Dragon Quest 11: Echoes of an Elusive Age is my favorite JRPG ever, and I'd just wrapped an 80-plus-hour playthrough on PS4 when the Switch port landed on my desk. It's a testament to the game's quality that I couldn't wait to jump back in. Dragon Quest 11 is today's quintessential JRPG; a stubbornly faithful evolution of its predecessors adapted to modern standards, polished to a mirror finish and bursting with color, real emotion, and charm. The wordy Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition is a bigger and better version, a technical marvel, and indeed the best way to experience one of this generation's finest RPGs.
Release date: September 27, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer / Publisher: Nintendo / Square Enix
First let's talk about the 2D mode, mainly because it's what excites me most about Dragon Quest 11 on Switch. I know it's a carryover from the 3DS version, but unless you've got a Japanese 3DS and Japanese fluency, the 3DS port isn't an option. Regardless, playing the entire game in 2D is a nostalgic treat for fans of the early Dragon Quest games and the Super Nintendo in general, as well as a viable and arguably preferable way to experience the story. The fact that the 2D mode is so humbly bundled into the Switch port belies the amount of work that went into its development – truly, it deserves its own release and retail price.
The 2D mode is an honest retro tribute, for better or worse depending on your preference. Random encounters in the overworld and in enemy territories force consistent grinding, static sprites may or may not be to your liking, and the same goes for unvoiced dialogue. I played through most of the game in 2D mode and enjoyed every minute, but I've always had a particular fondness for games of the 16-bit era.
Naturally, the lush expanses of Dragon Quest 11's 3D world are compacted somewhat for the 2D format, and as a result the world feels slightly smaller. Though, thanks to random encounters it's debatable whether traveling between different locations is any quicker in 2D than 3D. Regardless, you can switch back and forth between 2D and 3D to your liking, though it's best to do so right after a big event and saving, as it sets your story progress back to pre-defined starting points.
Erdrea in 2D is a visual masterpiece, and my hat's off to Square Enix for making each location feel as uniquely magical as they do in 3D with so fewer pixels. With my most recent playthrough on PS4 still very fresh in memory, it's remarkable how accurately they were able to replicate some of the more complex, winding spatial puzzles in dungeons. Likewise, quaint villages like Hotto are just as graceful and inviting – if not more-so – than ever, and bustling cities like Heliodor no less exhilarating to discover.
Dragon Quest 11 on Switch looks great in 3D mode too, both docked and undocked. Unless you were looking, you wouldn't notice if someone swapped out the PS4 version for the Switch version during your bathroom break. Of course, if you are looking, you'll notice textures are a little harsher up close and pop-ins are a lot more noticeable. What visual concessions there are I gladly forgive because the game runs like butter at a near-constant 30 FPS. The only hiccups I ran into were when the game would suddenly crash, which happened four times during my playthrough.
More than meets the eye
There's a lot more to Dragon Quest 11 S than its good looks. It's also a feast for the ears. Its exclusive, fully-orchestrated score an almost indisputable improvement over the PS4 and PC version's synthesized tracks. The orchestra adds drama to every scene, whether by enhancing the adventurous feeling of world-traveling, the frolicking nature of Sylvando's theme song, or the despairing mood of exploring the Ruins of Dundrasil. That said, you can opt to hear the synthesized score instead, just as you can Japanese subtitles.
A number of story expansions provide depth to characters we previously only knew from the Hero's perspective. The new stories take place after the sequence at the Tree of Life. You play as Sylvando, Jade, Erik, and Rab in their fights against hopelessness, and along the way explore some really cool new environments and learn more about the stories behind each character.
Some of the new mini stories feel more significant than others. Sylvando's sequence in particular adds a touching layer of sorrow to his backstory by exploring some of his family history. Jade's, on the other hand, feels a little grindy and doesn't add as much depth to the character, but it never sinks to the level of filler.
Think of the new story content as a whole new chapter of the game, as it should take you about the same amount of time to finish. Though, you're essentially immortal in these sections so battles don't feel as consequential as other parts of the game.
Then there's the retro-inspired cache of new content, which deeply broadens the role of the now-named Tockles and their never-before-seen home, Tickington. You'll encounter Tockles at various points throughout the story, and each one provides a unique "pastword" that grants access to a new area via Tickington, each a 16-bit portal to Dragon Quest's past. The objectives range from simple fetch quests to lengthy boss-like battles, and there's an obvious nostalgic value added for those who experienced the earlier Dragon Quest games. I especially enjoyed the 16-bit renditions of scores from past and present Dragon Quest titles.
It's the little things
A laundry list of quality-of-life improvements flesh out the Switch experience far beyond what was expected. There's a photo mode where you can use different poses, camera positions, and subjects to capture moments like you're on a roadtrip with friends; a new shortcuts menu to make accessing key features easier, there's a bigger variety of creatures to ride; a new "Ultra-Fast" battle speed option and new Draconian quest options; you can use the portable forge anywhere, and can change outfits without affecting stats; and you can call your horse at any time. And those are just some of the highlights – trust me when I say there's too much to list. The improvements, subtle or not, add up to an overall boost in playability that's noticeable, especially after having so recently played the PS4 version.
Square Enix makes a number of ambitious leaps bringing Dragon Quest 11 to Switch and sticks the landing every time. The story expands in meaningful ways for party members; the 2D mode, orchestral soundtrack, and language options offer a variety of worthwhile choices for subsequent playthroughs, and it looks and runs fabulously. Whether you're looking for a fresh new way to play through Dragon Quest 11 another time, or you've yet to experience this must-play RPG, it's hard not to recommend Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition over any other version.