Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Xbox review – Old school JRPG fun for a new generation

Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition brings the classic JRPG series to new heights with beautiful graphics and the most cinematic story to date

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On May 27, 1986, a little game company called Enix created a legend that would define turn-based JRPGs for decades to come, known as Dragon Quest. Later, that studio would merge with SquareSoft to create what we now know of today as Square Enix. Dragon Quest is a classic tale of young heroes saving the world from evil villains with some cartoon slimes thrown in good measure. For over 30 years, it has remained true to this formula, making minor tweaks here and there to keep it relevant without comprising its identity.

After my time spent with it, I can say with full confidence that this series of puns and sorcery hasn't lost its touch. Dragon Quest XI is not only one of the best Dragon Quest games I have ever played but is quite easily among the best JRPGs on Xbox. It is also the perfect gateway entry for newcomers.

Let's grab our gear and journey forth as to why this game is worth your time.

Dragon Quest XI Presentation

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CategoryDragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition
TitleDragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age Definitive Edition
DeveloperSquare Enix
PublisherSquare Enix
PlatformsXbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Xbox GamePassYes
Launch Price$40

To start things off, I adore how gorgeous the game's art style is. Seeing Dragon Quest's iconic, crazy character designs come to life in HD with the Unreal Engine 4 was a feast for the eyes, especially for the monsters. The environments are also well-detailed with vibrant colors and distinct lighting effects – whether they be nightly lit magical forest or a sunny open countryside. All of which is enhanced at 60fps and 4K resolution on the Xbox Series X. With the power of modern hardware, Dragon Quest XI is able to present cinematic action scenes and emotional moments not possible in previous entries due to past-gen technology limitations.

The game features an orchestral soundtrack that was added in the definitive edition and the original midi score. The orchestral music is excellent and just screams 'adventure' with every note. Each track perfectly matches the mood. You may find yourself humming the tunes even when away from the game, due to how bombastic and catchy the score is. The original midi soundtrack isn't as good, but it is still enjoyable to listen to and is packed with nostalgia for the Dragon Quest games of old.

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One of the definitive edition's features is playing the game in 3D or 2D mode. 2D mode lets you play the entire game as if it were a long-lost, Super Nintendo Dragon Quest game, complete with 16-bit graphics. It is pretty surreal, to say the least, and has some well-done sprite-work for characters and environments. Gamers who grew up with JRPGs from the 16-bit era are going to love this mode.

Unfortunately, as good as the art direction and music is, the game tends to recycle many character models and music tracks as the game progresses. It's nothing deal-breaking, but it is a tad distracting. The voice acting could also cause some contention. While most of it is good in my opinion, there are a few sticking points where it can be grating to listen to. Fortunately, you can switch to the Japanese dub in the options menu if the English dub isn't to your taste.

Dragon Quest XI Story

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In the fantasy land of Erdrea, there exists the legend of the Luminary. He is a powerful, divine hero whose sole purpose is to save the world from its darkest hour from a great evil. Our main protagonist (who can be named by the player) is the latest reincarnation of that hero, bearing the Mark of the Luminary. Once he discovers this, his folks instruct him to travel to the kingdom of Heliodor to seek King Carnelian for answers on how to fulfill his destiny.

Without spoiling things, the plot slowly but surely builds up to become truly epic.

Unfortunately for our hero, the moment he reveals his mark to the king, he is arrested and labeled as a 'Darkspawn.' King Carnelian believes the Luminary's presence will herald the arrival of the 'Lord of Shadows', who is a terrible, evil monster that will plunge the world into eternal darkness. So, King Carnelian throws him into the dungeon to prevent this prophecy from coming to pass.

Without going into too much detail for the sake of spoilers, our protagonist contemplates his fate until a nearby cellmate, a daring thief named Erik, helps him escape. Erik claims he is 'fated' to help the Luminary. With so many questions in his mind, the protagonist sets out with his new companion to find out the truth. Is our hero truly the Luminary that is said to bring peace to the world, or is he is indeed this 'Darkspawn' that will bring about its destruction, as the king said?

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Dragon Quest XI has a pretty interesting premise for a Dragon Quest game, and without spoiling things, the plot slowly but surely builds up to become truly epic. Granted, most of the game's plot is your typical good vs. evil affair with twists you will see coming if you are familiar with fantasy tropes. It is nonetheless well-executed, and it isn't afraid to pull at your heartstrings when it needs to.

The meat of Dragon Quest XI's story is its characters. The party members you will recruit all have distinct, charming personalities with fleshed-out backstories. You can also talk to your party members anytime using the game's 'Party Talk' feature, and they will offer either helpful advice, strike up a friendly conversation or even cheer you up after a heavy moment. After being with these guys for so long, I was really motivated to help my party members with their problems while they helped me out with mine.

Special shoutout to my favorite party member Erik. Not only is he a beast in combat, but he is also your best friend throughout the game, sticking up for you whenever he can.

Dragon Quest XI Gameplay

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The Luminary's adventure is broken down into two sections: combat and exploration. Dragon Quest XI's gameplay revolves around exploring the wide world filled with quest giving townsfolk and battling beasties in big dungeons with turn-based combat.

