I had a few false starts with the classic franchise. When a remake of Dragon Quest IV came out for the Nintendo DS in 2008, I picked it up. This was right around the time I was marathoning my way through Final Fantasy, playing the first 10 games in the franchise in 6 months. After so much Final Fantasy, I thought I’d enjoy checking out the other major JRPG institution. But I barely got anywhere with Dragon Quest IV. I don’t have a great reason; the game just didn’t grab me. If there was one big thing, I just couldn’t get into the first-person battles. Not seeing my party members on the battlefield just felt jarring.
Not long after that, Dragon Quest IX came out for the DS in 2010. This time, Square Enix made a Dragon Quest for the DS from scratch. And I actually played this one for a few hours. This time, I could actually see my characters in battle, swinging their little swords and casting their spells. But Dragon Quest IX was a more open, less narrative-focused RPG. That was a pretty big jump for me, especially after playing all of those story and character-heavy Final Fantasy games.
Fast-forward to 10 years later, and my JRPG experience has extended beyond the confines of Final Fantasy. I have now played games like Suikoden 2, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and Phantasy Star IV. My appreciation for the genre extends beyond comparisons to Final Fantasy.
So when everyone started raving about Dragon Quest XI, I became curious. But it still took me awhile to jump in. After my past experience with the franchise, I had convinced myself that I just wasn’t a “Dragon Quest guy.” But when Dragon Quest XI came to Switch, and I finally had some free time after the rush holiday and early year game reviews, I decided to finally give it a go.
Questing for glory
I’m so glad that I did. About 75 hours later, Dragon Quest XI is now one of my favorite RPGs of all time. It was everything that people said it was: charming, beautiful, and delightfully old-school with a modern approach. But Dragon Quest XI was also many things I wasn’t expecting. It has the best voice acting I’ve ever heard in a JRPG, avoiding the obnoxious anime tropes that so many other games of this kind go for. And while Dragon Quest XI uses a simple, traditional turn-based battle system, it still has a lot of depth. Every fight feels meaningful. You can grind your way through many JRPGs by just smashing a single button, telling every party member to use a basic attack every turn. Dragon Quest XI had me using a much wider set of abilities and spells than a normal JRPG.
Now, I’m not here to review Dragon Quest XI (managing editor Jason Wilson already has, and you should read it). Suffice it say that it’s a fantastic JRPG and you need to play it if you have any affinity for the genre.
But aside from the tremendous experience of playing that one game, I finally feel ready to dive into the rest of this franchise. Already, I’m eyeing the recent Switch port of Dragon Quest III, which it looks like many people think is the best of the NES-era games in the series. I’m also excited to try some of the games that I’m hearing are among the best in the franchise, like Dragon Quest V and Dragon Quest VIII.
It feels like a whole new JRPG world is open to me. I’m not sure that I’m going to go back and play every Dragon Quest game, like I once did for Final Fantasy. But after beating Dragon Quest XI, all I want to do is get deeper into the franchise.
I am now a Dragon Quest guy.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.