There is no New Game+ in Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age but I’ve played the 100-hour JRPG twice. I made the pilgrimage once, playing the game's original release, and again when Dragon Quest XI S arrived. The first time that I played this monstrous JRPG I stopped after the credits had rolled. I had full knowledge of the remaining tasks that awaited me in the endgame but at that time I was not of the mind to put in the required work to see out the final sum of quests and defeat the final big bad.
There were two things that influenced my decision to stop just then. The first is that in the original western release of Dragon Quest XI, the endgame is a complete slog. Gearing up for that final confrontation with Calasmos takes a lot of work and the activities that prelude that fight aren’t designed to guide you into it as the main game would have. There is grinding to be done and I am faint of heart when it comes to grinding in JRPGs. Still, the biggest deterioration of my endgame enjoyment was the sacrificed character development of major party members (final call for spoilers).
After the credits roll in Dragon Quest XI, you access the endgame content by going back in time to stop Mordegon before he has a chance to kill Veronica. This lets you save the life of the loose cannon mage, but it also has a few additional story consequences that I disagreed with at the time. This meant that Serena never gathered the individual strength to set out from her village without her sister; Sylvando never created the parade that brought smiles to the world; Erik never saw the pain that he caused his sister by leaving her cursed in that cave, and our Hero never got to be bullied by demon bunny suit Jade (tragic!).
I really enjoyed where we had left our party at the end of the adventure: even though we lost Veronica, every character became stronger in their apocalypse arc and I was sad to give up how close everyone had become. So with that, I shelved Dragon Quest XI, saying “hey, the credits rolled so my job is done.”
When Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age came out I was ecstatic to play through the game again. This time around I was older and more patient when learning everything I could to become stronger, and I was less resistant to the idea that sometimes this game leaves a lot to chance and that I could bide my time and use that to my advantage. I blasted through the main story, this time also completing every side quest and doing my best to get every recipe and learn how to create every item at my forge. Immersing myself in the systems of the game prepared me for what was assuredly my biggest challenge yet. I reached the endgame, but this time I was ready.
It’s interesting to return to a video game after a few years. Different than returning to a film or book, if you were too immature to understand a particular game then there's a good chance you couldn’t beat it. So returning to that game and facing that final boss again likely sees you with an added mental toughness that can bring victories that were previously out of reach. If you see a movie again after so many years there is a good chance that now you can pick up on a joke or a theme that you were too young to understand. Even then you're likely to have the same experience since there are no obstacles in the way of you finishing that film. What I'm trying to say is that when I was older I read all of Sylvandos spells and realized that Dragon Quest XI buffs are bonkers which allowed me to steamroll every boss fight in the game.
So here we are. I entered the endgame of Dragon Quest XI, prepared for time travel and collecting the infinity stones due to having seen Avengers: Endgame. Two things surprised me which strangely coordinate with the two things that I hated about the endgame my first time around. The first is that I realized how little grinding is involved when you utilize your full tool set and create teams of synergistic party members. The endgame challenges are brutal but they are now my favorite part of the game because they forced me to think in ways that the main story never asked me to. I had to use abilities to win fights in interesting ways and it exposed me to pep powers that I never would have touched otherwise.
The newer version of the game also includes a fast-forward option that helps with those grating side quests that want me to kill creatures until I have X amount of materials. Once I destroyed 78 killing machines in the arctic white north freezing my heroic butt off, do you think I did that at normal speed? I fast-forwarded straight through that with auto-combat on and I don’t regret a single thing.
I learned to live with the story beats that I hated originally. Serena never grew stronger because of her sister's death, but now she was stronger because her sister was at her side. Being able to reconcile Sylvando’s relationship with his father and save Erik’s sister both feel half-baked compared to how the same conclusion is found in the apocalypse but I’m glad it happened regardless. Hendrik’s final confrontation with Jasper feels genuine and rewarding, easily taking home the story in a satisfying way. I originally felt like traveling back in time to revive a dead character was disrespectful to the characters that I’d just spent 30 hours shepherding through their hardest battles. Really though, the love that the writers have for their world shines through in this final chapter as they give each character the timeline that they deserve.
I once thought that endgame segments were skippable in open-world games. Maybe they are in most cases, just ways to keep players chasing that 100% completion to say that they did it. But I’m glad that I saw Dragon Quest XI to the end, as every inch of this game and its world are tied to the same large globetrotting experience. The endgame acts as a victory lap through locations that you now know like your own backyard, letting you show off by taking on tough challenges that test how much you’ve been learning about your party's combat capabilities. For long-time fans of the Dragon Quest franchise, this is common knowledge, but Dragon Quest doesn’t end when you’ve saved the world, it ends when you’ve enjoyed the world you’ve saved.
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