When it was released last September, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age was lauded for its story, distinctive and entertaining characters and classic JRPG turn-based combat. It became one of my top games of the year and one of my all-time favorite RPGs. I loved its colorful art, detailed environments and memorable dungeons and quests. Dragon Quest XI is massive, with a main campaign that is dozens of hours long and many additional hours of story and gameplay after the “ending.” It’s hard to imagine that much content squeezed into the Switch version, but it’s all there and in what might be the ultimate, best way to experience the game. Called the “Definitive Edition,” it may just be one of those rare cases of truth in advertising.
Although the story is relatively linear, it doesn’t suffer from it. You play the Luminary, a legendary, near-mythic figure who, of course, is destined to save the world. You travel the landscape, gradually gather a party of variously skilled fighters and healers and delve deep into multi-layered dungeons to kill all manner of monsters. While the template is classic JRPG, Dragon Quest XI manages to make it feel both familiar and brilliantly fresh. The archetypes are all there, of course — tanks, mages, healers, rogues, etc — but they are anything but generic characters and all have engaging quest lines to follow, amusing and even poignant stories, and are excellently voiced.
Combat is frequent, and though it never strays far from the turn-based model familiar to the genre, it’s enhanced by a very large number of weapons, spells and party-shared “pep powers” that make each encounter interesting. Exploring the world is a pleasure because it’s so beautifully conceived and artistically rendered and because there is something interesting to discover around every bend in the road or secret, hidden area. It’s also usually easy to avoid combat with the vast population of less aggressive, fanciful enemies that seem to be everywhere but grinding for items and crafting materials never feels too odious.
The Switch version is almost all good news, but not entirely. While the graphics feel as bright and inviting on the Switch as om the older console and PC versions, there are some minor frame rate issues and frequent scenery pop in in some of the more expansive areas, bad enough to be momentarily distracting. Neither issue significantly degrades the overall experience, though. Coming from the PS4 or PC versions, and playing the game docked on a large screen, there is a feeling that overall, textures have been downgraded a bit and some fine detail is missing. In portable mode, Dragon Quest XI is one of the easiest to enjoy ports so far. Text is clearly legible and controls are intuitive.
This Definitive Edition is enhanced by the ability to switch on the fly between 2D and 3D versions of the game which has both a practical impact — the 2D version is obviously less graphically intensive — and layers on a bit of nostalgia for classic JRPGs. You can also switch between a sampled synth or orchestral soundtrack and the crafting forge is now available to use anywhere, not just at camps.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a masterpiece of design that balances tradition and subtle innovation and is very bit as entertaining on the Switch as it was on PC or PS4. It’s a generous game with relaxed yet engaging storytelling and despite some minor graphical compromises and hiccups, it’s a near-perfect fit on the Switch, absolutely worth revisiting for those who played another version, and required playing for anyone with an interest in the genre or series.