My tastes in JRPGs tend to deviate from the norm. I am not, with the exception of the Tactics spin-offs, a Final Fantasy guy. I do, however, have an affinity for the Dragon Quest franchise, with its recent phenomenal Builders titles only serving to cement this affection.
Landing last month on the Nintendo Switch, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition brought the core Dragon Quest series to Nintendo’s hybrid portable. Its September release date meant that it hit amid a flurry of other high-profile Switch titles—right after a stunning remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and the surprisingly strong Astral Chain, shortly before hotly anticipated sequel Luigi’s Mansion 3, and within spitting distance of my reigning game of the year, Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
Still, though your autumn videogame backlog may already be substantial, don’t let Dragon Quest XI S pass you by. At a time when Japanese-style RPGs tend too often to be overly self-indulgent or just plain derivative, it is the perfect marriage of old-school aesthetics and new-school charm.
The plot starts out predictably enough: a rural foundling comes of age only to discover that he is a legendary hero destined to save his world. Your hero—you get to name him, but he is referred to as the Luminary by friends and the Darkspawn by those who doubt his intentions—then proceeds to explore the land of Erdrea, slaying slimes and building a party of like-minded adventurers in the process.
There’s a thief, a mismatched pair of twin mages, a rakish entertainer, and even some characters from his own murky past. In combat, you can take control of each in turn, or you can set up specific tactical behaviors and let the game’s AI do the heavy lifting. Either way, you’ll earn hard-fought experience, money, and materials that can be crafted into weapons and armor using the Fun-Size Forge mini-game when you and your teammates find strategically positioned campsites.
Combat can also trigger “Pep,” an enhanced state that opens up even more battle options. Most importantly, the Pep System allows you to combine the special moves of multiple party members into glorious combo attacks.
The game’s varied locales and eclectic characters definitely help to separate Dragon Quest XI S from the pack, and its gorgeous HD visuals make it a feast for the eyes. Of course, if you’re more of a classicist, you can instead opt for a throwback 16-bit graphical style that’s just visually alluring.
Similarly, the title’s lush orchestrated soundtrack has a corresponding synthesized form to complement its lo-fi graphics. You can even choose between English or Japanese audio for the game’s expansive voiceovers.
In short, Dragon Quest XI S is all about choices.
Hate constant combat encounters? You can easily avoid them by rushing past most of the clearly visible enemies on its world map and dungeons. Don’t like your current character build? You can reclaim your spent experience points and try something new. Love your gear’s stats but hate how it looks? Just track down outfits for a quick visual makeover. Tired of running everywhere? Defeating sparkling enemies allows you to mount and ride them like horses. Just need a break from the main story? Side quests abound!
With its turn-based combat, familiar monsters, and rather trope-y protagonist, it’s easy to mistake this title for just another cookie-cutter RPG. But the addition of lots of little things—dash movement, camera controls, custom skill builds, a heal all function—help make Dragon Quest XI S feel like a satisfying contemporary experience.
Of course, it’s not perfect. While I haven’t noticed much in the way of slowdown (even in dedicated Handheld mode on my Switch Lite), there is the occasional muddy texture or pop-in issue. Even it’s much-touted HD-to-16-bit graphical re-skinning isn’t seamless, generally requiring you to back up to a specific story point before you turn your adventure into a SNES-style affair.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition can be, in turn, challenging and simple, brutal and lighthearted, retro and modern, but it is never boring. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, and it’s far from the kind of open-world roamer you’d expect from a comparable western release, but its classic sensibilities are more well-reasoned than well-worn.
It’s a game that offers hours upon hours of its central story, complete with major and minor plot arcs, coupled with the opportunity to literally play through historic moments from the series’ three-decade-deep back catalog. And no matter how you slice it, Dragon Quest XI S looks good, plays well, and sounds amazing.
Consider Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition a love letter to the traditional Japanese RPG. Be amazed by its quiet grandeur and polished, balanced gameplay—and be doubly so when you realize you can take its adventure everywhere.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. This post contains affiliate links. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?