By its name it is clear that this game has been released a few times in differing versions. The original Dragon Quest XI was released in 2017 for the PS4 and 3DS and this definitive version was released on Nintendo Switch to then be ported to the Xbox in late 2020. This is the first of the long-running Dragon Quest Series to be available on Xbox.
The graphics and style of this game do resemble a Switch game, but that is not entirely a bad thing as it does tend to have that Nintendo charm that blesses Zelda and Mario games. The world is colorful and the characters, especially the enemies, have delightful designs. The soundtrack which was originally synthetic is also available as orchestral in this version, but the upbeat music is often too repetitive and at times annoying to me. Thankfully on Xbox I could switch to Spotify at times and keep only the sound effects on, which I recommend for long stretches of sitting back and playing this relaxing game.
My thoughts on this game initially were that the presentation was pleasant, and the turn-based combat was nostalgic-but-boring. My main issue with the game from the start, though, was that the story was so banal. The main character finds out that they are actually “The Luminary”, the chosen one, and he takes off on his quest to defeat the darkness and uncover the meaning behind his identity while joining up with a rag-tag group of misfits. The story is played out and only seldomly gives slight twists to its trajectory.
It did not take long to realize that this game was meant for a more casual audience, possibly with less experience with JRPGs. Through this lens the game does deliver in many ways, but it does not excuse the uninspired and unrelatable hero at the head of the story.
The combat in this game will be easily recognized by anyone who has played a Dragon Quest, or a Final Fantasy, or Octopath Traveler, or Bravely Default, or a Mario and Luigi RPG, or even Pokemon. This gameplay style has existed since the original NES and has not been tweaked much here besides the options to have the characters auto-fight.
It had been a while since I played a turn based JRPG, so I was sort of excited to revisit a genre that I loved as a kid. However, I found myself bored quickly. Most enemies can be defeated by pressing attack mindlessly and tougher enemies simply tested my ability to time when I should heal. More intricate abilities and interactions come into play once more allies joined my party, but it was still basic and did nothing that other JRPGs haven’t done before.
Again, though, through the lens of looking at this game as a more casual player or a newcomer to the genre this game does a lot to make itself more approachable and enjoyable. Some of the more frustrating elements of the genre are avoided here.
Time and time again the game makes it easy to progress and do anything I wanted, only asking me at times to grind weak enemies for the coins or experience I needed.
Personally, I have found that when it comes to JRPGs I much prefer a tactics-style gameplay as in Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics to a traditional turn-based system. One of the reasons why is because in tactics games I am involved in a much smaller number of longer fights that make me think and plan much more. But there is no reason why this can’t happen in traditional turn-based games like Dragon Quest XI. For some reason the trope is to force players to fight hundreds of quick fights against weak enemies in their grind through the game instead of scaling back to less fights that take longer and force the player to make more meaningful decisions over the course of the fight. I don’t think anyone enjoys grinding and fighting the same weak enemies again and again and again.
Progression, Items, and Crafting
As I alluded to, the progression and the crafting in this game are very straightforward and forgiving for newer players. Each character gains equal experience from each battle won which eventually lead to them leveling up and improving their stats while gaining new spells. The stat improvements and spells are all scripted so there is no way a character randomly gains better attack or worse defense than in a different playthrough. Each level the character gains skill point to be used toward a skill tree as well which again can be reset by spending some coins which can easily be gained by fighting enemies.
Side quests did not help this mindlessness either, as they were primarily fetch-quests and rarely challenged me to do something unique.
Items can be found though the world hidden in treasure chests and pots or more apparently in “sparkly spots” which can be located on the mini-map and respawn when exiting and entering the area again. From what I have seen, though, none of these items are worth searching for. At best I have found some outfits or weapons or crafting materials, but again all these items can simply be bought, and money is so easy to earn by just fighting weak enemies.
As I stated before, Dragon Quest XI does a great job of making the game approachable to those new to the genre and makes it so players never have to miss out on any aspect of the game just because they did not find the right item or plan far enough ahead. I would argue, though, that in taking away so many elements that cause feel-bad moments in a JRPG, Dragon Quest XI also takes out most of what makes more experienced players feel smart. I never felt clever in my time with this game as I was never forced to thoughtfully plan ahead and was never rewarded for searching for hidden treasures. The tactics of setting up and outfitting my line-up were usually trivial decisions with the best items being clear.
The game is easy, but the game also forced me to grind. This may sound contradictory but it is because there is so little room for meaningful strategic decisions in battles that either my party was strong enough to take a boss’s hits so the battle was easy, or my party wasn’t strong enough to take a boss’s hits so I had to go back and grind. This is my opinion, obviously, but it was not the type of engaging challenge that I was hoping it would be, more like a relaxing slow burn that I did not have the patience for.
Again, the story was run-of-the-mill and failed to keep my attention to the end. Not only was the “chosen-one” plot played-out but the hero never spoke and had no personality making him completely unrelatable. Some side characters and enemies were more vibrant and interesting but the world itself seemed so shallow. The story seemed tailored toward a younger audience especially when looking at this game’s nomenclature: the red orb, the dark one, the sword of light, these make it seem like there is little thought or depth to the story. Some rare memorable moments and twists are scattered throughout the story but for me it was not worth the tedium of getting there.
Dragon Quest XI is a classic JRPG that is pretty and colorful with charming enemies and animations surrounding a decades-old turn-based combat system. It is easy to pick up and approachable to a novice audience but offers less to those looking for a deeper strategic challenge or immediately engaging gameplay.
This game is more like comfort food for those who enjoy the Dragon Quest series or other traditional JRPGs, but it was not for me. I can still appreciate it as a delightful game for those looking to sit back and relax for 50-100 hours while growing their party more powerful. I also think it is a great choice for more casual gamers or for those who are interested in taking their first step into the genre. Even so I think that the story and main character are so uninspired and there are so few opportunities in this game to feel clever that it still may not be worth the time for many people.
Colorful and charming world
Frustrating JRPG elements removed
Relaxing and easy to pick up
Uninspired hero and story