As my first Dragon Quest game, I went in expecting just another jRPG, but after a few hours, I was surprised, for better or for worst. 50 hours of playtime has passed, the game is beaten and even though I still intent to keep playing for the side quests and maybe the platinum trophy, I think things will not change that drastically anymore to sway my opinion.
The game has excellent qualities, one of them is the voice acting, different accents are common throughout the world, as well as city and character designs. From region to region, ways of speaking change based on real world cultures, characters clothing’s and layouts of cities change too. Every city in the game is based on a real world culture; there is an Italian city, a Greek city, Japan, China, France, and more. As a long time jRPG player (and RPG in general), is common to see cities in games design with the sole purpose of being there to assist the player; here is the weapon shop, and there is the item shop, also this lonely house of an important NPC to progress the main quest; so welcome to this great city of half a dozen people and 3 buildings. Dragon Quest XI is a bit different, every city is unique, and designed in a way that it can be a functioning place; there is tons of houses that you can go inside, they have beds, tables, sofas and everything that a person could need. While playing the game I found myself eagerly waiting for the next city to explore because they were all beautiful.
The main cast of characters starts pretty weak, as common for a jRPG you play as a silent protagonist (I hate that so much) and the first party member that you find is the most lame one, a thief with a good heart, very original. He guides you in the first few hours of the story since your character can’t think or speak. Eventually you find the best characters in the game, Veronica and Sylvando are, in main opinion, the proper main characters of the game, they have a personality, a backstory, motivations, and often lead the party from place to place in their journey. Despite me picking on other characters, they are all unique, good voice acting, funny lines, and interactions that are fluid and natural carry them to be one of the best jRPG cast in the last few years. Takes you a long time to find out more about their past, which I think could be fed throughout the game instead of their having a big “reveal” one after the other during the second part of the game but that doesn’t hit them hard enough to be a problem.
Now let us talk a bit about the bad; what this game succeeds in charm and details, it fails on its core essence, turn based combat and menus. I am a bit ashamed to admit that a few hours in I was feeling like quitting because of how infuriating the menus are. You have 2 separate menus; on Playstation, Triangle opens the main menu with Items, Equipment, Attributes, Magic, and Options; the button Options opens what I think is supposed to be a quick menu that has Craft, Quests, Call Horse. That is all fine but there is some quick use skills that are not in the quick use menu; Fast Travels is on Triangle > Magic > MainCharacter > Zoom, and healing is on Triangle > Info > Heal All (I discovered after 40 hours that you can use Triangle > Square to heal but still). This weird separation of what the game thinks its important is unnecessary, why is fast travel not available directly when you open the map? Why is quest and craft not just part of the main menu? More often than not, I was opening one of them and oops, it is not here is on the other one, its just annoying.
This same separation of menus is also present in battles; you have Spells and Abilities, and what they do? Exactly the same thing. They are special attacks that consume MP and both are some sort of magic. Abilities are closer to weapon related attacks (but not on all cases) and Spells are magical attacks (but not on all cases), it doesn’t help at all when you have magic with the same effect but on different menus; one character can cast an Ability that gives Regen while another character can cast a Spell that gives Regen; why, just why? This leads to nothing but menu hopping; you can never find what you want on the first try.
The game also suffers from too many options and too little information. By level 30, which is half way through the main quest, I had characters with 6 pages worth of things to use (Abilities+Spells). Not only your normal small magic, medium magic, big magic, that you see on any other game; but all characters are jack-of-all-trades. Every character has the holy trinity of RPG skills (with a few exceptions), they all have healing, attacking, buffing, debuffing, support, and that just clutters the screen with junk, if you can switch your front line mid battle with no downside there is no reason to not having specialized party members. With access to so many elemental magic and different types of abilities that are good against demons, or beasts, or humanoids, you would think you would be able to put together a strategy for every battle; but no you cannot. Because the game doesn’t give you any information about the enemies that you are fighting, not their level, not their strength or weakness, nothing; you just have their name and a white > yellow > orange color to kind of know how much HP they have left. If you search the menu you can find the locations they spawn and what they drop but knowing if the Red Eyed Gryphon that you are fighting is a flyer, or demon, or beast to use an effective ability is impossible.
Not even going to talk about the busy work of having to give an item to a character in the main menu to be able to use that item in battle.
Overall, I still think Dragon Quest XI is worth playing, the story is cliché but the voice acting carries it well. The locations are not “whoa” material but their city design is enough to make you want to explore the world, and the main cast is charismatic and unique enough to be likable. Definitely worth picking up if you like more traditional jRPGs, I don’t like rating games but I would give it a 7/10.
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