RPG Grind Time – Why I’m Excited For Dragon Quest XI: Echoes Of An Elusive Age
This week I have this intense desire to talk about my undying love for the Dragon Quest series. It was integral into shaping me into an RPG fan, and the confirmation that the newest entry is just a few months away has me giddy. Growing up, I played Final Fantasy for the characters and evolving battle system, but I played Dragon Quest for the sense of adventure and exploration. The franchise is over 30 years old, and I still enjoy it for those same reasons. It just keeps getting better and better, providing vast and exciting worlds to lose myself in.
While Dragon Quest has been very successful in Japan often selling well into the millions, it has never made that kind of impression in the West. I was on pins and needles when Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age was first announced, wondering if Square Enix would see the value in releasing a very traditional RPG in the action-craving West. After all, Square Enix passed publishing to Nintendo for some of the handheld remakes and IX, and we never received the MMORPG Dragon Quest X. I can, thankfully, breathe a sigh of relief since Square Enix has confirmed its plans to bring Dragon Quest XI to PS4 and PC on September 4. This is another chance for the series, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried about history repeating itself. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe Dragon Quest XI sells enough to get by, and that’s successful enough. But I’m also hoping a new audience can find it and cherish it in the same way Persona 5 found a wider audience, bringing a more niche series into the mainstream consciousness.
I had the opportunity to meet with some of the Dragon Quest XI team while I was in Japan a few months ago. I’ve also played a part of the import and uncovered so many things about the game, and yet, the actual journey is still mostly a mystery to me. Dragon Quest XI is packed with content. According to the team, people who just go through the main story put about 80 hours into the game, while those who play the side content finish around 120 hours. “We were worried people would say, ‘It’s too long,” but what we’re [hearing is], 'Wow, I just really got absorbed',” says producer Hokuto Okamato. Walking through the colorful world, side quests are around every bend, and there are extra activities to lose yourself in from gambling to horse racing.
Not since 2005’s Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King has a Dragon Quest game appeared on a home console in the West. The jump in graphical fidelity is noticeable. The world feels more alive with detailed animations and environments.“We put in monster habitats, upped the amount of enemies you find on the field, and the ways the villages move and interact,” says producer Yuu Miyake. When I played the import, villagers were more vocal than ever before, trying to guide me in the right direction and building up the world’s lore. This may all seem like small stuff, but Dragon Quest really is about the little details that bring to life a grand adventure.
You have to admire a series that knows its roots and refuses to abandon them. In a day and age where action combat is prevalent in RPGs, Dragon Quest XI is still sticking to its turn-based battle system, which it helped popularize, and there’s something endearing about that. Combat remains similar to past entries, but this time you can move freely around the battlefield while your attacks are on a cooldown. If you prefer the old-school, fixed first-person view, you can swap to that. I’ve always enjoyed Dragon Quest’s monster design, and its boss battles never disappoint. I look forward to seeing what gigantic baddie will appear before me. I also use these a battles as an opportunity to show off my skills. Believe it or not, Dragon Quest games are about more than mashing a button to attack. You must carefully manage all the skills in your arsenal if you want to stay alive.
Beyond including English voiceovers, the Western release will also come with a bunch of additional content, such as a hard mode, a dash function, and a camera mode. Nice additions, but nonetheless, I am mostly onboard for the thrill of the adventure. “The philosophy behind Dragon Quest and the way we design Dragon Quest is that it’s a game everyone can play and enjoy,” Okamato says.“That’s not going to change, that really is at the core of what is in the game.”
Will that be true in this era where nostalgia and modern sensibilities often clash? Can Dragon Quest retain its classic vibe and please newcomers? “I’m very confident we’ll be able to satisfy old-school fans and what they’re looking for,” Miyake says. “But at the same time, I think a lot of new players will also come in and I think those new players will not see it as something old-fashioned or outdated, and they will be able to accept it and play it as a modern game.”
As a longtime fan, I’m interested in how this entry pans out; buzz from Japan is high, and I’ve seen more than a few people on my Twitter feed call it “the best Dragon Quest game to date.” That’s a high bar. I adore VIII the most, and ironically enough, XI looks to trump that game’s scope and ambition. In many ways, VIII reminds me of XI, having a lot to prove, but mainly just giving fans what they want: adventure and exploration on a grander scale.