Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 26.09.2019 4

Review for Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch

The Dragon Quest series was born on Nintendo platforms, and for the better part of its existence has remained very deeply rooted on the big N's hardware over the years. Dragon Quest VII and VIII may have been the only two mainline games to be released first as Sony console exclusives, but Nintendo fans were treated to a remaster of VII on 3DS, first in 2013 only in Japan but finally seeing a worldwide release in 2016. Then they got a port of VIII, also to 3DS, with new content added for good measure in 2017. Lastly, Dragon Quest XI came along also in 2017, as a Japan exclusive release on PC, PS4 and 3DS. The west would see the PS4 version released a year later, but not the 3DS version which remains forever region locked to its home turf. This Switch version, which was amongst the very first games ever announced for the system, still known as NX back then, finally arrives worldwide on September 27th, 2019. With the heaps of new content promised, and quality of life improvements over every version so far, expectations are high. Is that hype train worth boarding?

Our friends at Square Enix are very strict about the story being revealed ahead of release, despite the PS4 version having already been available for a long time. However a short snippet and taster of what this is all about is still in order, while taking care to not spoil any element that players will not have already experienced at least in the free demo made available on the eShop before release. The unnamed and silent protagonist of this latest instalment, which Super Smash Bros. Ultimate players will simply know as 'Hero,' comes of age in the village of Cobblestone where he was brought up by an adoptive mother. On the day that he and his childhood friend are to ascend the nearby hill of Cobblestone Tor, he is revealed to be the legendary Luminary, and soon has to travel to Heliodor to meet with the king, in order to fulfil his destiny. The events that unfold there will throw the 'Hero' into a long quest around the world of Erdrea, where he will meet new friends and travel companions, which will lend their strength to the fulfilment of the Luminary's destiny.

As always, the story of Dragon Quest XI remains a fairly predictable affair that doesn't stray too far from what the series has introduced before. It doesn't do much different either in terms of gameplay, as movement is still somewhat rigid, and battles still occur in a turn-based fashion after being triggered by coming in contact with enemies appearing in the field, as was the case in the 3DS version of Dragon Quest VIII. It's a decidedly safe approach, but it is ultimately what the main fan-base generally wants and it admittedly still works, for better or for worse, so no complaints there. Where it does improve things however, and this is due to the advancements of technology more than anything else, is in its presentation. Cut-scenes are very pleasing to watch and listen to. Character movement is fluid and well animated.

Dragon Quest VIII already introduced voice acted cut-scenes before of course, but the very cinematic look of story sequences, and the designs of Akira Toriyama really come to life like never before, bar the existing PS4 western release of the same game of course. For those who will experience it first on Switch however, this will really stand out. Japanese and English voice acting are included out of the box in the west on Switch, whereas Japan will have to get a specific premium edition to get English voice acting as an exclusive DLC. In fact, the original Japanese release on higher end machines did not have voice-acting at all, as that was only added in English for the PS4 in the west. This Switch release will offer Japanese voice-acting right out of the gate for the first time. Speaking of which, English voice-acting was a little point of contention in Dragon Quest VIII, because it could be hit or miss. The quality of the direction of the cast of voice actors here however is a notch higher. In fact, Dragon Quest VIII is worth mentioning in passing, since it has a similar release story to Dragon Quest XI. The best looking version of VIII to date remains the PS2 original, more specifically the western release which added an orchestrated soundtrack, which the original Japanese PS2 version lacked, as well as voice over.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch

When this got ported to 3DS, it had to go through some mild downgrades in visual fidelity to fit on the handheld, but still managed to look the part on the smaller screen. While the latter lacked the orchestrated soundtrack, it packed everything the PS2 version had, plus a lot of extra content exclusive to that latest release as well as Japanese voice-acting for the first time. Dragon Quest XI on Switch also had to undergo a visual reworking to fit on the less powerful machine, and work as a hybrid of handheld and home release, while also adding heaps of extra content to make up for it... except this time the Nintendo version has the orchestrated soundtrack, while the PS4 version is the one that didn't. Thankfully, this version plays wonderfully, and doesn't compromise the enjoyment to be had from its grand epic in any way. It was a long time coming, indeed, but, despite Unreal Engine 4 already being available on Switch when the system launched, porting such a massive game to the Switch in such a way that it plays and runs well and still looks impressive by the system's own standards was no easy task.

