Dragon Quest has been a very reliant JRPG series with each subsequent sequel and Echoes of an Elusive Age is no different. Where many JRPG’s have reinvented themselves and drastically changed their identity with each iteration, Dragon Quest XI feels old and dated in all the right ways, firmly sticking with what has worked for years. With standard turned based battles, a reliance on buffs and casting spells, a large cast of characters in a massive world; there is a lot here to enjoy and explore the complexity of what is offered across its old school designs. Dragon Quest XI S: The Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition is a truly engaging and enjoyable JRPG that thanks to the Nintendo Switch, you can finally take on the go.
Praise aside, there are times where Dragon Quest XI does get a bit repetitive and feels drawn out, but to say I was bored at any time during the game would be a false statement. During my easily 80+ hours with the title, I’ve conquered more than a few dozen side quests, tracked down plenty of the custom outfits, special weapons, and various trinkets that allowed me to defeat every dark threat that came my way, even pushing through the lengthy post-game content that offers the true and more satisfying ending. There is an absolute ton of content here that while it can make you retread upon certain locations and battles, will keep you busy for a very long time. Even if you’ve explored every last inch of the game when it was released on PS4 and PC, there are several reasons to jump back in.
Dragon Quest XI has a huge focus on buffing your party, making them immune to certain status effects, and knowing what spells and accessories that will keep you in the fight. I lost count of how many times a boss would trigger a certain status effect that would spell doom for my entire party. After tracking down the items and weapons I needed, not to mention a brief stint of leveling up my team, I would challenge the boss again, turning the tide this time to one of victory. While a few bosses were remarkably easy, with surprisingly low amounts of health, several of them will require you to think on your feet, take control of your entire team, and min-max your group to ensure your survival. This will cause you to thoroughly explore each and every location, talk to every NPC, and complete each and every side quest that comes your way, not to mention a ton of level grinding. While you do have somewhat freedom to explore and find new things to do, such as spending some time going broke at the casino, the overall story does make Dragon Quest XI somewhat linear. Depending on what you want from the experience, that may or may not be a deal-breaker for you.
You play as a character called the Luminary, and despite a moment later in the game where the name you’ve chosen yourself is somewhat judged, you are consistently referred to as this highly coveted title. The Luminary is that of a chosen warrior, one that had previously defeated the dark lord and became that of legend. Despite the stories being told, and the history of what the hero had done, not all see the Luminary as a hero, but rather that of the cause of the darkness itself. That said, there are those who know the true value and purpose of the Luminary, and it is those that you will join forces with to strike down that very evil, regardless of the many forms it takes during the game. Even after reaching the credits, there is still an incredible amount left to do that lends itself to explaining more of who the Luminary truly is and the lore around what occurred the last time darkness plotted to destroy the world. This post-game content is crucial to understanding the whole story, and a mission the team is desperate to take on, given the events that have unfolded.
As you progress through the story you’ll be joined by several characters; Erik, Serena, Veronica, Sylvando, Rab, and Jade. While there is another that joins later on, I’ll keep their identity a secret and refrain from using them in screenshots as well, mainly since it’s an interesting twist and they also don’t show up on the promotional artwork as well. It’s not long into your adventure when you’ll meet Erik, a thief you’ll encounter that was told by a mysterious voice that it was their destiny to join up with the Luminary. This type of prophecy is also built into the reasons for Serena and Veronica to join, two sisters who come from the land of Arboria and have sworn to protect the Luminary at all costs. The story behind these two is wonderful, and the situation based on how they join is something that truly made each of them very unique. Sylvando, the performer, is a very flamboyant charming personality who brings a lot of positivity and cheer to the team, despite the glooming reality all around them. Lastly, you are joined by Rab and Jade, who you’ll encounter during one of the more enjoyable moments in the story. Each of them has direct ties to the overall plot and remains somewhat mysterious for quite some time.
What I enjoy so much about the cast is how directly tied to one another they are. Of course, without getting into spoilers you’ll have to take that at face value, but many of the interactions with them or the larger ensemble cast are built around who these characters are, their past, what they mean to the story, and how integral they all are. Whether it’s the truth behind Rab, or who Jade is, or the events that caused Erik to seek out the Luminary, all these stories are wonderfully connected in minor but satisfying ways. There is also a narrative about the prior age of heroes that ends up being tragic, yet beautifully sweet when you discover what became of certain characters. While not emotionally impactful to make you shed tears, there are several moments throughout the story that do tug on your heartstrings and come off as being wonderfully written and performed.
Each of your companions, as well as yourself, will specialize in certain weapon sets and abilities; Erik, for example, is focused mainly on quick attacks, so equipping him with a boomerang or some daggers is better suited to his overall capabilities. You’ll place certain characters like Serena or Rab into support roles as healers, with your main protagonist, and the final character to be more of the powerhouse of the team. Characters like Veronica, Jade or Sylvando are flexible enough to cover a lot of ground allowing you to fit them into the gaps between damage and support. By finding your groove with a character and finding a role in the group for them, you’ll find team dynamics that work better for certain encounters than others.
The roles you’ll place your team members into are largely based on how you’ll use their skill points in the character builder, as shown above, a grid-like system that unlocks more options the further you sink points into it. You’ll pick a general starting point, usually around the weapon you want them to be proficient in, and then bleed out from there. As you unlock passive stat increases or new attacks, you’ll unlock mystery tiles around those skills that can either add new abilities, increases to their MP or HP, or even more skill points as well. As you push through the story, new tiles will be added when characters learn new categories, such as when two characters will be required to use a special attack to defeat two golden warriors. And if you feel you’ve made a mistake on where you’ve taken them, you can respec them for a very small amount of gold.
