Dragon Quest XI was the very first game announced for Switch, back when it was only known as NX. Now it’s finally playable on Switch with a very generous demo that just dropped on the eShop. It is 4.7GB of pure joy. You can find it in the Coming Soon tab of the eShop on the Dragon Quest XI S page. These are exciting times we live in. Several years worth of anticipation, disappointment and confusion all flashed before me and then immediately faded away, as I jumped headfirst into this demo.
Right off the bat there is an impressive amount of customisation. You can hand-pick your difficulty with very specific requirements on the very first playthrough, which I think more games should do. Usually this stuff is locked behind a New Game+, but difficulty has less impact when you know the game inside-out already. This game gives you the chance to go all out on the first playthrough. I think I’ll just play normally for the demo but this is still cool. They even wrote new lines of dialogue for the Townsfolk Talk option. Unfortunately 2D mode can’t be selected in the demo, but that’s something to look forward to in the full game I suppose. There’s also a greyed out option in the Church to switch to 2D mode, which means you’ll be able to go back and forth. Bob’s your uncle. Now let’s finally start playing the game.
Oh my god, moving around is so exciting… wait… the camera is so slow! This is terrible. I opened the menu and the default speed was 2 or 3, so I upped it to 8 and it felt normal. Yay! This is amazing. The game world is immediately impressive with lush flora and long tasty grass everywhere. Love me some quality grass in my videogames, it just makes my screen smell nice. The water looks really nice too, refreshing and sparkly. Miiverse guy would be proud. The character models are more expressive and charming than ever, they look more like individuals now than the generic NPCs of previous games. The animations are quite lively too.
The lighting is so good it took my breath away. It’s simply stunning in the overworld, and also struck me in the first cave area. It genuinely looks like daytime is peeking in when you see openings in the roof of the cave, and you feel a big contrast between the dark cave and light outside. The game world is alive and booming. There’s also a physics system now which Dragon Quest has never really had, planks on the bridges react when you step on them, and pots and pumpkins can be trampled on just by walking over them. Small touches but they all combine to make this feel like a new world. This is a new generation of Dragon Quest. It has a more realistic wholesome style than the “plastic” style of the current generation spinoffs like Heroes and Builders. The resolution is a bit lower though, so if you’re used to crisp 1080p goodness then this might take some adjusting to. It’s still very clean though with impressive detail and charm. The game it resembles most is Dragon Quest VIII, and this has significantly more detail. I really like the text font too, it’s so clean and readable.
Battling is pretty much the same as the last ten Dragon Quest games to be honest. It’s turn-based with a basic attack, items, and magic. You can now run around in 3D between attacks but it doesn’t do anything. I switched to Classic Camera but I might switch between both for some variety every few hours or so. The only benefit I see for free movement is controlling the camera for cooler battle angles. Your position has no impact on the gameplay. Battles are pretty quick with multiple speed options too. There’s also a new pep system that gives you an extra attack boost if enemies pester you too much. I haven’t played enough to grasp the impact of this yet, just destroyed a small overworld enemy, but it’s a cool idea. So far this is just tried-and-true Dragon Quest battling and exactly what I expected. I’m having fun with it.
The demo is quite large with multiple towns, different chunks of overworld and a few cave areas to explore. I’m 5 hours into it and wondering how much further I can go. It’s incredibly generous for a demo, but Dragon Quest is such a large game that this is still a small taste. It feels like this is pretty much the start of the game, with just a few select options missing like the synth music option, and 2D mode. The demo has a Japanese voice option as well but I couldn’t tell you if it’s good or not. I’m happy with the English voices so far and quite like hearing the different accents.
There’s a horse now! It’s cool but I abandoned it to explore on foot after a few minutes. You can’t initiate battles or get items on it, and holding ZR button to run on foot isn’t much slower than the horse honestly. I can’t see myself using the horse much unless it becomes more useful in other ways. The overworld so far isn’t huge enough where I’m bothered by the distance. It helps that there’s a lot of stuff to look at. The above image was taken in handheld mode, by the way. The rest in docked. I’m quite impressed with how it runs in both, with not much being sacrificed. It’s just the resolution that seems to change. They’ve done an amazing job optimising this for Switch.
The writing is delightful and expressive, and I’m enjoying where the story’s headed. I’ll talk a little about the story and scenario just for this paragraph, so skip it if you want to experience the story for yourself. The opening kinda reminded me of the start of Twilight Princess with Ordon Village being a self-contained and innocent village, with a hint of grandiose looming in the background. Kids are playing in the water, old people are reminiscing, young people are gossiping, and you can pet horses and jump on rooftops. The introduction is super wholesome and comfy, the perfect way to get settled back in to Dragon Quest. Events start to unfold, you leave the village, wander around a much bigger town, meet an interesting companion. There was one cinematic gameplay event that I didn’t like at all, it just felt awkward have an action sequence in a JRPG. I’m liking the twists so far and meeting more characters in the town of Heliodor has been fun. It’s a massive town with different things in all corners and elevations. I’m excited to find out more about my party as there’s still just two of us. Quite a bit of mystery in the air.
The music was a relief. After playing a lot of DQ Builders and Heroes recently I had started to get sick of hearing the same songs, but to my surprise and delight the music here is new. It’s still similar and retains the same classic symphonic style, but the compositions are new at least. I wouldn’t say they are amazing at the moment, but I’m enjoying them. Even the battle music is slightly changed which is nice. It’s just enough to sound new but doesn’t really have the punch that DQVIII had when I first heard the music in that. That blew me away, while this music just kinda exists. I think that’s probably just a side-effect of using the same composer over and over. The classic menu sound effects are still unchanged as well, just to remind you it’s a videogame. It wouldn’t be Dragon Quest without that battle chime and level up jingle.
Yeah, can you believe it? This is only a demo! Cor Blimey! Pull the other one! I’m loving the demo so much it’s starting to feel like a tease, with the full game not out for another month. I’m just glad the game has lived up to the hype and I’m fairly confident the full game is going to be amazing now. You have the option to transfer your save data from the demo to the full game as well. I’m so excited I spent most of the day playing this demo. This Dragon Quest has been transgressed with finesse!