These monsters! Now on more capable hardware (the online RPG Dragon Quest X originally came out on Nintendo's Wii), the monster designs -- from legendary artist Akira Toriyama, who penned the characters of Dragon Ball Z, Chrono Trigger, Dr Slump and more -- look squishy, or rubbery, or solid or shiny. And they all move like they should. I'm obsessed with how the musically inclined demons strike sassy poses to cast their curses, or the adorable tiger cubs that gambol around till you have to, well, end them, and the vacant stares and squishy motions of the slimes, in all their different sizes, forms and colors.
It's a shame then, that barring some wonderfully silly, cartoonish moments with Rab, a Scottish-accented geezer who's a bit of a sleaze, the main characters aren't given the same attention in animation and, well, personality.
It's a Dragon Quest thing that the protagonist is a painted as a mute, personality-stripped leader, but the hero's face is ridiculously expressionless throughout. When he hears the tale of how his true parents passed away, there's no frown, no tears. The hero's expression ranges from passive to slightly agape surprise. While I understand the idea is that you can play as the lead character, the slate is a little bit too blank.
Fortunately, the rest of your troupe have some emotions and intrigue. I've already singled out Rab as one of my favorites but clown-knight Sylvano is a similarly entertaining battle ally. There's also a gruff thief that knows it's fate to help you out, twin sisters that currently don't look like twins, and a beautiful spear-wielding warrior princess type. The last one gets the anachronistic bunny-girl costume -- this is still Dragon Quest. I could write far too many words on the adult (occasionally hilarious) world of 'puff-puff', or how Sylvano, the effeminate showman, is drawn as a lazy gay cliche.
In DQXI the team has figured out a more forgiving curve to game progression and bosses. Dragon Quest is notorious for its experience grinding demands and the time it took in past games merely to shore up enough experience or new weapons to be able to make a dent in bosses. This iteration is fairer in that regard and your journey across the world and through dungeons offers you enough fights to prepare you, mostly, for what you'll come up again next — this is a huge relief. For those looking for a challenge, DQXI also includes a Draconian Mode, allowing you to handicap the standard game difficulty and make things hard for yourself. I was completely fine with the standard game, but it's there, if you want it.
That said, I can't praise arguably the greatest part of DQXI; the post-game. No spoilers, but it's here that Dragon Quest series finally takes some risks and surprises me, taking the tale in some crazy directions as it expands beyond the credit roll. Unfortunately, Square Enix's embargo demands that reviewers keep all this good stuff (and some heavy spoilers) to themselves at launch. I'll keep it short and mysterious: The game gets far more interesting, and feels fresher, once you've beaten the big bad.
The Dragon Quest series remains an accessible RPG, but the flip side of that is that it seems a little bit too simple by 2018's standards. Persona 5 is another traditional RPG, but it keeps the gameplay fresh and streamlined. The Dragon Quest creators, however, stick doggedly to series tropes: You can only save at 'churches' or goddess statues, which is also the main way of reviving characters and removing curses if you don't yet have the necessary spells or items.
These services, barring saves, also require money. While major in-game scenes are voice-acted, most of the side-quests -- some are pretty hilarious, some are dull fetch tasks -- are text-based. All of the non-playable characters, shop owners etc. talk in staccato notes as the text scrolls on screen. It's another nod to the long-running series, but not one we really need to keep.