Contains major spoilers for Dragon Quest 11.
Dragon Quest 11 is the first game I've ever played from the Dragon Quest series. Despite its incredible popularity, I actually hadn't heard of it until the Hero was added to Smash Bros Ultimate back in 2019. Being introduced to the Hero for the first time, his design was simple and I didn't know anything about him so I gave him no further thought until 2022.
This February I was in the mood for a JRPG, something upbeat and fun. I saw Dragon Quest 11 coming up a lot in these lists, watched a few reviews of the game to get an idea of what I was in for, and gave the game a chance.
A lot of the beauty of Dragon Quest 11 is in its simplicity. There's something very charming about a simple story of a hero of light fighting an evil villain of darkness throughout the ages. There's a lot of basic fantasy tropes here and characters that one would expect from this sort of story. You've got your mages (Serena and Veronica), your upbeat life of the party (Sylvando), the straight man who takes things seriously even when the rest of the party doesn't (Erik), a beautiful fighter (Jade), and an older mentor who helps guide you (Rob). It's all incredibly charming.
Charming is, overall, the word I'd use to describe this game. From the character designs by Akira Toriyama, to the beautiful graphics, to the interactions between characters, to the plot itself, Dragon Quest 11 exhudes charm. While the game does have its lulls and dark moments, it never feels like the situation is hopeless. When Mordegon appears to have won, we can gather our party again and defeat him. When Veronica dies and returns to Yggdrasil, time can be reversed to bring her back. Veronica's death is allowed to have all the impact it deserves. A touch I liked about the game was the confirmation that going back in time doesn't erase the reality time traveled from, it simply creates a new offshoot. There is a world where Veronica was lost forever, a bittersweet one where Mordegon is defeated but two of its heroes lost. Yet, even though this grief is allowed to be felt by the characters and the player, there is never a moment where it goes a step too far. There is always hope and friends to offer solace in difficult times.
I talked about the simplicity and charm of the plot. This applies to the mechanics as well. The combat of Dragon Quest 11, in its normal difficulty with no modifications, is quite easy. It's a classic JRPG system. However, the pep powers give it a level of extra complexity and charm. Carefully rotating characters, finding synergy, and using the combinations that provide the most useful pep powers is both enjoyable and, simply, delightful to watch. The animations of the pep powers are as stylish as everything else in the game.
If I had one major critique of the game to make, it's that the section of the game after you go back in time feels a bit too repetitive. When the party is scattered after Mordegon's rise to power, the game takes a great deal of time to get the party back together. Time is spent going through these characters' stories and seeing just how they ended up where they did. Once the party is finally back in action, more time is spent preparing for the final battle. It feels appropriately climactic. Calasmos doesn't feel anticlimactic or lacking entirely in buildup. There were plenty of hints to him and it was satisfying to go back in time. However, the pacing of the time travel section just didn't feel as tight as the first 2/3rds of the game.
Really though, I had a wonderful time with Dragon Quest 11. It was a breath of fresh air and the exact thing I needed at the time I played it. I like games that do something unique, darker, or more complex, but in between those sorts of games it's nice to experience something classic and bright. Dragon Quest 11 was a delightful experience. Overall rating, 8/10.