It has been quite a while since an entry in the main Dragon Quest line appeared on a PlayStation platform worldwide. Dragon Quest VIII appeared on the PlayStation 2, after all. It has never happened on the PC. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a big deal. PlayStation 4 and PC players worldwide are going to go on a journey around Erdrea facing a legendary evil. No matter how experienced people are with Dragon Quest as a series or turn-based RPGs in general, this installment does a lot to welcome people into the world and help them adapt to the game. It introduces characters and concepts in a way that eases you in and helps you adapt.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age kicks off with a coming of age ceremony for the hero and a young woman he has grown up with. This is your first introduction to the battle system, but it is handled in a way that doesn’t make it feel like you are going through a tutorial. Instead, you tackle a rudimentary dungeon, one with only a small optional path that teaches you about using contextual actions to climb or jump to new spaces. The battles here give you two AI allies, one who heals and the other who can temporarily stun an enemy or attack. It is showing you the moves you will need to traverse the world and survive battles in a way that is not patronizing.
Walking around Cobblestone and Heliodor also helps get people comfortable with important actions, without making you feel as though Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is talking down to you. How does it get you to start looking for bookshelves with red books? It gives you a sidequest where someone wants to learn more about famous knights. This is important, since reading these books is one of the ways to get Fun-Size Forge recipes that lets you make your own equipment. How does it introduce you to looking for boxes or platforms that will let you hop up to new areas? It has you go grab a child’s missing Flurry Feather on the roof of your mother’s shed in Cobblestone. How does it teach you to consider investigating things like chimneys or wells for new places to go? An early Heliodor bookshelf and NPC will show you a chest you can not reach unless you find a way up onto a roof, head down a chimney, and reach a balcony. All of this is handled in a way that makes you feel like you are accomplishing something important on your own, rather than being told step-by-step how to get something done.
The initial party makeup in Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is one designed to help fulfill every need. It is very handy for people just starting out, as it shows you how certain characters are supposed to react and prepare for certain situations. You begin with the hero, who is an all-around good fighter who uses one-handed or two-handed swords. When Erik joins, you have someone who can use knives that can hit one enemy and have a chance at inflicting a status attack or boomerangs that hit all enemies. He is a slightly faster thief. Most of the early enemies are easily handled with physical attacks. Once Veronica, the mage, and Serena, the healer, show up, it starts bringing in more complicated enemies and boss fights. You can come across characters who take single-digit physical damage and double-digit magic damage.
Opponents in early areas, basically everything before Hotto Steppe, tend to show up in groups of one to four. Once you have a full party of four, you start seeing situations where crowd control spells, like Veronica’s Sizz that deals fire damage to a group of one species of enemies and Erik’s boomerang, which hits a group, come in more handy. You start seeing how buffs from Serena and debuffs from Veronica come in handy. One of the early sidequests even encourages you to try using a Pep special attack with three characters, Wild Side, to show you how a more complicated move works when multiple characters take enough damage or meet the other criteria needed to get into the Pepped up state that temporarily strengthens them and allows them to use special skills.
What I especially liked is how major characters will join you as guests before officially becoming a part of the Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age roster. When my hero first met Erik the thief, he followed along as an AI party member who would help me out in fights. When the hero and Erik were helping Veronica and Serena investigating a crypt, the two young women were not immediately added to the ranks. Instead, they would follow along and provide in-battle aid. This happens with Sylvando too. Instead of being capped at four party members, which is your normal limit, he tags along and offers some aid while fighting through the desert.
In each of these cases, people might find themselves in areas that are stronger than they are accustomed to. A dungeon might have more winding areas or paths to explore. Having an extra ally who does not require you to heal them and acts competently is a big deal. This was especially true of Sylvando, as he was very handy in a fight where the opponent would occasionally confuse allies. His AI was rather aware. If, on his turn, one of the other people in the party was confused, he would use a skill to snap them out of it. It was a big deal.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age feels like a game that is good at easing people into the experience, while still not feeling like it is going easy on you. Instead, it is constructed in a way to help you learn while doing. It starts you off with two solid physical attackers of different kinds, then introduces magic users at a point where people are ready to start dealing with spells, buffs, debuffs, and healing. It shows you how to get around towns, finding nooks and crannies. I feel like it prepares people for things to come in an comfortable way.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age will come to the PlayStation 4 and PC in North America and Europe on September 4, 2018. It is immediately available on the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation 4 in Japan.