For fans of classic JRPGs, Dragon Quest XI was a sweet, sweet nectar to soak up for tens of hours of role playing fun, but as with so many games, sadly restricted to your TV screen. Soon you’ll be able to take that adventure with you wherever you go, thanks to the tweaked, expanded and improved upon Dragon Quest XI S – the S stands for ‘Switch exclusive’.
One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises about Dragon Quest XI S is just how good it looks and plays on Nintendo’s hybrid. The game’s clean art style works really well despite whatever cutbacks have been made to the overall graphics – shadow detail suffers, there’s a bit of aliasing shimmer, and I’m sure that there’s been finer detail and object distance cut backs, but it honestly doesn’t really feel like these cuts are having that big an effect. You’ve still got the game’s open world design fully intact, and when they were necessary, loading screens were mercifully short.
But this isn’t just a quick port with an extra letter stuck on the end like it’s a new iPhone. Square Enix have made a number of quality of life improvements to the game as well, helping to cut out or diminish some of the mild annoyances from the original release. In particular, the game is just a lot faster. The turn-based combat is about as traditional as it comes, and you’ll be battling some rather familiar Dragon Quest enemies throughout, but now you can not only let your party automate the battle, but speed it up even more with a new Very Fast setting. It literally makes each battle play out like someone’s grabbed the VHS remote and hit FFWD a couple of times. When there’s a hefty dose of grinding to be done, that’s a godsend.
Another welcome refinement is with the soundtrack, which lets you choose between the original synthesised version and new orchestral rendition – it adds a lot to have real trumpets blaring in the battle music, even if it will have the same repetitious feel the umpteenth time you bump into an enemy. At the same time, you can mix and match with Japanese and English voice acting in the game. That alone amused me as I thought about the game’s localisation, with some characters given a midwestern American drawl, especially as it led to the comical MMA fighting tournament – that’s “masked” martial arts, by the way.
A gormless looking lisping wrestler with a huge tongue lolling out of his mouth hoping to defeat you so he and his partner can be popular with the ladies is just one of so many places where there’s a bit of silliness injected into the world and adventure. XI S is also letting you ride through the world on more creatures. Encounter a shiny version of certain enemies, defeat them in battle and you’ll be able to hop on the tamed beast the explore the open world areas. This now includes the Goldem, Great Sabrecat and Slime Knight, which hilariously has the knight hanging on for dear life as you hop around and bop enemies out of the way. A perfect example of something to use the new photo mode to capture.
Dragon Quest XI might have got a bit of stick for being a bit too traditional, but what if you want it to be even more like the earliest entries in the series? We never got to see it in the West, but the 3DS version of the game took the same story and rendered it with 2D sprites and an even more old school take on JRPG battling. for XI S, you can switch to this mode from any camp fire or inn, or simply play through the game in 2D from the very beginning.
It’s unfortunately a bit clunky how it goes about it though, as switching in either direction will first force you to save and then send you back to the start of a chapter in the story. At least you have more than a few save slots to choose from, so you can always preserve a main play through while occasionally dabbling with the other side. You also lose a lot of what modernisation there has been in DQXI, in particular with the return of a world map instead of running through the fields, and with random encounters in place of being able to avoid enemies simply meandering around the game.
You have to use the 2D view when engaging with the Tockles, little jelly-like creatures that you might spot in the world that were previously tied into the 3DS’ Street Pass feature. Finding them and heading into their timey-wimey story lets you revisit little snippets from all the previous Dragon Quest games. This goes as far as to take Dragon Quests VIII, IX and X and spin them into 2D sprite form when they were, of course, fully 3D games.
While there’s some new content within Dragon Quest XI S, with new party character story missions and the ability to step back to previous Dragon Quest games, this is more about refining the latest game in this venerable series. While tackling the challenges of bringing the title to Nintendo Switch, Square have taken the opportunity to look back at the game, improving it in several ways and adding to what was already a fantastic RPG.