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Image: Square Enix/Armor Project/Bird Studio via JRPGnow

Japanese role-playing games come with so many expectations that it is almost impossible to satisfy all audiences. Yet one series that continually posts classics, that isn’t called Final Fantasy, is Dragon Quest.

Though it has been in the West for some time, initially arriving as Dragon Warrior for the NES, the games have always played second fiddle to the bigger JRPG series out there. That has changed in recent years and, from spin-off games to mainline titles, Dragon Quest is becoming the behemoth here that it has always been in Japan.

As the old saying goes, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” and Dragon Quest seems to have taken that to heart. In its most recent incarnation Square Enix has not only brought the game roaring into the modern era but has also maintained all of the classic elements that longtime fans would expect to find.

The magic of Dragon Quest XI is in its ability to transport you to a compelling fantasy world filled with charm and danger.

There is a comforting, almost blanket-like atmosphere that permeates Dragon Quest games. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely has its moments of darkness but everything is buoyed by a general feeling of levity and purpose that many games forget in their drive to be earnest.

This lures you into its world and makes you care about it in ways that few games achieve. After all, if the in-game characters are not compelling and their world uninviting, who cares what fate befalls them. You do care about Dragon Quest and its various casts of characters, and that’s some of its secret sauce.

Moving beyond that, however, you have to keep in mind that Dragon Quest is a series that is heavily aware of its past and reluctant to leave that behind. Though combat and action is understandable and even intuitive to a degree, it can be old-school unforgiving at times.

You will be quickly misled by this game’s quirky charm if you think that it is easy. Far from it, Dragon Quest XI provides one of the best challenges we’ve had in some time and that’s saying something. This is a hardcore JRPG from stem to stern and it isn’t going to change that for anyone.

Knowing that, is the combat enough to carry the game? No, but it was never intended to do that. The combat is as deep as it needs to be and the game is as compelling as it needs to be in order to present a coherent whole. There is no filler material here. Dragon Quest never relies upon gimmicks or artificial game mechanics to extend its playtime. This streamlined is both appreciated and necessary because these games are rarely short experiences, we’re talking 80-100 hours and that is if you don’t find yourself exploring the games inviting world. On that note, gamers that want to truly get the most “bang for their buck” would be well served by a game like this.

As far as the rest of the game is concerned, the graphics are beautifully done and really brings the world to life.

So much so that you actually do want to explore the world no matter how perilous that might be. Dragon Quest XI’s world feels alive and vibrant and the non-player characters add an extra touch of charm and quirkiness to the game.

If we had to complain about one thing, it would be the soundtrack. By no means is the in-game music bad, but its not what we could consider great either. For all the standards that this game exceeds the soundtrack does come across as average for this type of game.

While the Dragon Quest formula is not being drastically changed or modernized, sometimes that is for the best. Unlike the ups and downs of the Final Fantasy series, Dragon Quest has had a pretty consistent oeuvre and each title has met with critical and commercial success. None of this is saying that one is better than the other. It’s merely pointing out that it looks like Dragon Quest is a more consistent experience.

At the end of the long journey through Dragon Quest, we can say that it is absolutely worth a try. Whether you started with Dragon Warrior on the NES or are brand new to the series this JRPG, we believe, can stand the test of time. We loved every minute of our play through and eagerly await the next entry into the Dragon Quest series.