I’m a big fan of the Dragon Quest series, and have been for longer than I can remember. While I’ve enjoyed playing the remakes of Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest VIII on my 3DS, I’ve been yearning for an entirely new adventure filled with the irreverent humor, quirky characters, and grand adventures that first drew me to the franchise. I was beyond excited to get some hands-on time with Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age.
I got to play the Gallopolis demo, which takes place about ten hours into the game, giving me a large world to roam around in, horses to ride, several main and side quests to experience, a town to explore, and a full party to do battle with. Fans have been clamoring for a localized release for DQXI since its July 2017 release in Japan, and the Square Enix team has made the wait worthwhile, giving the English release a slew of features which were not present in the Japanese release, the most noticeable being a dash button and voice acting, as the game released in Japan without any voiced dialogue.
I’m going to be honest: it took me a minute to get used to the look of the game. DQXI is a beautifully rendered game, rich in detail with scenery which is quite realistic, something I wasn’t initially sure would blend comfortably with Akira Toriyama’s style. While it was a bit jarring at first, it didn’t take me long to get used to seeing the highly stylized, cell-shaded characters against the lush backdrop, and my initial reaction was quickly forgotten.
After watching the game’s intro, I found myself in an open field, surrounded by cute, stumpy monsters, many of which have become familiar faces through the DQ franchise. Colliding with any given monsters opened the familiar, first-person combat experience fans know and love, (or know and tolerate) complete with the ability to assign tactics and skip issuing commands each turn for everyone except the unnamed playable hero. The monsters were cute, animated, and everything I’d expect from the franchise, though combat now comes with an extra feature. While running around in the overworld, the hero is able to swing his weapon at an approaching monster. Landing that blow before entering the combat screen deals damage to monsters, giving you an advantage in combat, and maybe a little more reason to stand your ground, rather than just booking it away from the nearest aggressive critter.
The overworld also features bells scattered throughout the map, mostly near towns, dungeons, and other major points of interest. Ringing a bell allows you to summon a horse, allowing you to mount up and cover ground far more quickly than you would be able to on foot, especially when combined with the aforementioned dash button. Horses also provided me a moment of sheer delight: You do not enter into battle if you collide with a monster while sprinting on horseback, instead you actually punt the little bugger right off the map. I cackled the first time it happened, literally cackled, and then proceeded to waste more of my demo time than I should admit chasing down and booting squishy, adorable critters into the stratosphere. It’s incredibly cathartic and I recommend it to everyone.
Once I’d had my fun roaming the overworld, I abandoned my horse, who would have faithfully waited for me while I battled creatures had I asked it to, and used my Zoom spell to zip right back to the entrance of Gallopolis, the grand, walled city at the center of this demo. As the name might suggest, Gallopolis is a city with a huge love of and focus on horses, much to the dismay of the young prince. In typical Dragon Quest style, the nameless hero and his crew need to get the ear of the sultan, who holds a rare item they need in order to advance in their quest, and, as it turns out, the best way to get his ear is to aid the prince, who is terrible at riding, fighting, and well, just about everything else his people revere. We agree to meet up with the prince later that night, and then, as DQXI features real time day-night cycles, spent the rest of the day exploring the city.
I wasted no time doing all the important things you do while inside a town in Dragon Quest: I opened drawers, went through people’s cupboards, jumped on their beds, climbed down wells, and yes, uncovered a side quest or two. I’m happy to report that DQXI features all of the quirky, somewhat risqué humor which colored the JRPGs of my childhood; at one point I handed the controls over to my friend who wasted no time in sliding right up to a scantily clad young woman who asked him to come up and experience Dragon Quest’s infamous ‘puff-puff.’ Curious, he followed the young woman into her bedroom, and while I won’t spoil the following antics for fans, suffice it to say that things took a turn, and he ended up far less amused by the outcome than I.
Having wasted enough time, we bought ourselves a ticket to the circus, taking a seat under the big top, where we could talk to the prince without being overheard. It was at this point in the game that I completely stopped paying attention to princey-poo because Sylvando, the flirtatious, flamboyant traveling performer entered the game and utterly stole the spotlight. This charming, whip-wielding minstrel injects himself into the action, challenges the prince on his ruse, and does it all with coy smiles, pet names, and a silver tongue dripping backhanded compliments. I couldn’t wait to get his sassy self onto my team.
The demo provided a great look at the spirit of Dragon Quest XI, which was filled with charm, humor, combat, quests, and challenges, including a horse racing mini game, a bit of exploration, a lot of listening to the prince whine, and a pretty fun boss battle. In true Dragon Quest form, quests grew organically, and while I only got to experience an hour of a game which Square Enix says will offer over 100 hours of gameplay, I’m happy to report that I didn’t come across a single fetch quest. Take that with a grain of salt, as the additional 99 hours may be very different.
I had a blast exploring the world of Dragon Quest XI: Echos of an Elusive Age, it has all the spirit of the Dragon Quest games I fell in love with as a child. DQXI will be be releasing across Europe and North America on September 4th 2018, though only on the PlayStation 4. While there are plans for a Switch release, Square Enix was unable to speculate on a release date for Nintendo portable console. You can learn more about Dragon Quest XI by visiting the official website, or pop over @DragonQuest on Twitter to get news, updates, and even fan art.