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Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age: Definitive Edition was recently announced for release on PS4, Xbox, and Steam. You might be thinking “Oh, yet another cash-grab by re-releasing a game with additional content,” and that’s where I’m here to prove you wrong.

I’ve broken down this write-up into two parts; the first one focusing on the base game and the second on why the definitive edition specifically is worth it. But first, a brief history of Dragon Quest.

dragon quest XI

A beloved JRPG

Dragon Quest as a series has slightly unconventional origins. Back before the merge between Squaresoft and Enix, Enix had held a development contest within the company whose winner would receive a trip to the United States and a visit to AppleFest ’83. This very contest brought together Dragon Quest’s core team.

Together, Yuji Horii, Koichi Nakamura, Yukinobu Chida, and Koichi Sugiyama made the NES game, The Portopia Serial Murder Case. Later on, Horii expressed his idea of creating a game based on the Western RPG mechanics of games such as Wizardry and Ultima. They later ended up commissioning creator and mangaka of Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama, and asked him to make illustrations of the characters and creatures that would roam the world of the game.

The first game, known to the West as Dragon Warrior at the time, was released in 1986. For the mainline games, the player takes the role of The Hero, whose purpose is to save the world from whatever evil it may be facing, alongside other party members they encounter on the journey. Featuring turn-based combat, the first Dragon Quest game is a milestone in the genre JRPGs, and the series has consisted of the same core development team since the franchise’s inception.

In Japan, it’s one of the most recognizable and acclaimed franchises. In fact, there’s a mandate within the game’s now publisher, Square Enix, that Dragon Quest games are to be released only on Saturdays. At one point, during the release of Dragon Quest III, over 300 schoolchildren were arrested for playing hooky to get in line and buy the game!

Dragon Quest XI: A classic JRPG polished for the modern-day

The definitive edition of the game was initially released for the Switch back in September of 2019. Intrigued, I picked up the demo which featured over a whopping 10 hours of gameplay. The historical fantasy setting, the characters, and gameplay, and the overall atmosphere of the game pulled me in and had me buying the physical copy as soon as it was available in India.

I’d never played a Dragon Quest game before, but I did have my fair share of experience when it came to JRPGs. Of course, I’d heard of all the fanfare regarding the series, so I had some expectations from Dragon Quest XI, and they were all far beyond surpassed.

dragon quest XI

Like any other game from the franchise, you get to name the protagonist, but according to the official site, he’s canonically known as Eleven or ‘Hero,’ which is what I’ll use for convenience. The story begins with a cutscene taking place in the jovial kingdom of Dundrasil, to which Eleven is born as prince. On a particular night, the kingdom falls under attack by an army of monsters. The Hero however, is sent away from the kingdom in a basket down a river, and arrives in the village of Cobblestone. Fast forward to the coming-of-age ceremony in the village, and Eleven finds out his true origins as the prince of Dundrasil and The Luminary – a chosen warrior by the World Tree Yggdrasil.

The storyline is divided into three parts, or Acts, with the final most one being post-endgame content. The setup is quite standard Hero’s Journey fare, but that’s exactly what I love about it. You have the Call to Adventure, the Supernatural Aid, and the Rescue from Without. While the plot can be predictable at times, there’s something incredibly satisfying to see the story carry out the way you’d expect it to and for it to be executed with such finesse.

The characters of Dragon Quest XI follow the same suit. One of the first characters to join the Hero’s party is Erik, a thief with a heart of gold. I was entirely prepared from playing the demo to have him as my favorite character, as his trope is something I’m rather weak for, but that changed as soon as Sylvando took the stage.

dragon quest XI

My first impression of him was that he was a flamboyant circus-performer, but Sylvando’s backstory and later on character arc to spread smiles to the world really shined through. I expected him to fall under the usual stereotypes of the jester class – comic relief and usually one-note – yet he has much more dimension to him than that. That applies for the entire cast as none of them are cookie-cutter renditions of their archetypes.