Square Enix has fully delivered however, and whereas other ports of UE4 titles to Switch may get released faster, this one displays more, instead of lower resolution textures and dialled back graphical settings. Granted, the best visual impact is of course not to be had on Switch and those that just need those higher resolution graphics to enjoy a good adventure with lots of charm could do a lot better with the PS4 version. The same can be said of pretty much any PS4 game ported to Switch - this won't be news to anybody. However, this port of a current gen title is just of the level of quality that every Switch owner has the right to demand from any developer out there. Therefore, when that finally happens, it's worthy of praise.

This port is of course noticeably blurrier. The PS4 version, on the base console anyway, which is still stronger than a Switch in its dock, was a 900p game capped at 30FPS, so not even a full HD experience there. Understandably, the Switch not being on par with the former system, a further visual downgrade from there was expected... and is accounted for. In docked mode, the resolution appears to be a fixed 720p, and the game is also capped at 30FPS, a target that is met practically at all times. In portable mode, a same level of performance is achieved but with a sub-native resolution that to the eye looks to be in the neighbourhood of 500p, which does look soft, but still decent enough to look at and a heck of a lot better than the frequent 360p of something like Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

With the gap existing between base PS4 and a docked Switch, it is even surprising that the final results were not even lower. Side by side comparisons with the PS4 version do show that a lot of assets were completely reworked to fit within Switch constraints without compromising the overall aesthetic and art direction. It has to be said though that the cartoony art style of Dragon Quest in general lends itself well to still look good even with lower polygon counts on characters, lower resolution textures, or lower draw distance for "level of detail" objects.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch

Now, as of the writing of this review, the demo of the game already received a patch to address a number of random crashes that occurred and this seems to have fixed those to a degree. The version played for this analysis, as provided by Nintendo, was still on version 1.0.0, so whether or not the fixes brought to the demo were part of that build of the full game is unknown. For the record, over the first 20 hours or so spent playing the full build on version 1.0.0, exactly two crashes occurred. One was in Heliodor, setting game progress back 20 minutes due to lack of recent saving, and those 20 minutes being spent in the same area. The other only caused a 30-seconds-worthy loss of gameplay because it happened very shortly after a blessed autosave. The rest of the time spent with the full game after that was done so in portable mode, in shorter bursts of play, and no more crashes happened there so there may be a correlation between longer sessions and those crashes being more likely to happen. Whatever the case may be, those random crashes are really the only blemish that comes to mind in what is otherwise a true masterpiece of polish. Those crashes may hopefully not happen at all if a patch is released for the full game too come the day of release.

So the part of the game as it was already known to PS4 players survived the transition remarkably well. Good. What of the exclusive content then? Well, this definitive edition packs way too much minor improvements to be all mentioned here, so the following will just cover the most important ones. First, the 2D visuals displayed on the bottom screen of the 3DS version are now reinstated in this Switch version, but there's a catch. On 3DS, those would be displayed at all times on the bottom screen, running at the same time as the fully 3D scene on the top screen. Now, on Switch, because it would be impossible to display both at the same time and also to map the position of the player in the much more complex 3D world of the PS4 version to the 2D rendition of the same areas... 2D mode is entirely separate from the main full fleshed out 3D experience.

It is possible to Switch over to 2D mode from the 3D version by talking to a priest or nun who saves the game and once that's done and the save file for 3D mode was safely saved, the player is allowed to play in 2D but only from the start of a chapter already reached in 3D mode. It is neat that 2D mode which was otherwise secluded to Japan on 3DS is now available in the west and localised in English. However, this break between both modes, which frankly it's hard to imagine how it could have been made to work otherwise, kind of takes away from it if it means that a chapter has to be played from the beginning to check out what it looks like in 2D.

