Dragon Quest Treasures is a prequel to Dragon Quest XI, featuring everyone’s favorite rogue siblings, Erik and Mia. In Treasures, they’re rogue children, bored of life with the Vikings. They have their eyes on something shinier, so they set out looking for adventures ending in treasure.
And thus, they find them. Erik and Mia are whisked off to Draconia, a group of islands in the clouds that have fallen on hard times. In their adventures, the siblings scour vast lands looking for treasure, befriend archaeologists, build a base to store their trove, and fight off pirates looking to run off with their hard-found shiny objects. That all sounds like a make-believe game that neighborhood children might come up with during a weekend hangout.
Don’t expect anything too heavy; Dragon Quest Treasures is on the lighter side for the series. Though it stars a pair of characters from Dragon Quest XI, there’s no dark history of how that game’s setting of Erdrea came to be, and you won’t unearth any backstory exploring Erik and Mia’s relationship or family. The narrative is not grand, sweeping, or earth-shattering but a simple, light children’s fantasy that so happens to star those two during their formative years. They develop a relationship with two tiny creatures, a small cat with wings named Purrsula and a small pig with wings named Porcus, who give them a hand finding their bearings around Draconia.
As for what this game is, that’s not easy to define. Yuji Horii and company tried something new, and it’s a little bit of a lot of things. Dragon Quest Treasures is part monster collecting, part base building, and a whole ton of exploring a massive open world. More than anything, as the title would allude, it’s about hunting for treasure. As in any open-world RPG, you have a hefty quest log. While most of the sidequests are of the “go to a location” persuasion, the main quests mostly have broader goals, such as leveling up your treasure-hunting operation. How you go about doing that is largely up to you. You eventually uncover main quests with more concrete goals, but even those aren’t so straightforward.
Unlike mainline Dragon Quest games, the entire map is open from the start, with no hard barriers blocking the way. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a game if there weren’t some obstacles to overcome on your way to your destination. Erik and Mia are merely human children, so they’ll need to get by with a little help from their monster friends. In Dragon Quest Treasures, each monster you collect has a Forte — a special movement ability that helps Erik or Mia get to those hard-to-reach places. Drackies give you the ability to glide for a distance, and the variety of little hogs in hats are speedy and sprint to get you somewhere in a hurry. There are five Fortes: Sprint, Launch, Glide, Stealth, and Scan. As each monster only has one, and you only take three monsters with you while exploring, the need to consider party composition comes into play. If Horii was attempting to transpose Dragon Quest into a Breath of the Wild-like experience, the Dragon Quest team has largely succeeded in creating an open world that leaves players to their own devices and still feels like Dragon Quest above all.
It’s a majestic world. Each of the five islands you explore is wonderfully crafted, including separate regions with distinctive landmarks. As Draconia rests on the back of an actual deceased dragon, you can often glimpse features of the dragon itself off in the distance against an ever-changing sky. If you see a place, that means you can get to it. In between yourself and those distant areas lie natural lands with bits of a once-vibrant society now in ruins. It’s obvious that the Dragon Quest team wanted to provide many treats for players to discover. In any or all of Dragon Quest Treasures’ five islands, I recommend that you climb to the highest spot you can find and take a moment to survey the breathtaking landscapes. There is a beautiful lore about Draconia that you’re fed a small bit at a time, usually through completing sidequests, and I was always hoping to discover more.
It’s an excellent backdrop for hunting for treasure. If Breath of the Wild’s Captured Memories were developed into an entire game, it would probably look like Dragon Quest Treasures. When you approach a buried treasure, your monsters alert you that there’s something nearby, and each of the three gives you a limited picture of the spot where the treasure is. When you get close enough to the spot, it glows, and you can dig it up, which requires holding the dig button until you fill a meter.
The treasures themselves are a love letter to Dragon Quest fans and include statues of characters from the series, weapons and items both rare and common, and even some real-world Dragon Quest merch such as cards from the trading card game. Each prize has a value that gets plopped on top of the total amount you’ve gathered so far to show how proficient your gang is. Unfortunately, those treasures are merely for show, to be locked away in your vault for safekeeping, and none are for practical use as treasures usually are in other RPGs.
