To many, Dragon Quest is simply that other Square Enix RPG series. The one that – outside of a small, passionate audience (and all the clever folk who played Dragon Quest Builders) – hasn’t quite captured the West’s imagination in the same way the stories of Cloud, Lightning and Noctis have done. Where Final Fantasy is often big, bold and ambitious, the Dragon Quest games favour familiarity and tradition – sticking to those JRPG tenets that have been charming us for years.
That doesn’t mean the series lacks personality. Far from it. Akira Toriyama’s character designs are an obvious draw, as are the grinning slime mascots that find their way into each entry, so there should be more than enough to sow the seeds of a large fandom outside of Japan. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is the biggest attempt so far to make that change permanent, with a significant localisation project that’s taken the game over a year to reach our shores.
It begins, as those classical inspirations would suggest, with a story as old as time itself. A young hero discovers he is the latest incarnation of the Luminary: a figure who has saved the world from a terrible darkness countless times in the past. He must venture out from his tiny home village of Cobblestone with a sword on his back and a horse to ride on to try and better understand his destiny while smacking some monsters and recruiting a handful of weird and wonderful followers along the way.
Early impressions of the game’s hero trotting around a vast open world as day turns to night encouraged Breath of the Wild comparisons, but Dragon Quest XI is not as grand as Nintendo’s modern classic. Again, this is a game of old habits, with turn-based combat, fun side activities and an assortment of characterful town hubs for you to wander around. These places are packed with all the shops and easy-peasy side quests you’d expect, from finding lost cats to tracking down monster parts.
One place you’ll visit is the desert city of Gallopolis where the party must go to retrieve a magical MacGuffin that’ll help on their quest. It’s the home of a bumbling prince, who promises to help with your task if you take his place in the local horse race (the Sand National, har-har) as he’s an awful rider. On top of that, he wants you to slay a monster that threatens the city because he’s a terrible fighter too. Typical!
The race is a silly little distraction, a quick jaunt around a tiny little track with some very forgiving AI opponents. The monster hunt, however, proves to be much more of a challenge. Fortunately, a local circus performer/swordsman named Slyvando is willing to offer his assistance, joining you as a guest for the quest. The banter between the eccentric acrobat and the clueless prince more or less encapsulates the tone of Dragon Quest XI: a light-heartedness, a ridiculousness and breezy sense of fun.
Echoes of an Elusive Age feels about as cozy and comfortable as they come, and while that may not inspire anything if this style of game isn’t already stacked on your shelves, long-time JRPG fans looking for their next fix and genre veterans looking for an introduction to the Dragon Quest series will easily find it here.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release: 4 September 2018
Formats: PS4, Switch, PC