Dragon Quest XI Switch Demo Impressions

It’s happening.

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.

Battle time!

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!

5 thoughts on “Dragon Quest XI Switch Demo Impressions

  1. I had a very different reaction to the demo than you did. Sure the game is pretty, very pretty, but it feels like an uprezed DQ IX more than anything else. The world looks nice but it’s bland and empty. Once you’ve searched around (and found the two or three “hidden” chests) there isn’t anything to do other than fight monsters and collect items from the glowy item spots.

    Those spots are really odd actually. They’re marked on your map from the get go so there’s no exploration needed or involved. You can see them and then go right to them, after which the game keeps a record of what item spawns from that spot. And as far as I can tell only one type of item ever spawns from any given spot, outside of two or three special spots I ran across that each spawned, I think, three items at once. I don’t know if those spawn different items or not since none of them have respawned during my current play through. The fact that the game shows you where they are and then keeps track of them for you really destroys a lot of the exploration and discovery.

    Then there are the zones. Why are there still loading zones in a game in this day age? Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Nintendo and Monolith Soft but really? Loading zones? They feel really out of place and make the game feel smaller. They’re most likely a byproduct of the OMGZ GRAPHIKZZZ!!!! but they really do feel out of place after playing so many other games doing so much more that didn’t need to resort to using them. Are they supposed to be a throwback? If they are, they’re not using them right. Not at all.

    When I first started entering battles and realized that you could move around I started ducking behind other characters and running around enemies to attack them from behind thinking that placement would have some effect only to be told LATER that NONE OF IT MATTERED! There’s no point in the game giving you the ability to move around in battle other than to accidentally run away by bumping into the edge of the circle that encapsulates the battle area. Yep. I triggered it by accident once and fled from a battle that I didn’t mean to. That was rather frustrating. After that I simply stopped moving around as, what was the point? I was more likely to mess something up if I moved then if I didn’t. Other than that it’s your typical DQ battle system. Actually feels like a dumbed down Quest 64 battle system to be honest what with the 3D and ring and all.

    There’s a lot of variety in the characters at least, and they have bubbles above their heads of different colors to tell you their level of importance. White are your basic background characters that in other games might not have said anything at all. Instead, a small text bubble appears above their head when you get close enough to them. No need to trigger a conversation. A blue bubble represents a character with something more in depth to tell you. Usually it’s a clue to a hidden item or how to do something like climb ropes or get somewhere specific. Purple represents characters with information that helps to progress the story. They point you where you need to go to continue on your way. It reminds me of the system in XC2 honestly. It’s definitely an improvement over past games where you could find yourself running around trying to find that character that told you where to go that you ran across an hour ago before you decided to explore the area. So, some modern QOL improvements have made it into the game, if nothing else.

    It’s a gorgeous game but you can still feel the creaks and groans of the original systems beneath the surface. Character movement is stiff and clumsy. Jumping is a chore and only rewarded in very specific instances. There are invisible walls everywhere that often make little to no sense other than that was where the developer decided that the map was going to end. No, really. At some points it wasn’t until I looked at the map and realized that the spot I was trying to reach was greyed out that I understood what was happening. Small wooden fences that you should easily be able to jump over and yet are used to demark the edge of the map that, unless you looked at the map, appear to be completely abitrary, which they really are in the end.

    And don’t get me started on the horse. It’s neat, but that’s it. It’s too slow to be useful. Apparently you can initiate battles while riding as I did it once myself but only while not galloping and the main limitation seems to be that you can’t initiate a first strike while riding. I’m not certain because I only did it once and have pretty much avoided the horse outside of using it to get me from glowy spot to glowy spot to collect items for I’m not sure what reason yet as I haven’t found a purpose for them.

    It’s definitely DQ through and through with some modern pointless flourishes which seem to have been added for little more reason than because they could. The game probably plays and makes much more sense in 2D than it does in 3D, which just confirms to me that it did originally begin as a 3DS game and then was later ported as it does feel like a 2D game with a 3D engine plopped on top.

