Welcome to Rock Paper Shotgun! Or should that be: welcome to Erdrea. I’ve been spending so much time in the fantasy world of Dragon Quest 11 that I actually struggle to tell it and reality apart. You see, the latest game in the legendary JRPG series is more of a staycation than a game. Don’t want to leave the house? Can’t afford that dream holiday to the Bahamas? Look no further than this… It’s also the first mainline Dragon Quest to appear on PC, so maybe you’re unacquainted with it, or suspicious of its intentions. It certainly doesn’t behave like a western RPG – you’re not weighed down with morality, complex skill trees or romance options.
No matter how much you might want to cuddle up to this Great Sabrecub, you can’t. And it’s these differences I want to celebrate and highlight in this video. I love how weirdly passive it is, the way it lets you gently slide through a cartoon wonderland. It’s easy-as-pie, but it’s also a pie that lasts 80 hours, so I guess it’s lucky that that it’s the moreish kind. I was going to call this video, why Dragon Quest 11 is like a moreish pie, but then I remembered that the YouTube algorithm would throw that video into the content abyss. Oh, and speaking of the algorithm – if you’re enjoying this video, please do press that picture of a thumb to make us feel good about ourselves. And subscribe to rock paper shotgun, because people who subscribe are cool and iconic like the Blue Slime. Onwards! If you’ve been PC for life there’s a good chance you’re not familiar with the very basics. And they are basic. Part of Dragon Quest’s appeal is that it invented much of the JRPG lingo that other developers have cluttered up since.
Battles are very simple turn-based affairs, with party members taking turns massacring little monsters that range from cool to let-me-wrap-it-in-a-tissue-and-put-it-in-my-pocket. You whack them, they whack you, sometimes you get an incredibly satisfying whoosh of a critical attack, which is still pleasing a million times later. Attacks swish and slash, and make much the same noises they have for the last 32 years – if you’re new to it, it feels so confident and assured; if you’re an old-hand, it’s like putting on a comfy pair of shoes. You can even put your party on autopilot by programming tactics into them – it saves you a whole lot of repetitive menu input and lets you order people to ‘show no mercy’ which is always good. The biggest tweak is that you can opt to move freely around the battle in battle camera mode, though the game still plays out exactly as it would with everyone rooted to the spot.
When you are just randomly running about it’s as if you’re in a play where everyone knows there lines except you. Turning it it off is recommended. All this in turn earns experience points, which levels up characters and lets you select new skills and attacks. If anything, it’s even simpler than some past entries, as you can’t change job classes – every character has their role, and any individuality has to happen in their fixed skill tree. Even then, you’re limited to eight slots in each branch, so it’s hard to mess up.
If you are unhappy? You redistribute points via Rectification, which you can access through angel statues and priests in churches. That’s another cute thing about Dragon Quest: you visit churches to save your game – complete with a jingle of organ music that hasn’t changed since the first game. You can also cure afflictions and bring your dead friends back to life, which makes it a pretty rad advert for the powers of religion in this game. If these are the rock solid foundations, built over 30 years, then there are new ideas in the mix. Campfires now serve a similar function to churches, though share a few similarities with Dragon Age Origins’ camp setting as well. You can buy things from a supplier who seems to follow you wherever you set up camp. He’s creepy, but his prices are good. You can also take stock with your companions, which is a nice way to get to know them a little better in your downtime around big story moments. More on them in a minute. You can craft items in your fun-sized forge.
Yes, in Dragon Quest 11, even smelting is adorable. Unlike boring RPGs, where you do more forging to get better at forging, here you learn new hammer strikes – from light taps to double strength thwacks – to bash your creation into the blue zone, which is where the magic happens. I prefer crafting to shopping, and new recipes are strewn everywhere if you look. You could choose to play Dragon Quest 11 as a blacksmith sim and still have a pretty good time with it. Slightly more flashier is the new pep attribute that comes into play in battle. First of all, I love that Dragon Quest has its heroes pumped up on on pep, rather than the rage, revenge and blood lust meters that drive heroes in less savoury games. When party members are pepped, energised from the thrill of battle, you can perform new actions with said party member so long as your hero is also pepped.
Cue a tag team champion joke. For the biggest changes to the world you just have to look around you. Presented with a world this delightful looking, the temptation is just to make kissy faces or – if you’re really wild – say Arooga in a comedy voice. Sorry, i promise I won’t do that again. But that would make for an irritating video, so let’s ignore the surface for a second and look at the world underneath. On first glance it’s pretty expansive with its rolling hills and waterfalls and who needs the Bahamas anyway? It looks like the first time the series has breathed proper 3D life into its box art images, instead of running those pictures over in a steam roller to give us the flat maps of the older games. Well… at least since DQVIII. Erdrea is a place with lots to do. You can take down targets at your own leisure with the crackshot bow, climbing down wells and up cliffs – or up wells and down cliffs, if you’re a rebel. You can put the boot into and collect mini medals and random items.
You can even find fishnet stockings in this person’s cupboard, which is horribly awkward for all involved. But despite a world of activities, there are clear limits to its openness. It’s actually quite self-contained and dareisayit, linear. But because of this, pace is beautifully handled – the map doesn’t overwhelm with space leaving you rattling about an empty cavern or desert, nor does it limit you glorified corridors. It gives you enough room to have a quest, but not so much for the quest to bloat into a job. It’s something I associate with Japanese open worlds – an interest in freedom, but a reluctance to give up that hand-crafted artistry. It reminds me of Nier Automata’s map or those in the Dark Souls games. Personally I’d like to see more of this over gargantuan maps of doom so ‘if you’re listening video game gods, you know what to do’. When you DO find yourself in an area a bit bigger than most, the game has the good sense to let you tackle it on a fun vehicle. Does a horse count as a vehicle? It’s basically a medieval sports car.
