Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is everything I’ve ever wanted in a JRPG. A wonderful story that kept me interested, characters that meant something, beautiful environments, and a genuine feeling of satisfaction after completing the game. If you know me, you know Final Fantasy IX is my favorite JRPG of all time and my favorite in that franchise. Today, I’m proud to say that Dragon Quest XI has earned its spot at the top.
Okay, okay, calm down. Yes, Final Fantasy IX is amazing, and for its time, was incredible – and that’s exactly what Dragon Quest XI is for the present day. The game sucks you in with relatable characters and multiple storylines that keep you musing about them day and night. In the middle of my playthrough, I found myself out in the real world making connections to the game. A close friend of mine was talking to me about a script he was assisting in writing. He talked about story pacing, and how certain things would be revealed. I immediately made the connection to Dragon Quest XI, and bought him a copy for his birthday.
This review of Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is based off a singular 117-hour playthrough on the PlayStation 4. Buckle up folks, because I’ve got a lot to say.
[alert type=”blue”]Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a game heavily dependent on the story. The game’s story is very good, and I feel like every player should experience it for themselves. This review will be based on what we at The Koalition base our scores on story, graphics, gameplay, sound, and value. This review is as spoiler-free as possible.[/alert]
You may be thinking, “Tatjana, we’ve read the reviews for this game. It came out a while ago, what gives?” What gives is that I personally felt I would not be doing this game justice if I didn’t complete the story. As you see below, I gave the story a 95% – which is near perfect – but it didn’t necessarily start that way. To me, it started off a little slow, and 10-20 hours in, I was thinking, “Okay, I can give it a 75% and call it good.” Then it got better and was more of an 80%, and so on and so forth. The story had a couple of lulls, but the rest of it made up for it so well, I was able to bury the parts I disliked and move on.
Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll go over the basic synopsis. Dragon Quest XI takes place in a land called Erdrea. Erdrea is a place full of diverse environments. From small islands out in the sea to incredibly established kingdoms (a lot like Hyrule, to give you an idea), the game does an incredible job of giving you a sense of exploring a very large land. You play the hero – who you name yourself, and never speaks – and start your journey in a small town, Cobblestone. When children come of age in Cobblestone, they must climb the Cobblestone Tor to take a look at how large the world they live in really is.
Luckily for our protagonist, he doesn’t have to climb the Tor on his own. His childhood friend, Gemma, has the same birthday, so the two of them get to share this important moment together. Upon climbing the Tor, the hero quickly learns he’s more than what meets the eye. Saving Gemma from slipping to her death with powers he didn’t know he had, they returned to town. Telling his mother what happened, she gives him a necklace and a note and sends him off to the kingdom of Heliodor to share the news.
After you reach Heliodor and complete the first main story quest, that’s where things really begin. The hero is then taken on an insane journey of twists and turns, meeting all sorts of people along the way. After things begin (if you’re anything like me), you’ll probably feel like things are overly cliché and wonder if you’ll be able to hold interest. Trust me when I say to just give it another few hours before you give up.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age does an incredible job of mixing multiple elements to form one great story. Equal parts drama, tragedy, comedy, with a good handful of classic JRPG tropes, the story is perfectly balanced. As mentioned in my first impressions piece, prior to the halfway point of the game, one of the story arcs had me in tears. The game probably did this to me another three times after that.
The first sixty hours or so take the hero to various places in Erdrea to collect a specific set of items. Each place you visit has its own “story arc,” as I like to call it. While each story arc feels independent, they still tie into the main story seamlessly and help the player keep track of all that’s happened without becoming overwhelmed. Square Enix even added a mechanic where when you boot up the game, you get a little recap of what’s happened so far. This helps whether you have to put the game down for a few days, or a few hours.
Each character who joins you on your adventure is special in their own way. Dragon Quest XI makes every character feel like they matter by tying them into the lore. Whether it’s side quests or little books you find on shelves, there are details that show the player every character is there for a reason. The last time I felt a game did this successfully was Mass Effect 2. Backstories aren’t just an afterthought – they were well thought out and carefully planned. While you don’t have loyalty quests for the characters like Mass Effect 2 does, you do get a similar experience that (for each character) is evenly spread out over the course of your playthrough.
The game’s story relies heavily on constant plot twists and reveals… And that is totally okay. While this method of storytelling isn’t often successful in other mediums (and other games), it works for Dragon Quest XI. Some of the plot twists were a bit predictable, but that didn’t matter. Their execution made me overlook the level of predictability without much thought. The dialogue was the same way. At times, it was overly cheesy, but in the end, it still felt organic, and that’s not something you see every day.
After you complete what you think is the main story, the credits roll and bring you back into the game. The beauty of the post-game content in Echoes of an Elusive Age is it’s totally optional. The game presents it to the player in a way that says “you can finish here if you’re happy with it, and that’s okay. BUT, you can also continue and see what else we have in store.” Post-game content ran me about an additional 20 hours, and it was absolutely worth it. And I didn’t even come close to do everything in the post-game. If you are a longtime fan of the Dragon Quest series, however, I encourage you to play after the credits. Echoes of an Elusive Age has a little surprise for veterans of the series.
Dragon Quest XI is the most beautiful game of its kind. A color palette that is deep, and covers every color you can think of. Every environment a set of color schemes that are beyond aesthetically pleasing. When playing a game for over 100 hours, it shouldn’t be dreadful to look at, right? So many games these days seem to lack vibrancy, an appear almost morbid. That is thankfully not the case with Dragon Quest XI.