    I may be sounding very critical because I am. This game was obviously made in 2D first and yet they felt the need to slather it in modern 3D trappings because… why? They were afraid it wasn’t going to sell? It’s DQ! it was always going to sell well in Japan no matter what it looked like and with the 3DS version handedly outselling the PS4 version, it seems like people in Japan understood that this was a true DQ game and that the best way to play them is how they were originally created: In 2D.

    If you enjoy old school turn-based JRPGs, like I do, then you will like this game. As much as I complained I also consider my complaints to be signposts for those that understand what type of game this is. It is a true turn-based JRPG. Something literally scooped up from the 80s or the 90s, dipped in modern HD glitter, and then squeezed into a Switch cartridge. I’m definitely going to pick it up, I’m just not certain when. I just got Astral Chain and Zelda comes out next month Then there’s LM3 and Pokemon. And I can’t forget about DxM.

    So broke the rest of the year…

    So broke…

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  2. You make a lot of good points. As much as I love Dragon Quest and this demo I can’t actually say you’re wrong in any aspect haha. It’s very outdated but I just kinda expected those things and was overwhelmed to just be playing a pleasant new DQ game. I know some other people who have had a negative reaction to the demo because of some of the things you said, they didn’t expect it to be like that.

    I guess that’s why it’s good for this game to have a demo. DQ is either your cup of tea or it’s not and you’ll definitely find out here, with nothing to lose. It will be nice to try out 2D mode in the full game. Also the 3DS version was still 3D just lowpoly and you could switch, so I think that could be the main design still. Also, you would benefit a lot from changing the settings to Classic Camera for battles so the moving around doesn’t happen. I was confused by that too at first, they should have had Classic be the default.

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    1. It’s Dragon Quest. There’s not really much else that needs to be said about it. They’ll love it in Japan no matter what. Outside of Japan though… I think that’s where the idea for the PS4 version came from in the first place. Highly doubt it panned out for them in the end.

      Hell, I remember when Nintendo was giving away free copies of Dragon Warrior with a subscription to Nintendo Power and the series still wouldn’t catch on here in the states!

      At this point I think we can chalk it up to cultural differences and without a huge number of changes to the series, namely replacing the turn-based combat with something more action oriented, I doubt it’s ever going to reach a sizeable audience outside Japan. And that’s fine.

      Dragon Warrior was one of the first JRPGs I ever played. It was obtuse and hard to follow at times but I somehow managed to beat it. Never played any of the other games until DQ IX sadly. It’s a series that you need to have gotten into before now. Even on the Switch I don’t think they should expect too many sales but it’s still a great series and I can tell there is a good game there under all the glitz. It hasn’t kept up with “the times” though and SE need to understand what that means. Again, personally I will still be getting it, as I do love to scratch that old-school turn-based itch from time to time and the apparent ability to switch between the two different views at any time really interests me.

      We’ll just have to wait and see how people take to it but yes, I do agree that the demo was a very smart move on their part. I’m sure a lot of PS4 and PC gamers were surprised when they first booted up the game and started playing not realizing what it was. I won’t say it was a bait and switch but the HD graphics really, really don’t fit the game at all. Again, very, very pretty, just not suited for this game. It feels… wrong somehow.

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      1. So you haven’t played VIII or VII? It feels like a much improved version of those to me, I don’t get the IX comparison really since that doesn’t really have a main character and is more customisation focused… if anything that is the outlier in the series with X. JRPGs aren’t usually my fav genre but I fell in love with the writing and world-building of those and now this, it feels like we’re going back to the story focused adventure.

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        1. I don’t PlayStation and VII and VIII came out so late on the 3DS that my full attention got pulled to the Switch before I could get either one.

          I didn’t mean that it was exactly like IX. I meant that from a design perspective. You wander around on a limited world and bump into monsters roaming about which pops you into a turn-based battle. The system is pretty much exactly the same outside of being able to pointlessly move around and the much higher graphical quality. Oh, and the ability to control the camera. Wait… Could you do that in IX? I can’t remember right now. Either way, the basic play loop is exactly the same.

          Again, not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re a fan of turn-based JRPGs, it just feels like they were trying to portray it as something that it wasn’t. The moving around during battle thing especially feels like it was added to make people think it was more action oriented than it really is.

          Either way, it’ll do great in Japan. The question is how well it will do in other regions.

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