Much like everything in Dragon Quest 11, the enjoyment of clip-clopping around is about taking something simple and doing it very well; you can move slowly, canter and of course gallop. If you are in a race, you can even ‘drift’ your horse around corners. It’s much like the pleasure of exploring Final Fantasy XV on a chocobo, if you’ve done that, right down to the way you ring a bell to summon your steed. The pleasure of riding a horse is actually riding the horse at a leisurely pace, taking in your beautiful surroundings… and occasionally trampling things.
I can’t be the only person who does this. In fact, the horse is incredibly useful when you want to spend some time without hearing the battle theme – gallop into monsters in the open world and you mow them down like a bowling ball does pins. Thankfully you don’t then have to play a minigame where you scrape blue slime out of your horse’s hooves. You can choose to fast travel instead, but fast travel doesn’t let you crush under 500 pounds of horseflesh. And who would choose to skip past these delightful locations. Only a philistine, that’s who. As much as I love my four legged friend, it’s the people who slum it on two limbs that make this adventure so memorable. This is such a wonderful gang of friends I fell in love with each of them quickly. Veronica is a little red riding hood to look at, with her chibi proportions and red cape, but her personality is more like those red firecrackers Kevin uses in Home Alone – not a totally out of place comparison considering this child packs a surprising ability for violence.
Sylvando, who sort of makes me think of Maroro from Utawarerumono The Mask of Deception – because you’ve all played that, right? – is wise and charming, stalwart and true, like a white knight or something… but he’s also a silly jester. Then there’s Erik, who might be my favourite, second to Veronica. He’s just a good pal, like a sibling, but one who occasionally terrifies you with a brutal knife attack. He’s my hard-hitter that’s for sure – and we need one with my pitiful sword swings leading the charge. I like them all. This rabble make for good time pals, not at all like my favourite Normandy Crew with their Star Trekian morals, but much more like an entire team of Persona-based Junpei’s, Yosuke’s and Chie’s – please release the Persona series on PC as well, thanks! Of course, what good is a world without things to live it in? Even the NPCs have personalities, observable through little anecdotes and side stories.
I love the sense of life in the animations, especially the children that can often be found doing weird nonsensical children things, where the adults tend shops, laze about and engage in idle chat. Places don’t swarm with crowd physics but it feels as though every person within that space has been thought about, even if it is in a small way. That kind of care is felt to great effect. For example, in one area, a Sultan’s palace, a romance between a wounded soldier and maid blossomed over a pampered palace cat as the level progressed; every time I came back, after an important story beat, something slight had changed. Details like these, if you engage with them regularly, make each little community feel alive. Monster communities (by which I mean little groups of wandering enemies like Needlers and Crabber Dabber Doos) are imaginative, too, I’m speaking in relative terms here but look at them! So interesting, so weird and wonderful.
So: CUTE. Seriously… some of these are pretty hard to put down – a bunnycorn? A Hammerhood? Look at him with his little beard… I guess the element at work here and in all of these, is ‘fun’. The characters in your party as well as the background all have very distinct personalities. It makes them all pretty loveable and a joy to spend your time with, in conversation or battling equally cute cameo monsters. If all this chatter of friends, horses and church going sounds a bit soft, there are ways at giving the game a harder edge. At the outset you can set new Draconian options. But Noa, I hear you say, this is your staycation! How do stricter rules factor into that? Well this is a little something for those who enjoy meatier challenges, like staycation-hikers. You can opt out of fleeing from battle; you can remove shopping to put the focus on crafting everything from the ingredients you find; you can limit the exp gain from weaker enemies to prevent any easy grinding. You can even inflict allies with shypox, which means they won’t perform random moves in battle. It’s not for me and my holidaying, but there’s an argument to be made for at least pushing up monster difficulty, if only to get you to really give your tactics a workout in battle.
Thankfully, you can switch these off during the game, so if you decide you’d rather holiday by taking in the sights rather than die climbing them, you can! Maybe some of what I’ve told you causes concern. The game celebrates familiarity and doesn’t mind if you want to dial the difficulty right down. Both things I’ve seen it criticized for. But the key to Dragon Quest XI for me, is balance. It’s not that it’s too hard, or too soft – it’s perfectly tuned, perfectly zen. Despite being set in an open world, fighting along the linear path to your next boss or story beat generally gets you to the level you need to be for the next task, which means grinding is a choice, not a necessity.
You have the freedom to play as you see fit or enjoy. Should you later venture into fights you’re not quite strong enough for, metal slimes – which are stuffed with huge exp boosts – tend to pop up at the right moment; giving you a sneaky leg-up, if you can bring yourself to smash their adorable faces in, of course. Much like the side quests, Dragon Quest XI gently motions you towards the right spot so it feels, as I said before, more relaxing than taxing, which isn’t something most RPGs are aiming for. I love overcoming insurmountable evil as much as the next chosen one, but it’s refreshing to engage in a quest that is just a laid-back treat from start finish. It takes an incredibly gifted craftsman to keep you in a state of relaxed engagement, and you have to applaud it. Hopefully I’ve given you an idea of what to expect, and whether the game is for you.
If you have been playing, I’d love to hear your thoughts – whether you’ve playing Draconian style or just enjoying the candy-land visuals. I want to know your thoughts on Dragon Quest XI Echoes of an Elusive Age. And I thought World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below was a mouthful). If you enjoyed this video, please do subscribe to rock paper shotgun for more Pc analysis videos, and click the notifications bell if you want to see everything the moment we upload – we’re in the business of previews, analysis videos, tips/tricks, let’s plays, recommendations and more! Thank you for watching, and we will see you soon.
Good bye for now. .
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