Dragon Quest XI is an aggressively uninteresting game. Like I realize this series is all about nostalgia, and that DQ1 practically defined the genre, but good lord — this might be the most generic JRPG I’ve ever seen. It’s a NES game with voice acting (though it is cool they happened to include an 8-bit mode I’ll never use, I guess). The story is an almost parodically vanilla Prophesied Chosen One Must Fight the Dark Lord After His Home Village Is Destroyed, yet after two hours they still haven’t destroyed the village or even introduced the Dark Lord beyond references to his inevitable return (which seems to bother no one much at all) (and yes they actually flat-out call him The Dark Lord).

The combat is cosmically bad; it’s DQ1-style "mash A through the menus" to grind and win. Luckily they added this cool new feature where the combat can play itself! At 3x speed! Wonders never cease.

There’s a “free move” combat mode that lets you move your party characters around the battlefield. You would think this would let you setup backstabs and blocks and stuff like a Tales Of game — and you would be wrong! It does nothing. Purely cosmetic timewasting.

Which is more or less what this game amounts to: the most stultifying, time-wasting take on the JRPG formula you can think of. You can literally auto-run from point A to B, take your hands off the controller, and let the game play itss bland-ass self for you. Why isn’t it just a visual novel at that point? Why have combat at all? Who knows. This series has millions of fans somewhere, apparently. Ask them.

So the combat is bad. The dialogue is drivel. But the music is truly awful. They added full orchestration for the Switch version and it’s still possibly the worst RPG score I can remember, all blaring obnoxious fanfares devoid of the emotion of the most forgettable Final Fantasy theme. Words can’t describe how much worse the MIDI versions are.

This game’s only saving grace so far are the Akira Toriyama character designs, yet the characters themselves have none of the life or animation or humor that makes the Dragon Ball and Chrono Trigger casts so memorable. They’re cardboard cut-out stand-ins for RPG types so stock they might as well just be named Fighter, Thief, and Village Maiden in Distress. The protagonist, ofc, is silent — not because you have any real control over the dialogue, mind you.

I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve played a less inspired RPG since early childhood. Dragon Quest XI makes The Outer Worlds look like an astonishing masterpiece of depth and innovation.

Reviewed on Feb 26, 2020