"Dragon Quest XI S is an absolute delight of a JRPG and the definitive edition of a true classic in every sense of the word."
When it was released in the West in 2018, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age was met with accolades and praise aplenty on the PS4 and PC. It wouldn't be until 2019 that a "Definitive Edition" graced the Nintendo Switch console in the form of Dragon Quest XI S, but is it truly the definitive experience it claims to be? The short answer to that question is a resounding yes, as a phenomenal game is taken to even greater heights in its Switch adaption.
The story for Dragon Quest XI starts with our hero taking part in a coming-of-age ceremony in his adopted village of Cobblestone, where it is soon discovered that he is in fact the Luminary reborn: Yggdrasil's chosen warrior to help the land of Erdrea. The Luminary sets out on a personal quest to discover his next course of action, only to uncover sinister machinations when he's wrongly vilified and imprisoned. The resulting world-spanning narrative is surprisingly heartfelt and emotional, with plenty of interesting twists and turns to keep players invested.
Truly, the story and characters are the collective heart of Dragon Quest XI. The player takes on the role of the Luminary, and it is in his shoes that gamers are introduced to the wide variety of colorful characters that make up Erdrea's populace. Sylvando and Jade were both highlights for me, though I ultimately grew to love all of the party members as the tale wove on. I only became more deeply invested in their personal journeys over the course of Dragon Quest XI's three story arcs. Even NPCs had moments to shine, from the cowardly and scheming prince of Gallopolis to the tragic and rhyme-speaking mermaid Michelle. I couldn't help but grow attached as I watched their stories play out in every new locale, and the party's reactions to the plot and characters they encountered fleshed them out further. There are some overly-flamboyant characters that in any other story would border on offensive, but I found I didn't mind their portrayals in Dragon Quest XI — largely because of the plot's humanizing narrative. Honestly, those characters ended up being some of the kindest people in the cast, and I appreciate that there was no cruel intention behind those portrayals.
The only issue I had with Dragon Quest XI's plot was with the pacing, particularly in the last third of the game. There would be long periods during that portion where the plot either felt rushed or came to a standstill for large dungeon portions. However, Dragon Quest XI's narrative does ultimately come back around for an immensely satisfying conclusion.
Adding to the story experience in Dragon Quest XI S are special Switch-exclusive chapters where players get to see what happened to certain party members after a spoiler-heavy story event occurs. These character-centric episodes are short enough that they didn't overstay their welcome, and they also provide some nice insight into later plot events. It also gives gamers a chance to see how the party members interact with the residents of Erdrea when not traveling with the Luminary.
There is a wealth of things to uncover and do in Dragon Quest XI. The sheer number of side quests and optional content alone is staggering. Minigames such as horse racing add a little variety into the mix without being overly complicated. In general, riding horses out on the world map was made much easier in the Nintendo Switch port with the inclusion of the Horse Hailer, which allows you to call your equine companion from anywhere on the world map. Crafting, such as forging weapons and equipment, is surprisingly addictive here. As an added plus, you can also craft anywhere you'd like in the Switch version of the game.
Other quality of life improvements to Dragon Quest XI S include an ultra-fast battle option to seriously pick up the pace, the option to skip cutscenes, and a Quick Commands Menu option that means you don't have to rummage through the inventory screens to access features such as the Horse Hailer or the Fun-Size Forge. Players even get the option of having cosmetic-only outfits for the party characters that are separate from their regular necessary equipment. These are especially fun to play around with while taking advantage of the Photo Mode Dragon Quest XI S offers.
Battles in Dragon Quest XI S are turn-based affairs that flow pretty seamlessly once an enemy is spotted and potentially targeted; controls in combat are very fluid. I found that an essential key to victory was keeping everyone up to date with the best equipment, while taking advantage of their robust skill trees helped to improve their stats and give them access to helpful abilities. For those gamers who don't mind more of a hands-off approach to fighting, the "Tactics" option allows you to tailor the party members' individual AI actions during a fight. In general, that worked well for most battles, but I ended up switching to inputting orders myself as the game advanced, finding that there was more freedom to choose the best strategies for challenging boss fights on my own. Either approach works well in Dragon Quest XI! I admit that I felt immense pride (no pun intended) when I finally managed to beat Overweening Pride in under 50 turns in the optional Drustan's Labyrinth challenges.
Controls outside of combat are handled just as nicely, and exploration is heavily encouraged as gamers traverse Erdrea and its locales. When exploring area maps, players can jump and climb to areas that otherwise might be slightly out of reach and gather materials necessary for crafting. The areas in Dragon Quest XI tend to be massive, though there is usually only one set path to travel so gamers don't have to worry about getting too lost or sidetracked.
There is perhaps a certain graphical quality dip when comparing this Nintendo Switch version of Dragon Quest XI to its PS4 and PC counterparts. However, I was honestly too invested in playing the game to notice. Truthfully, I think Dragon Quest XI S looks phenomenally impressive and boasts some of the best graphics I've seen on the Switch.
Music-wise, the soundtrack compliments the scenes and setting wonderfully. You can even choose between the original MIDI versions of the tracks or the new symphonic arrangements. However, there is a lot of repetition in the score. Even the most moving musical piece can wear a bit thin when constantly heard on repeat. I would have loved for there to have been more overall variety in the tracks, as I felt like I kept hearing the same two or three songs over and over while playing and it started to get bland. Voice acting was largely excellent, with characters speaking in dialects and accents that represented their given region to add a touch of heart to the script. However, the voice acting quality wasn't always even. Some of the voices could be hit or miss, and I questioned why certain characters in the English dub spoke at a snail's pace. It should be noted that you can play Dragon Quest XI S with Japanese voice acting, though I opted not to just because I would've missed the charm of the dialects found in the English version.
Perhaps the biggest difference in this version of Dragon Quest XI when compared to the PS4 and PC versions is the option to play it in 2D Mode, which helps give an entirely different retro feel to the title. It is impressive that two different graphic mode options are readily available for gamers to pick from, though the 2D Mode forgoes voice acting entirely. The transition between the 3D Mode and 2D Mode isn't as seamless as it could have been, as certain carryover is lost depending on where you are in the story when you opt to switch between the two. For my own personal preference, I liked playing the game more in 3D Mode, though I occasionally dabbled in 2D to see what it was like. Dragon Quest XI S also gives players access to the Tickington side quest, which was originally found in the Japanese-only Nintendo 3DS version of Dragon Quest XI. Tickington, done entirely in 2D, serves as an excellent homage to the Dragon Quest series' past as gamers undertake quests in the different games' timelines.
Overall, there are not many negative things I can say about Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition. This version took the foundation of an already truly excellent RPG experience and built upon it further, offering new features and quality of life improvements along the way. I poured over a hundred and twelve hours into Dragon Quest XI S, which is more than I've spent on any other RPG recently, and I never once looked back with regret as I wholeheartedly fell in love with the gameplay and story. Having only played Dragon Quest XI S, I can't say for certain if there is enough new content here to warrant an additional playthrough, but if you've yet to play Dragon Quest XI and have access to a Nintendo Switch, this version is truly the "Definitive Edition" that the title claims it is. Plus, my Luminary gets to be housemates with Erik because Dragon Quest XI S even offers gamers the chance to choose who the Luminary will live with! What's not to love about that? Dragon Quest XI S is an absolute delight of a JRPG and the definitive edition of a true classic in every sense of the word.