The environments in this game were so detailed, and the backgrounds were incredibly sophisticated. Standing on top of a mountain and looking out at the vast mountain ranges, the time of day [in-game] affecting the environments. The daytime casting shadows, dusk bringing in beautiful oranges and purples, and the night sky being detailed with plenty of stars. There were so many places in Dragon Quest XI where I just wanted to jump in my television and live there. Watching cutscenes felt like I was watching a brand new anime film. Animations were stunning, and everything was incredibly detailed. I’m almost a little sad there weren’t more cutscenes.
When it came to the technical side of the graphics, I only experienced frame skipping in one area. It was short, and outside of that specific place, it never happened again. For a title with such a large environment, frame skips in one place to me is a huge success. With the addition of photo mode in the Western release, I encourage you to use it as much as possible. The one thing I beat myself up for is not utilizing it more. I was often too sucked into the game itself to remember the feature was there, and when I go back for a second playthrough, I’ll be sure not to make that mistake again. Take your time with new areas, and really stop to smell the roses. There’s a lot to look at, and it’s completely worth it.
The Western release of Dragon Quest XI has added and improved a lot of things from its Japanese release. Overhauled menus and user interface which received graphical upgrades, and better navigational tools. A new dash function, which the previous release didn’t have, to help players move around quicker. And the one thing players can’t seem to get enough of these days, camera mode. All of these changes may sound minor, but they play a big part in why Dragon Quest XI feels great to play.
I only had a couple gripes with the game’s mechanics: the fact you can’t see an enemy’s HP bar, and the god-awful jumping mechanics. If you’ve played a lot of Square Enix games in your day, you know the developers have this very strange – and frankly quite annoying – romantic affair with jumping puzzles (I’m looking at you, Stormblood). A side quest you can accept in Heliodor right at the beginning of the game had you find a way to the rooftop of a building and jump across to another rooftop to save a cat.
I don’t want to talk about how many times I had to attempt this jump before it was successful, because I lost count after about ten. Even at the preview event before E3, a representative for Square Enix said it even took them a handful of times to successfully execute the jump, which honestly should not have been that complicated.
The game’s mechanics make it fun. It’s not just another turn-based JRPG, it’s the grown-up version of the JRPGs you grew up with. Echoes of an Elusive Age gives the player full control of what they want to do with the party members. Only want to control the main hero? Great, you can do that. Unsure about Sylvando’s rotation, and want to have him attack with everything he’s got? You can do that, too. Dragon Quest XI allows the player to choose from a variety of “Tactics” for each character. You can set them to obey (player has full control), and things like “focus on healing,” or “no mercy,” where a character goes ham on a monster without worrying about resources like MP.
A huge plus to the game’s battle system is the ability to swap out characters and equipment at any given time. In most RPGs, you typically want to sell your old equipment when you get new (and seemingly better) stuff, but this game is a bit different. You’ll really want to pay attention to specific stats, especially with accessories. While some objects may not give you a lot of defense, they may boost another attribute that’s important in a boss battle. And don’t be quick to sell items you find laying around Erdrea, either, as at campsites, you can use the Mini Forge to create new weapons, armors, and accessories, and “rework” ones you already have to improve their stats.
Often times in role-playing games, we meet one party member, and the game just dumps the rest on our laps at the next possible chance. Dragon Quest XI gives you a fair amount of time with each character, and I applaud it for this. The game gives you the chance to really get to know the characters joining you on your adventure with great dialog and storytelling. This to me is huge in terms of gameplay, as you don’t feel rushed or overwhelmed to constantly swap characters in and out to focus on them, for a lack of better terms. The game does a great job of introducing the character, and then once a part of the group, evenly touching each story.
If I had to pick one thing to really complain about with Dragon Quest XI, it’d be the music. Koichi Sugiyama has produced music for the entirety of the Dragon Quest series, and all of his work is wonderful. For past titles, I completely understand why you would go with a synthesized version of the soundtrack… But why now? With how graphically stunning the game is, and the technology we have, why can’t we get the full orchestrated soundtrack?
It personally feels like a bit of a middle finger to the fans. The only way you could obtain the symphonic suite for Dragon Quest XI was by purchasing the collector’s edition. Which, mind you, was only available for pre-order on the Square Enix merchandise store, and cost a hefty $149.99. While yes, I did purchase it because I loved what I previewed before E3, I wanted the symphonic suite. I have no regrets, mind you. After listening to the symphonic version of the soundtrack, it really bothers me as to why the symphonic version was absent from the game.
The symphonic suite is beautiful, and a good amount of tracks in the game are as well, but the lack of variety made the soundtrack feel repetitive. The same electronic track in all the towns, all the churches, all the battle zones… It got old. Somehow the night music didn’t, though, and that’s all right. Very few areas had altered versions of the same tracks to better fit the theme of the environment. Sadly, it wasn’t consistent throughout the game, and that’s one thing I wish Square Enix took the time on doing.
There is absolutely no question about it: Dragon Quest XI is totally worth your money. With the addition of Draconian Mode, you have a reason to play the game more than once. Draconian Mode allows you to torture yourself if you wish. You can do things like lower experience gained from fights, and make monsters super strong. And with a story that can continue another 20+ hours after the credits, you have yourself a complete RPG. Nothing about Dragon Quest XI felt empty, or half-assed. It’s honestly one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, and I eagerly await for the next chapter.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is available now for PlayStation 4 and PC (Steam) for $59.99. This review was conducted on the PlayStation 4 on a digital copy provided by Square Enix.
Check out some of my screenshots taken in photo mode! All screenshots were taken on a regular PlayStation 4. Dragon Quest XI is however optimized for the PlayStation 4 Pro.