Six Years Ago, Dragon Quest XI Unleashed the Most Dramatic RPG Twist Ever

If at first you don’t succeed...

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Square Enix

RPGs as a whole simply wouldn’t be what they are today without Dragon Quest, one of gaming’s longest-running franchises. Over the last 36 years, the franchise has kept reevaluating itself and redefining the genre at large. Six years ago, Dragon Quest XI instantly became the very best game in the series, with a rich and vibrant world, lovable party members, and a truly unforgettable twist.

Dragon Quest XI has a deceptively simple setup, casting you as the legendary Luminary, a hero destined to save the land of Erdrea from darkness. Things quickly take a turn, when you meet the King of Heliodor, who accuses you of being evil and throws you in jail. From there, Dragon Quest XI starts to layer in more complex narratives and characters, starting with the thief Erik who helps you break out.

Dragon Quest XI has an incredible main cast that truly feel like they build camaraderie through their struggles.

Square Enix

As you explore Erdrea you start building a party of eccentric characters, like the wonderfully flamboyant circus performer Sylvando, or the stoic but surprisingly goofy martial artist Jade. Each character has their own dedicated narrative arc, and the story does a great job of putting each in the spotlight at one point or another, building complex backstories that really make you care about them and their place in the world.

More than anything, Dragon Quest XI immerses you in its world, creating vast and intricate cities that are an absolute joy to explore. Each town or village feels wonderfully detailed, from the Greece-inspired seaside town of Arboria to the quaint mountain hot spring Hotto. Each location is filled with discoverable treasures and items, books and pieces of lore, and NPCs that help flesh out the world and current events. It’s easy to get lost in any one city for hours at a time, even while the main story gets more and more gripping.

Each town is visually and culturally distinct, with a real live-in feel.

Square Enix

About halfway through Dragon Quest XI’s story gets blown wide open, with a shocking twist that rivals even the likes of Final Fantasy VI. Fifty hours in your party defeats the big bad, Mordegon, but at the cost of one of your treasured friends sacrificing themselves. A mysterious entity known as the Timekeeper gives you a way to travel back in time, with all the knowledge and power you have now.

The second half of the game then consists of essentially replaying the game, but changing events along the way, making for an entirely new timeline where your party member, and others, survive. However, because of the events you change you also allow Mordegon to obtain an even stronger power, and transform into a god-like being called The Dark One.

It’s a brilliant twist that ends up being a massive surprise, but even better is how reactive the world of Erdrea is to it. While you’re technically “replaying” the first half, every piece of the world is designed to react to you changing the timeline, and Dragon Quest XI is very meta about recognizing that, providing plenty of commentary from characters on the Luminary’s sudden newfound strength.

Every party members, importantly, gets their moment to shine.

Square Enix

While Dragon Quest XI’s story and world are its big selling points, this entry also does a good job of updating the series’ classic turn-based combat, making it play more fast and fluid than ever before. It’s still a very basic and traditional system, but the game provides quite a few options for letting AI control your party, on top of building out powerful combo attacks. Of course, there’s also everything else you’d expect from a dense RPG, like loads of equipment, a detailed leveling and skill system, and oodles of side quests.

Dragon Quest is a series filled with all-time classics, but somehow, Dragon Quest XI feels like it stands head and shoulders above even other hallowed entries. It feels like the culmination of everything Dragon Quest should be; a rich world, fantastically complex characters, comprehensive turn-based combat, and an undeniable quirkiness and sense of humor. The only problem now is that it’s hard to imagine any way Dragon Quest XII could possibly top it.

Dragon Quest XI is available to purchase for PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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