It’s difficult for me to remain objective in this review, let’s get that out of the way right now. Dragon Quest is up there as being one of my favourite franchises of all time, yet it’s kind of difficult for me to explain why. In terms of gameplay and the raw mechanics of the series, they don’t exactly do much that really sets them apart from the mass number of JRPGs that admittedly evolved and adapted on the premise established by Dragon Quest (or Dragon Warrior, depending on which localised version you played) all the way back in 1986 on the NES. The series has undergone a lot of changes since them, but many would accuse the franchise of never really experimenting enough, utilising the same gameplay loop through nearly all the other game. To an extent, I agree with that; Dragon Quest is a series that established a premise and has never strayed all that far from it, yet while many can take issue with it, its never really bugged me.
The kneejerk argument is one of “if it’s not broken don’t fix it”, but I think that’s too limited for something as long-running and popular as Dragon Quest. Perhaps a better phrase to describe the evolution of the Dragon Quest series is, “Why focus on the bad when there’s so much good?”. I’m doing a lot of reflecting on Dragon Quest and my relationship with the series as I write this review, largely because Dragon Quest XI is one of my favourite games of all time.
Its been said before by the likes of Kotaku’s Tim Rodgers in his excellent video on Dragon Quest XI that to him the game feels like a bedtime story, and closer to home by resident Japanese Role-playing game expert Umar Bastra that Dragon Quest is “comfort food” and while I wholeheartedly agree with both of those sentiments, I’d like to add my own metaphor into the mix. Dragon Quest XI Definitive Edition feels like that animated film I enjoyed as a kid, largely forgot about when I was “too cool” for cartoons and the rediscovered on a cold, lonely night in my room. You realise how much deeper it was, everything carrying so much more emotional weight that you remember as you fall in love again with something that used to fill you with so much joy and imagination.
Dragon Quest XI Definitive Edition takes the already excellent original version of the game and just makes everything better. For a game that looks as good as this and with the scale of the world and environments in play, it has no right to run as well as it does on the Switch. This may genuinely be the best looking Switch game I’ve seen to date. Sure, the graphics aren’t exactly the kind that may push the system to its limits, but it certainly felt like something the Switch should have battled to run. A consistently smooth framerate and minimal loading times are just mind-boggling. Whatever Square Enix did to pull off such a monumental port of a game this size is some kind of witchcraft. Despite a slightly lower resolution than the PC and console counterparts, the Switch version of Dragon Quest looks like barely anything has been lost along the way. Considering Dragon Quest has most historically been a game played largely on Nintendo platforms, it’s no wonder Square Enix clearly did their due diligence in porting the latest iteration of the game over with such care.
Speaking of care, it would be remiss of me to not mention the overhaul provided to Dragon Quest XI’s soundtrack. The original Western release of the game saw a score that, while still well-composed, was plagued by shockingly low quality given that it was almost entirely MIDI versions of the music. The Definitive Edition comes with the original orchestral version of the OST to make up for the embarrassingly poor quality of the original MIDI version, and what a soundtrack it is. Boisterous when it needs to be, yet also able to softly drive home many of the game’s sadder moments. It’s a power piece of video game composing, one that deftly pays homage to many of the game’s iconic themes while also providing some truly special original tracks. Everything about the Definitive Edition seems to right the wrongs of the original Western release with so many unnecessary yet welcome additions. Having a handcrafted 16-bit version of the entire game is just…incredible. I don’t know why you’d want to play Dragon Quest XI like that, but the fact that you can is a special inclusion for anyone wanting to merge nostalgia with a new story.
It’s a fairy tale come alive on the Switch, evoking feelings of nostalgia for a game that I only played for the first time about a year ago. Look, at the heart of it, Dragon Quest XI: Definitive Edition is the same game that graced Western audiences last year. That classic fantasy setting that evokes the themes of Arthuian tales of knights and dragons, while never taking itself so seriously as to be didactic. Honestly, that’s probably the best thing I could say about Dragon Quest. Nevermind the visuals, the soundtrack, the gameplay; they’re all really good, you knew that already. The best thing I can say about Dragon Quest XI is that it made me smile. Wider and more often than any other game this year. There’s a certain magic within Dragon Quest XI that’s only got better with the Definitive Edition. It’s a game I think everyone should play, not just because it’s maybe the best realisation of JRPG mechanics in decades, but because I think everyone just needs something to bring a little bit more joy into their lives.
Last Updated: September 26, 2019