You will be visiting towns full of side questing opportunities, shops to buy gear for your party, and hidden treasures within the residents' homes. Some towns even offer fun side activities like horse racing or gambling at casinos which offer handsome rewards. Once you've combed a town, you will venture forth into the world to track down the local monster terrorizing the populace.

The big bosses usually hide out in ancient ruins, forests, and caves. Some are simple to navigate, while others require platforming to overcome precarious obstacles. A cool feature unique to this game is that you can steal a monster's mount after defeating them in battle, so long as they have glowing sparkles. You can use these mounts to ram through smaller enemies and boulders, climb and jump over tall cliffs, or simply move through an area faster. Nothing too groundbreaking, but it is a cute novelty to ride classic Dragon Quest monsters.

Dragon Quest laid the groundwork for turn-based combat in JRPGs, and Dragon Quest XI continues to refine it. You and your party of four will take turns hacking at monsters and sometimes swap party members mid-battle if the situation calls for it. Your abilities will start out pretty basic, but as you level up and gain abilities through the skill tree, you will be able to turn even the most intimidating monster into a defenseless punching bag. The combat is simple yet extremely effective and satisfying; it's no wonder they stuck to this combat system for over three decades. Also, If your characters' builds aren't to your liking, you can pay gold to re-spec their skill trees at save points.

Dragon Quest laid the groundwork for turn-based combat in JRPGs, and Dragon Quest XI continues to refine it.

One thing I really like about modern Dragon Quests games is that there are no random encounters. Monsters are visible outside of combat, so you can avoid or engage them at your own pace without worrying about getting into a fight every few steps. You can even pre-emptively strike unaware monsters to get some extra damage in before confronting them. I can't say the same for 2D mode though, random encounters still happen there to keep with the theme of emulating the old school, so it would be wise to keep your party in peak condition if you plan to flip between modes.

The difficulty will start to ramp up once you encounter enemies that use attacks that hit the whole party, though they are manageable so long as you have a healer that can cure everybody. One quality of life improvement I really appreciate is that this game has the most lenient EXP gains from battles I've ever seen in Dragon Quest. Aside from bosses and rare monsters, monsters barely gave much EXP after beating them in previous games. Here though, regular monsters give generous amounts of EXP, so if you get stuck at a boss and need to level up, it would only take a short while, which really helps the game's pacing.

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Farming for money, on the other hand, is still a bit of a grind. Equipment at shops is costly, and trying to get enough gold to buy them would take longer than leveling up. Thankfully, there is an alternative method of getting equipment, and it's probably one of my favorite aspects of the game – The Fun-Size Forge.

This portable forge will allow you to craft armor, weapon, and accessories, so long as you have the materials and the recipe to craft them. However, it isn't just a key item that slaps two things together to make a new one. It's also a mini-game where you have to forge equipment yourself like an actual blacksmith. As you progress in the story, you will gain more techniques to create powerful gear that are extremely difficult to forge.

I was addicted to this contraption, spending several hours hammering away, making all sorts of cool gear. Some of these items can change your character's appearance and be worn as cosmetic armor without altering your stats. You can also upgrade gear in your possession to boost their base stats, making favorite equipment pieces last longer.

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Dragon -quest Xi S Review Image (Image credit: Windows Central)

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If you don't have the materials available, you can use gold to buy them at the forge, saving you tons of time tracking them down. Although there are some materials which can't be bought, due to how rare they are.

The amount of content in this game is staggering. The story content will last you dozens of hours alone, and the side quests would push that to nearly a hundred hours or more. The side quests come in all sorts of forms — some are typical fetch quests, some have you fighting a monster while using a special move, and some are simply so cool that I shan't mention them here, because you deserve to enjoy the surprises for yourself.

The story content will last you dozens of hours alone, and the side quests would push that to nearly a hundred hours.

There's even some replay value in the form of Draconian Quests. These are difficulty modifiers that you can choose when starting a new save file. For example, some modifiers can make enemies stronger and give less exp, while others can cause your characters to skip a turn out of pure shyness. If you regret choosing some of these modifiers, you can get rid of them at save points during your playthrough.

I feel the biggest disappointment I have with this game is the Photo Mode. While it does allow you to reposition characters and have them do all sorts of poses, the camera positioning options are minimal. You can only turn the camera left and right, and slightly move it upwards. There's no zoom feature whatsoever, and you can't move outside your player character's position. It's better than nothing, though.

Dragon Quest XI Final thoughts

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It truly says a lot about how much I enjoyed this game when all of my complaints are minor at best. The combat, the characters, and the story all resonated so strongly with me. Dragon Quest XI ranks up there among my favorite Dragon Quest games alongside the likes of Dragon Quest V and Dragon Quest IX. It's definitely my top RPG of the year, that's for sure.

If you are looking for a content-rich, light-hearted, single-player JRPG adventure, I can definitely recommend this for both old fans and newcomers alike.

Alexander Cope

Alexander Cope is a gaming veteran of 30-plus years, primarily covering PC and Xbox games here on Windows Central. Gaming since the 8-bit era, Alexander's expertise revolves around gaming guides and news, with a particular focus on Japanese titles from the likes of Elden Ring to Final Fantasy. Alexander is always on deck to help our readers conquer the industry's most difficult games — when he can pry himself away from Monster Hunter that is!