There is an exception to this rule, though, and that pertains to the new content called 'Altar of Origins.' Dotted around the 3D world of Dragon Quest XI are weird translucent little creatures called Tockles, which don't appear to do much at first, but which eventually make contact with the player and transport the party into their 2D town of Tickington. There, the Altar of Origins contains ten books which require so-called "pastwords" to be read.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch

Those are scenarios from the 10 previous Dragon Quest games that can be played in 2D mode without loading or saving onto a separate 2D mode save file, so those feel a lot more like part of the full experience. The best way to enjoy either mode for the base game then, is probably to stick to one over the other, but most people will prefer the nicer graphics. At least, for avid Dragon Quest fans, or those who will have already played the 3D mode to death and still want more, it's great that this content is included, adding more value to the package and making sure this is not lost on western players.

The elephant in the room in terms of new content however is probably the orchestrated soundtrack. Back when the PS4 version released and was reviewed by Cubed3, this was an important sticking point indeed. Both the older sampled soundtrack, and the new, fully orchestrated one are included out of the box here, and with the orchestrated one being the one selected by default... nobody will want to go back to the older version after playing for 30 seconds of the newly recorded one by the Tokyo Symphonic Orchestra. It is a masterpiece. Music contributes immensely to the atmosphere of a game and such an epic quest, especially played on the bigger screen with booming speakers, deserves to be accompanied by the sounds of drums and brass and strings, the way that those sound in this Switch release.

The latter weighs only short of 14GB so there could be concerns that the quality of the audio may be suffering as a result... but those can be put to rest at once. There are no audible signs of heavy compression here. Where compression is "visible," however, is in the few pre-rendered videos sprinkled throughout. Those do show artifacting, especially in docked mode, and they appear to be encoded at 720p only. In portable mode they look great, but blown out on a bigger panel, they do look a bit too blurry. Thankfully there are not too many of those and cut-scenes in general rely on real-time graphics instead.

The aforementioned are some of the bigger things that spring to mind, but there are also a ton of little quality-of-life improvements thrown in. For example, the ability to use the fun-sized forge anywhere; purchase some of the most common ingredients used in forging recipes when they are missing; or the ability to call the horse at any time using an obtainable item. There are also speech bubbles for party members in battle commenting on the action, as well as a new photo mode to take more complex screenshots in-game. An optional ultra-fast speed mode for battles was added for those grinding sessions. There are more monsters to ride available in the wild than in previous releases. A new shortcut menu was added to make certain functionalities more accessible… and so on, and so on. The previous list is still not exhaustive, by the way!

The "definitive" moniker is not just a commercial trick to get people to double dip, even if it kind of is. The amount of extras truly is staggering and, short of being the best looking version, it certainly is the most complete and the one to recommend to everyone who has yet to take the plunge, unless those just can't live with the nicer graphics of the PS4 version. Naturally there's always the chance that all those extras come to the PS4 version eventually... but there's a feeling here that there may well be some kind of exclusivity deal with Nintendo there, if not permanent, at least a timed one.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The "definitive" adjective in Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition is not just for show. The amount of extra work that went into making this the most refined version of the original available is staggering and worthy of praise. This port may not be the best looking, yet the two extra years it took Square Enix to bring the game over to Nintendo's hybrid system were well warranted, as it still manages to look the best it could ever hope to look given the Switch's specs, while still managing to look great and decidedly just as endearing here as on other platforms, if not even more due to the inclusion of the vastly improved soundtrack. Dragon Quest XI on Switch is a masterpiece of the genre that is only held back by unfortunate occasional crashes during extended play sessions, which we can only hope will be annihilated entirely shortly after release, and a 2D mode that doesn't feel perfectly integrated into the Switch experience. It is therefore not perfect... but came darn close!

Also known as

Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date 27.09.2019   North America release date 27.09.2019   Japan release date 27.09.2019   Australian release date 27.09.2019    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

Comments

im shocked its a superior port.
i put in over 100 hours in it on ps4... dare i try again on switch?

Our member of the week

Insanoflex said:
im shocked its a superior port.
i put in over 100 hours in it on ps4... dare i try again on switch?

If you can survive the downgrade in visual fidelity, I'd say go for it cause in terms of performance, it runs just the same. If you didn't like the soundtrack on PS4, you're gonna love it here!

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

Ok. You convinced me

Our member of the week

Insanoflex said:
Ok. You convinced me

Conveniently there's a demo on Switch so you could make up your mind that way XD

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

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