JRPGs can draw their roots back to a few specific series, but arguably none have been more influential than Dragon Quest. The franchise, first localized as Dragon Warrior in the West, truly defined the idea of JRPGs as rollicking adventures filled with towns, party members, and strategic combat. Over the years, however, the genre has found new ways to evolve, and this has largely led to turn-based “traditional” JRPGs being left behind. Dragon Quest is different. Five years ago Dragon Quest found a way to bring the perfect traditional JRPG experience into the modern age, and it resulted in one of the very best games of the last decade, Dragon Quest XI.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age was first released in 2017, with an enhanced “Definitive Edition” later making its way onto Nintendo Switch in 2019 and then other platforms in 2020. That Definitive Edition will now be playable for free for PS Plus Extra and Premium users. It’s an enormous 100-plus-hour RPG that manages to feel both nostalgic and cutting-edge at the same time.
On its face, Dragon Quest XI’s narrative plays out much like the rest of the series. You take on the role of the Luminary, a chosen warrior destined to save the world of Erdrea from the forces of darkness. Along your journey, you collect a party of eclectic characters who all fill typical RPG roles, like the thief and wise old mentor.
It all seems very typical and trope-y even, but Dragon Quest XI has a few points where it subverts expectations to do something surprising, and the storytelling really shines in each of the party member’s story arcs. These individual stories are fleshed out even more in the Definitive Edition, with additional quests for each and every party member.
The real star of the show, though, is the world of Erdrea, especially the various towns you visit. Dragon Quest XI does an exceptionally good job with its world-building, and every time you arrive in a new town there’s a wealth of NPCs to chat with, secret items to find, books to read, and more. These towns feel dynamic both visually and mechanically, giving you multiple reasons to explore.
Each of Dragon Quest XI’s towns feels different and distinct, from the Spanish-inspired Puerto Valor to the icy castle spires of Sniflheim. All of these locations are also crammed with little visual details, like food set on the table of families or cats and dogs roaming the streets.
Apart from all the exploration, Dragon Quest XI packs all the typical features the series is known for; turn-based combat, crafting, minigames, and more. There are a few nice changes that make this entry feel more modern, such as no random battles and an option for a more dynamic battle camera.
Battles feel speedier than in past entries, and the ability to set everyone but the main character on auto can make things go even faster. Then you have the ability system, which lets you unlock nodes on a grid, similar to the License Board of Final Fantasy XII. There’s a ton of choice involved in abilities that essentially lets you change the role of a party member if you so choose.
If you’re trying to boil down what makes Dragon Quest XI so special it’s simply a feeling, a sense of whimsy that you don’t find anywhere else. Even while the story feels standard the stellar writing and voice acting make it shine, giving everything a fun comical edge.
Dragon Quest XI feels like a JRPG that could have been released in the golden era of the genre, just updated with modern visuals and sensibilities. Its world is bursting with character and discovery, its story is heartfelt and impactful, and its gameplay systems feel fittingly nostalgic but unburdened by the past. In many ways, Dragon Quest XI feels like the quintessential JRPG experience that every fan of the genre should play.