It's been a while since a mainline Dragon Quest game was released in Europe, and even longer since we saw one on a home console, but Dragon Quest XI is about to put an end to the drought in September.
"Upon the Japanese release it's been quite typical of Dragon Quest releases out there starting with one all the way to eleven," said associate producer Hikari Kubota when asked about the reception to the game in Japan. "Japan nationally essentially goes into festival mode, in various place and various locations within Japan everyone was lining up at retail, a lot of people were posting to their social channel that they bought the game, everyone in Japan was really elated about the release of the game. And we even had a program that ran on national TV upon the launch of the game, and so it was quite a big deal and everyone in Japan was really in a festive mode."
As we sit down for a presentation of the game, a preview build of the English version, it's easy to feel right at home. The music, the sound effects, the character design that screams Toriyama - it's all there, but it's also easy to see that a lot has happened here since Dragon Quest IX, the last main series game released in 2010 (in Europe) for Nintendo DS. Dragon Quest XI may stick to the concept, but it would seem that pretty much all aspects of what is perhaps Japan's most tradition-bound RPG series has been modernised. We run through adventure fields with a third-person camera, for example, and there's a day and night cycle that also dictates which monsters are present and ready to fight you. Also, while the combat is still turn-based it appears more cinematic.
As alluded to, this game has already been released in Japan where it made a massive splash (as expected), and while it's always a shame to have to wait, there are some benefits in this case. First - and perhaps most importantly - the Japanese version of the game was text-only whereas the Western release will be fully voiced, and an effort has even been made to sync the mouths to the speech. From what we heard the voice work that has gone into Dragon Quest XI is of the highest quality; much-needed given how much dialogue the game contains. A faster movement speed has been added for when you're on foot (you can also use a horse), and a new camera mode allows you to look at the spectacular surroundings in first-person view. Menus and user interface have been overhauled as well, and some work has been done to improve controls of your character and the camera, so there's plenty that's been tweaked.
In between towns and dungeons the player will explore open field areas - essentially areas where you'll encounter enemies as you would in an overworld in the older titles - and what's interesting here is that there's a bit of added dynamic feel here as the monster behaviour and availability changes depending on the day and night cycles. You'll see nocturnal enemies sleeping in the daytime, for instance. "From the get-go one of the objectives that we had was to create specific kind of behaviours for monsters so that they could feel a little bit more livelier within the game," said Kubota.
The premise of the game is one that will feel a bit familiar as it appears, at least at first glance, as your standard hero's journey affair. At the beginning of the game it's revealed that you are a legend reborn, a Luminary, bearing a special mark on your hand. The Luminaries expelled the Dread Lord of Shadow and in a bit of a twist towards the end of the demo we were shown it turns out that being a legendary hero reborn isn't welcomed by all in the kingdom.
There's a more difficult mode for those who enjoy a challenge, called the Draconian Quest, and for the Western release this mode has been expanded with a couple of extra criteria featuring higher-level monsters and very little or no experience gained from beating low-level monsters. Generally speaking though, the game emphasises story and you'll gain enough experience from simply beating the enemies you naturally encounter without having to grind enemies in order to be strong enough to progress.
"For this particular title what was most important was the story, that wasn't just for me personally, but also for the team, because we feel very, very confident about the story that unfolds within this game," said producer Hokuto Okamoto. "So we wanted everyone to enjoy the story at ease."
We're not going to spend more time digging into the story as those who want to spoil things for themselves have plenty of information based on the Japanese edition to be found via Google, but needless to say this one certainly falls into the sort of feelgood category of JRPGs even if there's a dark side to the adventure.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is heading to PC and PS4 in these parts this September, and while a Switch version is being worked on and should see release here, there's still some way to go with that one. There are however no plans to release the Nintendo 3DS version that's already out in Japan over here.