Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of An Elusive Age – Definitive Edition Review — A Hero’s Journey
Expanding on its original release in every way, Dragon Quest XI S is one of the Nintendo Switch’s best RPGs and a great entry for newcomers.
When it comes to the types of games that I tend to play the most often, JRPGs are usually towards the lower end of the spectrum. This isn’t to say that I have anything against the genre, by any means: I’ve sunken way too many hours into Persona 3 and 4, and have steadily worked my way through the installments of Final Fantasy that I missed out on when I was a kid. Part of my usual aversion to JRPGs most of the time comes down to their length, especially as I’ve gotten older and have had less time to commit to most games, let alone one that could take me 100 hours to see through to the end.
But as much as I wouldn’t necessarily call myself “a JRPG fanatic,” the times that I have dabbled with the genre have only highlighted for me why so many other people are compelled to play them. There is a special quality to going on a grand adventure with a party of characters and enhancing their abilities over the course of dozens of hours in an epic, sprawling world. While now I would consider myself a bit more well-versed in the language of JRPGs, I owe a lot of my early experiences with the genre to the Dragon Quest series, which made getting the chance to jump into Dragon Quest XI S all the more enticing.
Since I first experienced the series through Dragon Quest VIII on PS2 (a game I still adore to this day), to me the Dragon Quest series has always been about tradition. Dragon Quest is a series bound to the classic elements of its genre, and Dragon Quest XI is certainly no exception: all the usual hallmarks and expectations of a traditional JRPG are here, from being “the chosen hero,” to embarking on an epic quest to save the world. But what Dragon Quest XI might lack in innovation, it makes up for in humor, warmth, and depth, making its epic journey stand out even more with its recent Switch release.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of An Elusive Age – Definitive Edition is a lengthy adventure worthy of its equally-lengthy name, but more importantly earns that “Definitive Edition” noted at the end. While Dragon Quest XI S brings what Western players first saw last year on PS4 and PC over to Nintendo Switch, it is a significantly heftier experience that enhances just about every aspect of the original game, and also offers Switch players one of this generation’s best RPG experiences in a whole new way.
As we noted in our original review of Dragon Quest XI when it released last year, every element of DQXI exudes a deep appreciation and reverence for traditional JRPG gameplay, and Dragon Quest XI S only further exemplifies that. From its turn-based combat, to its colorful and vibrant world, to its eclectic blend of monsters to fight (including the iconic slimes), Dragon Quest XI S is everything that a JRPG lover could ask for, and offers even more than that with numerous quality-of-life-improvements, new features, and additional content to separate it from the original release, especially for those that might have played it on PS4 or PC.
I fall into that camp from having played a good portion of Dragon Quest XI last year on PC, before (inevitably) falling off the game as new releases came around on the horizon. While I wanted to go back to DQXI at some point, having the opportunity to jump into the Switch version of the game seemed like the right call to make, and the new features and content added to the Definitive Edition more than justifies the additional year-long wait for it.
While Dragon Quest XI S preserves the story and characters that we were introduced to from its original incarnation, the Definitive Edition almost feels like a brand new experience even for those that might have played the game previously. By far the biggest of these changes comes from the inclusion of its 2D mode, which allows players to swap between the normal 3D style of play and instead play through DQXI in the style of the classic 16-bit era Dragon Quest games. As a feature that was only available in the 3DS version (which never released outside of Japan), it’s a sheer marvel to be able to swap between what (essentially) is two massive games in one package, especially as it alters the gameplay and combat to the style of classic Dragon Quest games.
Dragon Quest XI S’ 2D mode itself, however, has its limitations. In order to swap between the 2D and 3D modes, you’ll need to head to the nearest church in town and activate the mode swap from there, and its availability and use does depend on your current story progression. This is an understandable setback, and while it isn’t completely seamless, seeing the game jump so suddenly from a fully-realized 3D world to a SNES-style top-down RPG is still an incredible sight. Seeing how the maps and areas shifted from the perspective of a massive 3D world to a pixel-based 2D map was an enchanting experience every time I saw it and will surely delight longtime fans of the Dragon Quest, especially those that visit the new area of Tickington that pays a loving tribute to the series’ past.
Outside of the 2D mode, Dragon Quest XI S’ other most notable new features includes its fully-orchestrated score, a notable step up from the original MIDI-based score of the Western PS4/PC versions that lends even more beauty to the massive world that players will explore. A new Photo Mode also enhances the ability to capture screenshots and let players share their journey throughout Erdrea. Of course, these are only the major items compared to the numerous other smaller refinements and updates that Dragon Quest XI S offers, such as the ability to speed up combat, a more streamlined crafting system, the option to play with either English or Japanese voiceovers, and more.
The lone setback that Dragon Quest XI S has compared to its predecessors on PS4 and PC are its visuals, which take a small bump in its transfer to the Switch. While generally-speaking there is a bit less detail and some more noticeable jagged lines and edges, Dragon Quest XI S still will provide Switch owners with a wealth of colorful visuals and expansive landscapes to explore. Much like titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Dragon Quest XI S overcomes the noted technical limitations of the Switch with stellar art direction and style, as the world of Erdrea shines with vibrancy and life and shines, especially when exploring through it in handheld mode.
Whether it’s your first Dragon Quest game or your eleventh, Dragon Quest XI S truly earns its “Definitive Edition” title by making an already exceptional RPG experience even better. Thanks to its wealth of refinements, new features, and the ability to play through the whole game in its 2D mode, Dragon Quest XI S will feel as much like a new experience for seasoned players of the original game as much as it will for those who are coming to the series for the first time. If Dragon Quest XI was intended to be made as a love letter to the classic JRPGs of the past, then consider the Definitive Edition to be its coda.