Battles are turned based in their most purest form. While it’s based largely on your agility, there is a randomness to this system that can cause a character to sometimes attack twice, or sooner than you expect, anyway. You can also choose to let your party attack on their own, giving them a set of orders like fighting wisely, burning through special attacks, or conserving MP at all costs. If you don’t care for the AI guiding them in battle, you can simply take manual control of them. During many hours of grinding, I would set the entire team and my main character to auto-battle and just move them around while catching up on some missed tv shows, or during the process of writing this review. As you attack, defend, or take damage, each character has a random chance to become pepped up, which increases their overall power and when another character is pepped alongside them, they can perform a series of actions that allow them to team up against enemies, or apply buffs to their teammates. While this system is similar to that of the tension system from VIII, this pep mechanic is largely random across each character and not something you can actively select.
While you’ll discover many items hidden throughout the world, or in shops, many items are included as part of a crafting system. As you discover crafting books that have the recipe to certain items, you’ll simply need to find the materials needed to craft them or you can just pay gold to skip the grind of tracking down certain common materials. Crafting is also more than just having the ingredients and hitting a button to make it magically appear. Instead, you’ll need to use a crafting hammer to bash certain parts of that item into shape. Each item you craft has a different pattern and difficulty rank and finding the sweet spots to each pattern will increase the chances of making that item better. Despite its initial simplicity, there is a decent range of depth with all the different hammer strikes you’ll unlock, and thankfully, in the Switch version, you can use the forge anywhere you like, which was which previously only available at the fast travel camps you would find along the way.
Being the Definitive version, several gameplay and quality of life changes were made when bringing the game to the Nintendo Switch. Characters now have a cosmetic equip slot to display a static look over their actual armor, allowing you to showcase their fancy outfits regardless of their stats. You can now select an ultra-fast battle speed, which is amazing for grinding away hundreds of battles or skipping any cutscenes regardless of not having seen them. Where previously you needed to ring a bell to call your horse, you can know just use an item to summon your steed to your side. Instead of the Luminary running around on his own, your selected companions will now run behind him, making the environment a tad less lonely. There is so many quality of life improvements that look to make the game more enjoyable and remove the need for diving into several menus to perform quick actions. Apart from the inclusion of a photo mode, there are several companion quests that place you in the shoes of those characters during a moment in the game where it slows down to tell you more about each companion in your party. These missions are rather enjoyable and are short enough that they don’t overstay their welcome.
Bringing this massive JRPG to the Nintendo Switch could have resulted in a massive graphical downgrade with constant framerate issues and various other problems, but thankfully, everything here is remarkably solid. The game runs at 900p when docked and 720p when portable. While I noticed a few framerate dips here and there, Dragon Quest XI runs extremely well and looks incredible for a game that can run on a handheld device. While the graphics are not as sharp as the PS4 or Steam versions, with some washed-out textures, mild pop-in, and some graphical shimmering around certain parts of the environment, these graphical conceits are largely minor and never once distracted from the overall experience. The game runs at a very reliable 30 fps, with very minor moments where the game will see any sort of dip. And if the character and the charming enemy designs look a tad familiar, that is because Dragon Ball creator and artist, Akira Toriyama is the man behind them.
Another feature brought to this Definitive Edition is that you can play the entire experience as a 2D adventure, forfeiting the 3D visuals and impressive character animations. From the start and right through to the game’s final moments, you can choose to play the game as a classic 16-bit inspired adventure. This mode does lack the voice acting as well, and should you tire of it, you can swap back to its 3D version at any church anytime you want. There are also special missions you can take on that are restricted to this 2D look that are discovered the more you push through the main story and sometimes found off the beaten path.
While the voice acting is incredibly top-notch, with a wide range of personalities and accents, the music is the only part of the journey that can get a little on your nerves. Now, the main themes present as you’re exploring, or when epic moments are unfolding are incredibly well done, the battle music is less so. Given that this is a tune you’ll be hearing for close to 60 hours alone, it’s unfortunate that we only have the one central battle theme. This tune, which sounds like the mixture of the Adam West Batman fight music mixed with that of a spy comedy, is fairly enjoyable for the first few hours, then it starts to get old fast. For a game that nails everything it requires of it from an audio perspective, it’s unfortunate that we only ever get the one theme to spend grinding away and empowering our characters.
I’m not normally one to get into 80+ hour JRPG’s, so that should say something about the quality of what Dragon Quest XI S offers, at least to myself. While I still have a few side quests left to do, and post-game outfits left to forge, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with this cast of characters. The turn-based systems here of old bring with it the same charm from that era of JRPG’s and frankly, I don’t think this series would have kept the same identity or popularity if it tried to evolve into something it wasn’t. We’ve seen numerous franchises reinvent the wheel every game and Dragon Quest is the sticking point that you don’t always need to do that. Sometimes playing to a title’s strengths is more important and Echoes of an Elusive Age is a must-play title on the Nintendo Switch that is worth every last penny. This is simply one of the most content-packed JRPG’s out there and one of the best games of the year.
While Dragon Quest XI is available on the PS4 and PC, it currently lacks the Definitive Edition contents at this time.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition was purchased by the reviewer and played on a Nintendo Switch.
All screenshots were taken on a Nintendo Switch.