Dragon Quest XI launched in Japan almost a year ago, but it's only here at E3 this month that a western release is finally playable. Same old story right? A long-delayed Japanese game takes an age to get through localization, and appears with stilted translations, cheap voiceovers and a sense that this new game is already old.
Wrong. DQXI subverts that. Well, a little. The US release will have voiced characters (the Japanese release had no voice actors), while also adding crucial upgrades like a dash button for your character, and a streamlined interface for smoothly getting your band of quirky allies in order.
Back when Dragon Quest VIII came out on the PS2, the game was praised for its smart choice of character voices and a translation that was punctuated with humor. Assistant producer Hikari Kubota explained that with Dragon Quest localization, the team makes a big push to "translate rather than transliterate" — the early demo only gave glimpses of the characters and their motivations, but none seemed flat. "The characters and the story ... these are the core of what makes a Dragon Quest game," added Producer Hokuto Okamoto, adding that the team took Dragon Quest XI as another chance to introduce the series to lapsed fans and new ones -- it would also explain why Square Enix is making a bigger push with this title outside of Japan, relative to the last two DQ games.
That said, balancing the Japanese audiences' expectations against western gamers was something that Okamoto "didn't really think about". "If we suddenly decided 'Oh, we need to make it for western audiences!', then we would have to change everything."
For decades, Dragon Quest has fought the tide of increasingly complicated RPGs. While iterations of Final Fantasy (or Pokémon, Persona, Tales etc.) are judged on improved / evolved battle mechanics, the Dragon Quest series has kept things simple. In 2018, that's a little too simple for some of us, but Dragon Quest XI wears its heritage proudly, This might be a game for cutting edge consoles, (with gorgeous environments and Toriyama-penned character design) but battles remain turn-based, simple and, crucially, new player friendly. "Easy to enter, easy to comprehend," nods Okamoto. "We revamped what needs to be revamped."
Okamoto added that DQXI was a chance to shed frustrating elements of the series and made it harder for newer players to progress (thus a redesigned, clearer interface that makes more sense.) I think the addition of dashing on foot is a bigger sign of progress, making traversing large towns and parts of the world map far less laborious. (You could already ride a horse on the Japanese original, but that doesn't work everywhere.)
People that love Dragon Quest are going to appreciate these small evolutionary touches, but the onus is on picking up new gamers -- possibly younger ones. (Square Enix introduced the Minecraft-esque Dragon Quest Builders for a reason, y'know.)
“"If we suddenly decided 'Oh, we need to make it for western audiences!', then we would have to change everything."”
Hokuto Okamoto, Square Enix
The Dragon Quest series, though often hard and prone to a little too much grinding to shore up your character's stats, is a gateway JRPG to more complex iterations. You could argue that the increasingly convoluted Pokemon series is now a denser game than Dragon Quest.
Okamoto tries to summarize: "Dragon Quest XI: It sounds like it's hard to jump into the series now. We consciously chose "Echoes of an Elusive Age" as the sub-title. This pays homage to the 30 years of Dragon Quest, but at the same time, it's a new start."