Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2018)

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Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (just Echoes moving forward) is almost as traditional and conservative as turn-based RPGs can be.  Any gamer familiar with the series will slide in comfortably to Echoes' skill system, patient battles, and spiritual story. There's no pretense to buzzword-heavy originality, only skilled hands who have made a consistent product for decades returning to the series for a single-player game for the first time in nine years.

Even with that familiarity, I was shocked at the number of times Echoes moved me to tears.  This is a humbling game that reminds me how unnecessarily bombastic and leaden turn-based RPGs have been the last few years (even Persona 5 could have used a touch of subtlety at times).  Echoes asks us to lay still with the faith of its characters, to sit in quiet contemplation of their decisions as time moves on without them, and explore a beautifully lived-in world.The moment that sticks out the most involves a once-proud knight Henrik attempting to shake off the shame he feels after being deceived by evil. He's playing the savior, doing good deeds in an attempt to atone, and giving his fellow people something to believe in.  When he's told he's a hero there's no grand speech, no moment of celebration, just the sight of his hands collapsing into his face so he may cry as privately as he can. The sequence is, at most, thirty seconds long but displays a depth of character understanding the unbridled positivity of Dragon Quest hasn't been able to provide. Echoes goes for the little complexities instead of the brash heroism which gives each of the towns a twist with their troubled leaders.

Echoes' real standout is Sylvando - the knight in smiling armor. He's a throwback to the Jester character type that debuted in Dragon Quest III and could have been played for laughs. Instead, they display a nuanced understanding of exuberance as a self-defense mechanism. When things get worse, he gets more flamboyant and his attacks follow suit in a colorful assault of streamers, hearts, and coins while not losing sight of the fact that a good attitude alone can't make the world better. Even his personal quest avoids stereotypical conclusions about his flamboyance and is rooted more in his sincere desire to be ideal knight than in his affectations.Regarding the women in your party, it's sad the "puff puff" flirty side moments have more personality and surprises. Twins Serena and Veronica are bog standard archetypes of the polite maiden and brash talented spell-slinger (an archetype I wouldn't mind being shelved for a few years). Most disappointing is Jade, an initially intriguing martial arts master who honed her body to make up for one athletic failure years ago and ends as little more than a dress-up doll for some of Dragon Quest's signature costumes.

Combat hasn't changed much beyond pick a command and go. The addition of a free-floating camera system is not important strategically. Aesthetically is an entirely different story, encouraging you in and outside of battle to take in the wilderness and cities with their distinct architectural styles and personalities. This is where Echoes approaches the sublime, littering the sky with spirits and showing nature reclaiming land over the hubris of earlier civilizations. Echoes' animation takes the environmental design as a gauntlet thrown and responds with robust figures constantly in motion without going to far into "rubber band" animated territory.Strategically, the only big change is from a "pep" system. Each character has a percentage chance to go into a heightened state of power and perform combo attacks with others. I was a bit annoyed with pep at first, but as time goes on and the battles become more complex the shot of adrenaline in a hopeless encounter produces some nail-biting victories that add a, "I can't believe I got through that," feeling to the tougher encounters.  Add in multiple sets of skills for each party member and it's unlikely consensus would fall on an ideal set of tactics, be it for entertainment or strategy.  Even so, making the eventual variety of tactics necessary earlier would have encouraged a more active role in combat as something to piece through than a delight to witness.

There are stretches of Echoes where the sometimes regressive gender representation and travel - though gorgeous - started to grate on the experience. But any time I thought the shine was set to fade a new character dimension or plot twist brought me back to a rare place of uncertainty. This is a RPG where relative old-timers like myself and players fresh to RPGs may both feel moved by Echoes' storytelling.

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Posted by Andrew

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