends up being a remastered HD version of the 3DS game.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #5 Flipsider99 5 months ago
    This year seems like it'll be a dry year, but I guess this is another thing to look forward to! It's looking and sounding great!
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #6 Arvis-Jaggamar 5 months ago
    Package this with a playable demo of Final Fantasy XVI!
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #7 Godots17thCup 5 months ago
    I understand SE's reasoning for it, but it does sting that the Switch version is still so far off and that we won't be getting the 3DS version at all.

    Still, finally seeing Dragon Quest XI in English sure is a sight for sore eyes. XI looked like a delightful entry in the series even when I couldn't understand a word of what was happening on-screen, and a lot of these tweaks for the Western release are quite welcome.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #8 Godots17thCup 5 months ago
    @moochan I generally love the approach they've taken to localizing Dragon Quest games since the original release of VIII, but hoo boy, even I'll admit that DQ IV's script was hard to get through at times.

    I normally love talking to all of the NPCs in Dragon Quest games, but some of the accents in IV were nearly impenetrable.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #9 TheWildCard 5 months ago
    @Godots17thCup Yeah I mostly like the accents of modern DQ games (and you got to love those puns!) but IV goes overboard with them.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #10 SIGGYZtar 5 months ago
    If making enemies harder means just upping their stats count me out. If it means making it a challenge by making your party recognize their own weaknesses and use it to their advantage, why not? Dragon Quest is not known as a series that takes advantage of the latter. All of the boss battles involve buff, debuff, heal, and strike with sword or magic, rarely do you see a boss that is actually weak against an elemental spell. Persona and Final Fantasy? Always.

    I wonder what market research went into deciding that Dragon Quest XI would be worth releasing solely on the PS4 and PC, despite the fact that seven million 3DSes were still sold last year. Is Square thinking that selling it on the PS4 will somehow get that 6million mark it got for Final Fantasy XV or that 7.5million mark Capcom got for Monster Hunter World? Well, good luck.Edited March 2018 by SIGGYZtar
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  • Avatar for Number1Laing #11 Number1Laing 5 months ago
    @SIGGYZtar 7M is a big number but the Switch sold almost double that, and the PS4, triple.

    They also released DQ7 and DQ8 recently, I would bet the performance of those two helped in the decision.
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  • Avatar for riot-50 #12 riot-50 5 months ago
    Man, I dunno. Thinking that the success of Nier and Persona is indicative of potential success for Dragon Quest is a mistake.

    Yes, they are the same genre but part of the success of Nier and Persona is that they practically ooze cool.

    Dragon Quest looks like Akira Toriyama did the character designs for one of those straight to DVD Lego Ninjago movies.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #13 Gamer-Law 5 months ago
    The positive news from my perspective is the inclusion of the new Draconian Quest (i.e. Hard) mode. Recent JRPG releases like Radiant Historia Perfect Chronology have benefitted from the inclusion of a Hard mode and I am inclined to think that DQ XI will too.

    Beyond that, I am disappointed that we will not see the 3DS version in NA. The 2D retro graphics in that version were terrific and DQ games lend themselves to on-the-go gaming. For a series that is largely built on nostalgia value, it is sad to see the 3DS version of the game left out.

    My hope is that Nintendo will step-up and localize DQ XI for the west as they have with most recent Dragon Quest releases. It would be a fitting closure to the 3DS library.Edited March 2018 by Gamer-Law
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  • Avatar for phatcorns #14 phatcorns 5 months ago
    I don't know man. Steam will do a lot to help push the game just as far as visibility, but I don't really feel like enough has changed gameplay wise that this is going to change anything. But good on Square Enix for keeping on trying. I'll do my part as always haha
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  • Avatar for camchow #15 camchow 5 months ago
    I'm hyped for this game, was always planning on getting the PS4 version. I'm only bummed about the main character. Kind of wish they kept the character customization of the previous two entries. The main character is a silent protag anyway so I don't really see the need to keep him as is. Oh well, honestly I just think the main character looks kind of dumb but otherwise still pretty hyped for the game, hope he grows on me somehow.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #16 nadiaoxford 5 months ago
    Quick clarification! The "Draconic Quest" is present in the Japanese version of the game, too. Square-Enix didn't add it for the West; they just hope the extra challenge brings in more Westerners.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #17 Gamer-Law 5 months ago
    @nadiaoxford - Thanks! I don’t know why I thought I read that it was unique to the western release. Appreciate the clarification.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #18 nadiaoxford 5 months ago
    @Gamer-Law NP! That's the magic of translation and transcription. I've since altered the sentence to make it a bit clearer.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #19 donkeyintheforest 5 months ago
    I loved dragon quest builders (my first dq game), and might pick up the pc version of this just cause i loved the vibe and bright colors so much. I still havent finished xenoblade 2 though (over 80 hours in, still enjoying), so dont know if I'm ready to commit to another huge game yet though! maybe it'll be out on switch by the time I'm ready haha
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #20 chaoticBeat 5 months ago
    I was hoping to play this on Switch but Octopath Traveler will do in it's place. I might get this for the PS4. Shypox... that's hilarious and brilliant. I wonder what the cure for it in the game is? Can I apply it in real life?
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  • Avatar for jimmyhill11 #21 jimmyhill11 5 months ago
    Eh, the cockney and other various regional accents (and in fact it’s not just British regions that are represented. Tom, the dude at Chataeux Felix in DQ VIII speaks with a South African accent) that you get in DQ games are pretty much the opposite of Queens English.Edited March 2018 by jimmyhill11
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #22 riderkicker 5 months ago
    @Gamer-Law Looks like we have to annoy Nintendo Europe's equivalent of Treehouse.
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  • Avatar for One_Vurfed_Gwrx #23 One_Vurfed_Gwrx 5 months ago
    Something looks off with the PS4 version. I am not sure what but it looks a bit generic and bland compared to previous entries and the 3DS version which would have been a day one purchase. While it is nice to see localisation of the series continue I am not particularly excited by what I have seen of the PS4 version so far. This one is not a preorder for me.
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  • Avatar for daverhodus #24 daverhodus 5 months ago
    Has anyone detailed what the "New Dash Function" is?
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  • Avatar for Damn_Skippy #25 Damn_Skippy 5 months ago
    I'm all over this. I appreciate the fact that DQ games never take themselves too seriously, which lends them far more charm than their competitors.
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  • Avatar for Kamiyouni #26 Kamiyouni 3 months ago
    @Hoolo totally getting the Switch version. I'll have more than enough time to get up to date with my games by the time it comes out, so I'm not worried. It's a shame I probably will be out of the conversation though.
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