With the franchise beginning in 1986, Dragon Quest is one of gaming’s most enduring franchises. While it lacks the popularity of Final Fantasy here in the West, it’s the kind of game that sells bucketloads in Japan – even helping to shift hardware. Now that the most recent entry, Dragon Quest XI, is coming to Nintendo Switch , is it worth jumping into?
The first thing that hits when starting up Dragon Quest XI is how wholesome it feels. Of course, there are dark sources at play and your hero is “chosen”, but it all feels comfortable – especially in comparison to occasionally obtuse JRPG narratives in the past (yes, we’re looking at your Final Fantasy X), Dragon Quest XI feels content in being fairly straightforward.
That isn’t to say it’s predictable though – Dragon Quest XI offers plenty of narrative twists, it just does it all without feeling like it’s attempting to be more cerebral than it should be. it just feels like stepping back in time.
This is backed up by some truly sumptuous visuals. Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama’s character designs offer a timeless template for your band of adventurers, and excellent localization and voice-acting (at least for main characters) helps bring each to life.
Dragon Quest XI’s use of colour also helps keep the world vibrant, whether playing on the Switch’s screen or an external display. It’s not as stylised as something like Breath of the Wild, but it also offers the similar kind of lush greenery and idyllic dotted towns that you might find in Hyrule.
One bone of contention with the original release of Dragon Quest XI was with its soundtrack, and thankfully this “S” edition has rectified the issue. Previously, the soundtrack had comprised of sweeping orchestral moments in the game’s cutscenes (which remain beautifully animated), while field and battle themes were MIDI-driven, leading to a disconnect between the epic story moments and the minute to minute exploration and battles.
This has been overhauled in the Switch release, with players able to toggle between the MIDI and orchestral soundtracks for both exploration and battle. Composer Koichi Sugiyama may be a controversial figure (to say the least), but his work here is excellent – offering up a sumptuous soundscape that peaks in the right places.
Expect to hear that battle theme plenty, too. While there are no random encounters (hooray), combat is turn-based, again lending to the familiarity of the genre, but with a bizarre, entirely superfluous twist – players can move freely within the battle arena, although this confers no benefits to combat itself. So, while you can move behind an enemy before selecting “Attack”, this doesn’t deal any bonus damage or add any status effects. It’s a strange choice, but is one you’ll learn to either go along with or simply ignore as you battle through the forty to fifty-hour campaign.
In that time, you’ll grind a fair amount. As is tradition in the genre, many enemies will require you to level up before giving them a hiding, but the Switch’s portable mode makes this a strange delight. Grind out levels on the bus, the train, on the sofa while someone else uses the telly – Dragon Quest XI feels made for the Switch, but that might not be to everyone’s tastes.
Thankfully, exploration is just as rewarding. It’s very rare to go off the beaten path in Dragon Quest XI and not be rewarded in some small way, either in terms of items or charming new dialogue.
This Switch port doesn’t just make changes to the game’s soundtrack, either. Purists can swap in the Japanese dialogue, travel to older Dragon Quest worlds through smart side quests, or transform the entire game into an incredible 16-bit adventure – no, really, look below.
Dragon Quest XI is an excellent port of a superb JRPG. It’s rammed full of content, and performs excellently on the Switch. It’s the JRPG equivalent of putting on your comfiest pajamas and settling in on a rainy day – always enjoyable, wonderfully familiar, and the best way to prepare for Autumn.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age is released on Friday September 27 on Switch for £44.99