Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is one of the best JRPGs of the generation. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition, first released on Switch last year, truly puts the “definitive” in “Definitive Edition” with a wealth of new features and tweaks to make a fantastic game even better. And now, with Dragon Quest XI S‘ jump to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, a whole lot more people will finally get the chance to play the best version of a remarkable game.
I’ve previously written at length about what makes Dragon Quest XI so effective. To recap: it’s a game that stays true to the roots of a series that’s been kicking around for more than 30 years, bucking the trend of many a classic JRPG franchise to over-commit to “modernisation”. But it’s also a game that never feels stuck in the past, quietly subverting its own tropes and finding meaningful ways to keep the classic JRPG formula from growing stale. As I wrote back in 2018, “Dragon Quest XI is a classic JRPG, but isn’t some sort of throwback to some ‘golden age’; it’s just the latest incarnation of something that is truly timeless.”
I’ve also, in reviewing the Switch version last year, written about much of what makes Dragon Quest XI S such a substantial improvement upon what was a wonderful game to begin with. It comes with a litany of welcome quality-of-life tweaks, an orchestral soundtrack, dual audio, and most significantly, the SNES-inspired 2D mode that was once confined to the Japan-only 3DS release. As I described it then, “The original game was brilliant enough in its own right, and the wealth of new features and quality-of-life improvements present in the Switch version underscore that perfectly.”
Everything I said in both those reviews rings true for the latest release of Dragon Quest XI S, which is largely unchanged from the Switch version. The most noteworthy difference is, simply, the technical performance that comes with running on more powerful hardware. Playing the PS4 version on PS5—which should be roughly equivalent to the PS4 Pro experience—is a noticeable visual improvement from both the Switch version of XI S and the original game running on a launch model PS4. A much improved resolution means every little detail looks more crisp, and a stable 60 fps frame rate keeps every animation looking silky smooth. This is the best Dragon Quest XI has ever looked—the gorgeous anime art style of the original game, but given the technical underpinning to truly flourish.
In all its iterations, Dragon Quest XI comes with a neat feature called “Draconian Quest” that lets you apply different modifiers to the game, mostly for the sake of adding extra layers of challenge—think tougher enemies, reduced experience gains from lower-level foes, a ban on shopping so you have to rely solely on equipment and items you get from chests and monsters, and so on.
Dragon Quest XI S adds a few more of these, including the utterly delightful “Townsfolk Talk Tripe”. With this active, talking to NPCs will occasionally result in them spouting the most ridiculous lies you can imagine. Here’s the thing: this doesn’t substantially affect the game in any way. It doesn’t make things harder, or result in NPCs withholding key information from you, or force you to really interrogate what someone is saying to determine whether it’s the truth or a very plausible lie. Instead, it’s stuff like this, complete with a little doubtful audio cue:
“Oh my—!!! L-Look at you! You’re stark naked!!”
“Word has it all the slimes in Erdrea are combining into a colossal king slime big enough to cover the entire world!”
“You must be the new superclown I’ve heard so much about! I can’t wait to see you ride a unicycle while farting fire and swallowing fifty swords!”
There’s no extra difficulty to be found in “Townsfolk Talk Tripe”, It’s just an occasional injection of absolute nonsense into the often mundane act of talking to an NPC, and it is wonderful.
The “Shypox” modifier is similarly hilarious. With this active, the hero will sometimes be overcome with crippling embarrassment, resulting in him being unable to talk to other characters or becoming momentarily stunned in battle. The text accompanying these bouts of shyness is hilarious—for example:
“Eleven opens his mouth to speak to the person in front of him… But he’s suddenly struck by how attractive they are, and his heart starts pounding fit to burst! He’s overcome with crippling embarrassment, and can’t talk!”
“Eleven remembers the time he called a stranger ‘Mum’… He’s immediately overcome with crippling embarrassment!”
The “Shypox” quest was present in the original Dragon Quest XI, but the Definitive Edition goes one further with the addition of “Super Shypox”—which applies this effect to everyone in the party, complete with unique, character-specific embarrassing moments. Veronica remembers accidentally setting her own bum on fire in a spellcasting mishap, Jade starts getting paranoid about sweat patches from her martial arts training, Sylvando finds himself “suddenly gripped by the urge to put a flower between his teeth…”
There’s a lot of enjoyable extra challenge to be found in the Draconian Quests, but “Townsfolk Talk Tripe” and “Super Shypox” are the true standouts in Dragon Quest XI S for the sheer amount of hilarity they bring to the game.
One of the more substantial additions to the Definitive Edition is a collection of new character stories. These pop up quite late in the game, so I don’t want to go into any spoiler-ific detail, but I do want to talk a bit about how much they bring to Dragon Quest XI—even if that means stretching out an already lengthy game even further.
Every member of the hero’s party in Dragon Quest XI is on their own journey as much as they are supporting the Luminary. These new vignettes are a way of really giving each of the core characters their own moment in the spotlight—for a little moment in time, they become the “main” character, the party leader on their own little quest. They’re a chance to dig a bit deeper into what motivates each member of the cast, be it Sylvando’s desire to bring spread smiles across the whole world or Jade’s fierce determination to protect the weak. They add another layer to Dragon Quest XI‘s already rich characterisation, and it’s a wonderful thing to see.
I also want to touch a little bit more on Tickington, a new area in Dragon Quest XI S that was previously exclusive to the 3DS version of the original game. Tickington is a place “where time flows differently”, an exclusively 2D realm that’s home to a bunch of sidequests based on previous Dragon Quest games.
While newer Dragon Quest converts will probably enjoy these quests (or at least enjoy the rewards you get from them), they’re pure fan-service for long-time fans of the series. Each one takes you to a snapshot of a moment from a Dragon Quest past, but in each case, something’s a little off. Whether it’s the king of Tantagel having lost is voice—and thus being unable to set the hero of Dragon Quest I on his quest—or Jessica Albert’s extremely uncharacteristic deference to her mother preventing her from joining the party of Dragon Quest VIII, each quest has some sort of historical distortion that would prevent the events of those games from ever coming to pass. Your job, then, is to fix those space-time anomalies and let the history of Dragon Quest set itself right.
There’s an interesting connection to the broader Dragon Quest XI story that I won’t spoil, but for the most part, they’re a fun, clever way of revisiting memorable moments in the history of an iconic series. I still wish Dragon Quest XI S fully embraced the different graphical eras the way the 3DS version’s Tockington quests did, but even in their 16-bit versions, they’re a wonderful treat for longtime fans.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition is the best version of a brilliant game. That was true on Switch, and it’s especially apparent in the PlayStation 4 version, with that extra little bit of extra technical horsepower making it look as good and run as well as it can. The original Dragon Quest XI was brilliant; the Definitive Edition, with its raft of new features and added convenience, lets it shine brighter than ever.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition is developed and published by Square Enix. It launches 4 December 2020 for PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC, and is already available on Nintendo Switch.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.