Dragon Quest is one of the most prolific JRPG series around, and for the most part it’s only received small changes and advancements throughout the years. Twinfinite recently went hands-on with the Dragon Quest XI at E3, and the newest entry is a grand combination of everything fans love about the series while making some natural and meaningful examples as well.
The demo was essentially split into two parts, one at the start of the hero’s journey in your hometown, and another later in the game once you have a full party and make it to a vibrant desert kingdom. Although our time was short with both parts of the demo, there was an overwhelming amount of things to do, both in the main quest and for side content. The first part had us starting in Cobblestone, the humble beginning of Eleven, the hero of the game. I took my time wandering around the city, grabbing items, and talking to the citizens as they want about their day-to-day.
The very first thing that grabbed me about Dragon Quest XI is just how vibrant and beautiful everything is. The world is absolutely gorgeous, with lush foliage and thatched houses dotting the village. Character animations look great and there’s an absurd amount of detail on clothing that lets you see the threading on fabric. A diverse color palette helps everything pop off the screen, and the game truly looks like an Akira Toriyama anime, especially during cutscenes.
The first half of the demo was simple enough, and the series’ battle system remains mostly unchanged. Venturing out from Cobblestone, I jumped on my horse and took off into the world. Rounding corner and venturing through caves, I eventually came upon the grand sight, the massive kingdom of Heliodore rearing its head on a hill above me. There’s a sense of scale in Dragon Quest XI that past games in the series just didn’t capture, with towns and buildings feeling massive and realistic, while lush open fields and harsh deserts take a few minutes to traverse. Within Heliodore I had some freedom to roam and explore, discovering a chest by hopping on a roof and spotting some colorful characters in the process. The whimsical nature of Dragon Quest is alive and well with endearing dialogue and accents in minor characters and main ones alike. The voice acting is quite good, at least in what I experienced, and the English and Scottish accents helped keep that distinct Dragon Quest feel.
While the first part of the demo was charming, the second part gave me a little more action and options to play around with. Now with a full party I ventured to the desert kingdom of Gallopolis, a city full of merchants with a penchant for the pastime of horse racing. I decided to battle a few enemies in the desert trying out the various abilities of my party. Eric was an effective thief with a host of damaging abilities, Veronica had devastating magic that could hit multiple enemies at once, Serena was most effective at healing and supporting, and Eleven was a useful mix of all three. Dragon Quest XI has a new mode for combat called Freeform, that breaks from tradition by letting you run around the battlefield. Battles are still turn-based and switching to Freeform doesn’t change your tactics or how battles play out at all, they just help make them more cinematic.
After taking down some groups of enemies with ease, I decided to head into Gallopolis and immediately headed for the horse races. Taking part in the races let me play a fun little minigame where I had to keep hitting boost points to keep my horse dashing forward. Afterward, I took the town with my remaining time to chat up the citizens, and see what was on local’s minds.
It may seem like I had the opportunity to do a lot in my demo, but the minutes just fell away and I was left with so many options and things I still wanted to do. I wanted to check out the stores, I wanted to follow the main story, and I sure as heck wanted to find the perfect place to take a desert photo for a nice gentleman. Dragon Quest XI is simply a joy to explore, with fun characters and secrets tucked away, and even just the gorgeous art style left me wanting to see everything I could. The game’s world feels lived in and realistic with great tiny details like the way butterflies and insects flutter around, or the way your character’s hair blows in the breeze, or how horses munch on grass and flip their tails.
I’m dying to jump back into the world of Dragon Quest XI, get to know its cast of characters better, and see what other wondrous sights await me. Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, this is one JRPG that absolutely needs to be on your radar.