In terms of gameplay, Dragon Quest doesn’t stray from its roots as a turn-based JRPG, and it surprised me how much it stayed true to its classic mechanics. It has a few additional flairs, such as the skill builder instead of classes, which allow you to customize character weapons, stats, and any additional abilities they can learn with skill points.

There’s also Pep Powers, special abilities or moves that can be unlocked when characters enter a Pepped State (which funnily enough, looks like they’re going Super Saiyan). When multiple characters achieve a Pepped State the types of buffs, bonuses, or criticals you get become greater. We’ve seen this before in the form of Limit Breaks and the like, but it’s a great spin on making classic gameplay into something fresher.

Apart from that, there’s a lot of replay value in the form of ‘Draconian Quests,’ a list of restrictions and settings that you can enable at the start of a new save file. Some options can be as simple as tougher enemy encounters or no shopping for items, while others can be hilarious such as the Shypox one, a curse in which you or your party members are inflicted with embarrassment, causing the turn to be skipped and giving you a funny dialogue in return.

Dragon Quest XI S: Truly the definitive version

Now, what makes the additional S to Dragon Quest XI worth it?

I’ll start with something that may seem insignificant, but makes a huge difference, the music. I absolutely love the orchestrated version of the soundtrack. Koichi Sugiyama has done an incredible job at handling the series’ music, right down to the iconic title track. Of course, I did end up getting tired of the battle theme, but are you even playing a JRPG correctly if you’re not exhausted from listening to it? What was not so incredible, however, was the fact that he insisted that Dragon Quest XI use the MIDI version of the soundtrack, as he wanted players to buy the orchestrated version instead.

The XI S version consists of both the orchestra and MIDI version, and you can switch between whichever you like. Except that when tried playing with the MIDI version, it was simply grating to listen to, and it seems I wasn’t the only one who thought so as players of the standard version went as far as to use mods to add in the orchestra version on PC.

There’s also the addition of English voice acting alongside the Japanese one. A neat bit of world-building they’ve done is have characters from different regions with different accents. Whether the voice acting is good or bad, you can be the judge of that. If you want to switch things up and listen to the Japanese voice-acting, all you need to do is change the settings from the in-game menu.

With XI S, you’re essentially getting 2 games in one in the form of the additional 2D mode. What this is the entire game basically done in a top-down pixel-art format, just as if you were playing the original Dragon Quest trilogy. While the 3D mode doesn’t involve any random enemy encounters, this one follows a more traditional approach, leaving you to deal with random encounters and a text-heavy menu.

That’s not the only form of a throwback in the game. XI S introduces the village of Tickington, home of the adorable Tockles, the keepers of time. Like the 2D mode, their village is entirely rendered in pixel art.  As you progress and find more Tockles that have ‘pastwords’ with them, you can head to Tickington to restore time. These are basically side-quests that throw you back in time to previous renditions of Dragon Quest. It’s a sweet little homage to the past games and full of hours of content. This way, long-time fans of the series get that sense of nostalgia, and newer ones get a taste of the old games.

There’s also a ton of quality-of-life improvements, such as speed options in battle mode, skippable cutscenes, new quests that have you play as party members, alternative marriage options, new Draconian Quest options, and of course, a photo mode.

Hyped Yet?

Dragon Quest XI is a fantastic game, but if you’re going to splurge you might as well get the definitive version.  While the PS4, Xbox, and Steam versions are said to be ports of the game on the Switch, don’t be undermined by that. While it’s not as graphically beefy as some of the more recent Square Enix games like Kingdom Heart 3 or Final Fantasy VII Remake, it’s still visually stunning to look at, not to mention, chock full of at least 80 hours worth of content. Slated for a release on December 2, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition is priced at Rs. 2,499 on the PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Steam. It’s definit(iv)ely well worth it for one of the best modern-day JRPGs, if not, of all time.

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