I keep a Google Doc with a list of upcoming games of interest each year. And on that Doc, I've had Dragon Quest XI listed for quite some time. It seemed like one of the "big ones" for 2019. I guess because it was a new DQ game that was coming to console rather than just 3DS. And also because unlike the previously released PS4 version, the Switch edition would offer up a full 2D retro mode, which looked amazing when it was announced at the Nintendo Direct a few months back.
Generally speaking, if I'm already interested in a game, I don't bother with a demo. I tend to want to just wait for the full release. But this time was different. See, DQ XI's demo is estimated to be around ten hours long. And here's the thing: I'm not actually a huge DQ fan. I played the original game a ton as a kid, but only dabbled with II and III on GBC later. I played V just this year on DS but lost interest after eleven or so hours. And VIII - often considered the best in the series - I tried starting twice over the years and lost interest VERY fast. So here's the thing; as generous as a ten hour demo is, it's totally possible that that's all I'll need of this game.
I have to admit up front that I'm a much bigger fan of the Final Fantasy series. You can argue that the DQ games are 'better' games with 'better' stories, but I don't know. Something about the varying quality of FF has always just struck me as more interesting and unique.
The other big thing I need to admit is this: I don't care for the art in most DQ games. The way the characters look? Not for me. It's that same artist that made Dragon Ball Z right? Yeah. I'm not into that look. At all. Which says nothing about how the game plays, but just saying.
Anyway, I've played MAYBE 40 mins of the game so far and I'm mixed on it so far. The world is really pretty. The slimes are super cute. Unfortunately, the 2D mode is absent from the demo so that kills that for me. But it seems... alright. A little too talky right now, which is making it really slow to get going. Essentially, it's been walking in a straight line through some caves and fighting two or three slimes at a time. Fairly boring. And the leveling is slow.
I'm sure it picks up as there are fans out there who I know that have gushed about the PS4 release and put in over a hundred hours. So we'll see.
For some reason I decided to fire up that DQXI demo again. And y'know what? I'm glad I did. I'm about two hours in now and it's actually picked up quite a bit and is a way better game than my first impression gave it. Granted, I went in with low-ish expectations and only had played about thirty minutes. But still.
What I found interesting was this - there's the usual trope of like "you're the Luminary" and you need to go talk to a king or whatever. You know the old cliche in RPG's of how you're the "chosen hero" or whatever? But when you get to the king he's like "no! Dude! The Luminary is a bad omen! You gotta die!" I'm paraphrasing. But I don't know, turning that trope on its head seems interesting.
Setting up tactics and letting the battles play out makes grinding feel brisk. I'm level 5 now. And I've got a second party member, Erik. So yeah. I'm enjoying it more now. I think I'm gonna do some grinding for new gear for a bit. I might even do some side quests to make this demo last. Apparently the demo is about ten hours or so, and we'll see how much fun I can get out of it without paying $60.
After spending some more time with this demo, I have to say that Dragon Quest XI is so good that it's actually making me retroactively like the DQ series even more as a whole. The more I think about it, yes I was more into Final Fantasy on NES than I was Dragon Warrior... but Dragon Warrior has enough nostalgia for me that I rebought the game TWICE - on both GBC and again on the Switch eShop. And while playing Dragon Quest V and Final Fantasy IV on DS back-to-back was borderline stupid, I had a lot of fun with DQV - and I'll always remember that game as something I played in waiting rooms while bringing my wife to doctor's appointments when we were expecting our daughter.
Yes, the more I play DQXI, the more I'm thinking about the series as a whole. The more I want to look into the rest of what I've missed. There's something about this game sort of being the PERFECT Dragon Quest game that's made me appreciate the series. And that's a good thing.
Even the art style. For years I've talked about how I don't care for the art. I'm not a fan of Dragon Ball Z, so I've always been turned off by the look of the DQ games and Chrono Trigger and so on. But all the sudden, it's like it makes sense here. The DQ games are a very manga take on the very western Dungeons & Dragons tropes. All the sudden that makes these monsters and heroes look more charming to me with that in mind.
I'm still a bigger fan of Final Fantasy as a whole. But part of what draws me to that series is that it's kind of a mess. There's some baffling decisions and some truly bad games and that can make for interesting exploration. Will this be a good Final Fantasy or a bad one? Dragon Quest on the other hand, I mean DQXI is a SLOW burn for sure, but the writing is insanely good. The pacing is quite obviously intentional.
I'm really glad I've given this game another chance. It seems like the kind of game I could play 'forever.' Like Breath Of The Wild, it's the sort of game I might play in thirty minute spurts for months. Or I might binge several hours during a storm. Or I might drop it for months and then come back to it fully invigorated. I think this might be the most perfect DQ entry - even for someone who's played a few of them in the past but took them for granted.
Okay, so Dragon Quest XI is turning out to be one of my favorite modern JRPG's in a long time. I think the last one I got this into was Octopath Traveler, but that felt like more of a throwback. THIS is like a truly modern take, and versus a lot of the stuff I've played such as recent Final Fantasy entries or Shining Resonance Refrain, THIS game blows that stuff out of the water.
The world is huge - along the lines of BOTW. Probably bigger even. And yet things are thrown at you at such a pace that everything feels just right. I was three hours in when the crafting mechanic was introduced. At first I rolled my eyes. I hate crafting in games. And yet... AND YET it's so good that I actually spend time trying to perfect the stuff I was crafting. They've streamlined everything here. Don't have enough found-crap to craft what you want to craft? No problem! Just pay for the ingredients. THANK YOU, SQUARE ENIX. Thank you.
And even the tropey stuff is well thought out. We got back to Cobblestone, our hero' s hometown and everything looks normal except nobody remembers me. Guess what? It's a fever dream. The village was burned to the ground in our absence and we're talking to ghosts. All of this revealed with trippy VHS artifacting. It was awesome.
I love this game. I love that it reminds you what you last did when you fire it up so you don't forget where you were in the story. I love that you can find in-menu what your goals are for each quest. I love the battling. I love the gigantic world. I love the freedom. I love that I'm four hours into a demo and that's not even half. A physical copy of the game is on my wishlist now. I'll be happy to pick up a copy once the demo has run its course.