'Dragon Quest XI' review roundup: Incredible but lacking innovation
The Dragon Quest franchise may not be as popular as Final Fantasy outside of its home country Japan, but as far as providing sweeping sagas anchored by endearing characters and addictive grind cycles, it's right up there with Final Fantasy.
This September, the latest iteration, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (DQ XI) came out for the English-speaking market, almost a year after the Japanese version came out. It took a long time to "internationalize," but word around the web is that the wait has been completely worth it. Not that we were clueless though; the Japanese version opened to praises too.
In an era mostly dominated by open-world Western RPGs (even the latest mainline Final Fantasy showed the effects of that influence), how does a traditional JRPG manage to score so well?
First off, the Akira Toriyama-designed characters are a charm – especially for a generation that grew up watching Toriyama's Dragon Ball series. Just like JRPGs are – a hallmark of 16-bit and 32-bit gaming – Toriyama's designs are a nostalgic reminder of childhood. And that's always worth a whole bunch of brownie points. It's a joy just seeing the characters just moving and talking in their PS4-powered glory.
But of course, a game can't hang its hat simply on nice visuals. On reviews aggregator site Metacritic, the game garners an 86 score, a great score, and definitely a feather in the hat for the aging PS4 – especially leading up to the holidays and just as Nintendo announced its own blockbuster lineup. The gist of the DQ XI reviews: its story is captivating and immersive, about a hero being hunted down by the evil powers-that-be; the turn-based combat is finely tuned; and it's a game crafted by the masters.
Let's check out what the critics are saying:
The top review
Forbes gives the game a perfect 10/10, with the reviewer labeling the game as "one of the best role-playing games ever made" in the headline. It's a game that "exemplifies craftsmanship," said he, and as should be expected from the franchise that practically invented the genre. He warns that while there are traditional trappings, which might discourage some players, those willing to give it a fair shake will be rewarded very, very finely.
Several other sites also gave the game a 100 such as US Gamer and PlayStation Universe, and lots of scores in the 90s, calling it the best Dragon Quest ever made, one of the best JRPGs ever, and feels like a NES RPG skinned with modern technology.
The bad reviews
The Fandom wiki network gave the game a score of 60, citing that it's "traditional to a fault." Like the other critics, it praises the game's presentation, but all that does nothing to push the genre forward, said the site. By sticking to tradition, the game will be hard to recommend to a new audience, it said.
Several other negative reviews had similar complaints. "It's too old school to a fault." "Never dares to try anything new." "Plays it way too safely for its own good." "Doesn't do more to strike a bolder, more mature path within a tired series." Based on these reviews, innovation might not be the game's strongest suit. It's a JRPG through and through, and one that appears to have been made by perfectionist Japanese craftsmen who'd rather stay away from new tricks and stick to the tried-and-tested.
The middle ground
EGM mentions that the game is not completely innovation-free, saying that the game blends "timeless series elements with newer-era genre refinements, and most of the time, the results are great." But again, the game's tendency to stick to tradition rears its head, with EGM saying that "there are a few times when honoring tradition is a weakness, not a strength—most specifically in the case of the game’s protagonist."
Game Informer wishes that the series took some more risks, with Games Master UK echoing the thought: "Lovely, but very much stuck in the past, and its characters and main story won't stay with you."
Shouts and murmurs from the user reviews section
"This is my very first Dragon Quest and I am pleasantly surprised, the game is fantastic. It's the JRPG that I've been craving ever since finishing Persona 5."
"Finally, a true JRPG that reminds me of the golden age of RPGs (1990-ish, PS1/PS2 era)."
"This game might remind people of Ni No Kuni in the look and feel of the combat."
"A gem amongst a sea of stones. Never did I know, a game could feel like home."
"Dragon Quest XI is a passé, stagnant 'security blanket' for JRPG recidivists. I've just written off this series at this point, the combat is decent, but everything else, from story to music and character development, ranges from bland to mediocre as far as I'm concerned."
DQ XI is now available on the PS4 and Microsoft Windows, with a Nintendo Switch release coming later. – Rappler.com