Over the past month, I've been playing Dragon Quest XI. But my time with it has been heavily fractured. Between my time with it, I've also played Spider-Man, Forza Horizon 4, Destiny 2: Forsaken, The Gardens Between, and probably a bunch of other games I'm forgetting about too. My time is divided among too many games, but there's a feature in Dragon Quest XI that makes me returning to it all the easier.
The recap. Every time you boot up Dragon Quest XI, you're treated to a sweet little recap on what happened the last time you played. Even if you stopped and paused for five minutes before quitting, you still get a new recap, with just a few different details around. The recap is seemingly generated according to how far along you are, and how much you played in each session. The recap is detailed accordingly, not punctuated by simple "hey, you did this last time" notices, but by actual storytelling.
This is my first Dragon Quest game, and it's a feature that feels really novel; especially when so much of the discourse floating around this week is about Assassin's Creed Odyssey and whether games should be hella long or not. For RPGs, a genre that's always had a habit for being an intimidating time sink, the introduction of a somewhat-generated recap seems like a no-brainer addition—something I'm shocked I've never come across before in a video game aside from episodic games and the light recaps in The Witcher 3.
After all, the average adult is too busy to dedicate a lot of time to games. Our weekends are full of social activities, errands, calling our parents, binging the latest Netflix show, and so on. For me, it's full of dozens of other games at once, and yeah, the occasional Netflix show. Sometimes games we start slip by, and it can be days (or even weeks) until we return to it—if we return at all. That's the key to Dragon Quest XI's recap feature: whether you haven't played in a day or in weeks, the opening recap is always there to jog your memory.
Personally, I'm extremely forgetful. I keep three planners (weekly, daily, monthly). By the end of the year, I've usually forgotten about most games I've played or even reviewed. It took me a couple years to beat The Witcher 3 in my free time, a game that hooked me everytime I powered it up. And each time I revisited Geralt, I wished there was a more dynamic "here's what you missed" feature than the main quest-focused synopses on loading screens; or better yet, a little tutorial I could revisit to help me relearn its controls. (My method, typically, was running into the wilderness and fighting some Drowners to feel it out again; and without fail, it'd take me about 20 minutes to remember how to call Roach.)
Dragon Quest XI only has the former, but its combat is relatively uncomplicated, so it's not necessary. Storywise though is where it gets more dense, coupling light side quests with heavy character development, making the refresher always warmly welcoming. It may not pick up on the long time I spent loitering in houses, watching NPCs do mundane things like cook sausages, but it will remind me of how I explored the town at leisure. Maybe it'll even contain a snippet of information about a side quest I did or something, like saving a cat from a roof.
I imagine behind Dragon Quest XI's recaps, there's some magical algorithm stitching everything together, and accounting for how much I played from my last section, what I did, what I dwelled on, who I talked to. One recap might be a dense story dump, while another might be simpler, detailing some other aspect of my journey in more intricate detail. It's that level of structure and variety that's consistently surprised me every time I boot up Dragon Quest XI. For Dragon Quest XI, everything is a story; and everything deserves to be remembered too.
I don't know if I'll ever see Dragon Quest XI all the way through, due to its 100-something hour length, but it's a refreshingly relaxing game. It's the sort of game I wanted Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom to be earlier this year, like its direct predecessor. (Instead, Ni No Kuni 2 just disappointed me at every turn, until I quit it all together.) Dragon Quest XI, in contrast, exists to make life easy for the player. You can turn on auto battle if you're tired. You can auto-run too. If it's been awhile since you last played, then no sweat! There's a nice little recap for you when you start it up, as if this session is just another episode to a very long episodic series. (Like Dragon Ball Z, with all the filler in tact before Kai did away with it.)
Dragon Quest XI is engineered to be the most pleasant game imaginable, to take the burden off the player and just give you a nice time with an intricately designed and written world. The recap feature is just another facet of that, and I hope it catches on with other games. Something tells me it won't, though, and I can expect to continue reteaching myself the goings-on for more long games. This only makes Dragon Quest XI a more desirable game to keep coming back to over the months though. I predict I'll be casually playing it in-between other games during the busy fall game season, enjoying my time with Sylvando and friends well into the winter season. And maybe even beyond.