Altogether, Dragon Quest Treasures’ treasure hunting is a fun loop of preparation, exploration, and discovery, where you go at your own pace. Or you can forget the treasure as long as you want and just explore. Sidequests offer something more concrete to do if you want a break from wandering around, usually requiring that you get to a specific destination and sometimes deliver some items upon arrival, and the rewards are often impressive. While your actions sometimes permanently affect the world around you, your footprint is lighter than in some open-world games.
As excited as I was to explore Draconia, I was equally unenthusiastic about fighting the creatures living in it. On the one hand, it’s refreshing that the core gameplay is exploration focused. But combat is also a main component, and it’s less than spectacular. Melee combat is performed by mashing the attack button. That’s it. There are no weapon upgrades, just the siblings’ bejeweled daggers, so there is no variety. Using the catapult (think slingshot) offers a little more. When you aim, the camera zooms to an over-the-shoulder view, and you’re still free to move while doing so. There are various pellets for ammunition that can deal elemental damage, inflict status effects, and even heal allies. You can craft more types of pellets by discovering recipes. But you mainly support your monsters, who do much of the heavy lifting in combat. Boss fights are more appealing than randomly fighting monsters in the field, but mainly because of their impressive appearance. Though it dawned on me that mashing the attack button was not significantly different from what I would have done in a traditional turn-based Dragon Quest game, there’s little satisfying about Dragon Quest Treasures’ combat.
Your monsters act almost entirely on their own. You have two commands: go and come back. At first, I found my party’s self-initiative irritating, though I eventually grew an appreciation for it that turned back into irritation. They exhibit the attention span of my 1-year-old cat, who still wants to chase anything that moves across his line of vision. The first time I went out to explore in Dragon Quest Treasures, I set my navigation mark to a sidequest that was a great distance away. But I was only in the field for a few minutes before they found more treasure than they could carry (monsters have to carry treasure, and they have a limited capacity), and they also ran off to attack any monster within sight, whether I wanted them to or not. But I grew to appreciate my party monsters, as they would clean up nearby enemies while I wandered around in search of treasure, picking up easy experience. As I started to push into areas with higher-level monsters, I would try to avoid combat so I wouldn’t get destroyed, but my monsters still attacked anything they saw. I would then need to go and save them and the treasure they were carrying.
Monster collecting is also a vital part of Dragon Quest Treasures, though it’s much simpler than in games like Pokémon. When you defeat monsters in the field, there’s a possibility they’ll be impressed with you and want to join your crew, though you need to pay them items before they join. There’s no breeding or permanent stat boosting other than picking up good old-fashioned experience points through battle. Collecting and combat in Dragon Quest Treasures are so simple, yet there are so many systems and stats that don’t seem to make much of a difference, at least not until you get into more challenging post-game content. These were aspects I shied away from, and I found that combat mostly hinders the glorious experience of exploration. It feels as though the developers wanted to do too much and weren’t able to give every aspect the love and attention they devoted to crafting the world.
The classic Dragon Quest music is employed in full force, though with a more limited selection of background songs. As a main theme of Dragon Quest Treasures is exploration, the music, as always, made me hungry for adventure. Of course, the classic sound effects for winning a battle and leveling up are always invigorating to hear. The English voiceovers are fine, and it’s fun to listen to the typical Dragon Quest ethnic accents in the writing acted out. But I preferred the Japanese, as those actors brought much more enthusiasm to their parts, even in smaller roles, like monster yells and grunts, and it’s clear how much they loved working on this project.
Dragon Quest Treasures offers a cute story, beautiful lore, and a magnificent world to discover, and while that’s all lovely, the experience is marred by its weak combat. In ways both good and bad, this game put me in the mood to play other Dragon Quest games. The treasure is tarnished, but it’s still at least something shiny and new to do, making Dragon Quest Treasures a decent appetizer as we continue to await Dragon Quest XII.