Taking it back to the start with Dragon Quest.

Until I played the recently released demo for Dragon Quest XI on Nintendo Switch I had never played a single entry in the famous old series. JRPG’s aren’t strictly my bag but they aren’t strictly not my bag either though. Final Fantasy VII is one of my favourite games of all time and I have had great times with VII, IX, and X as well, but I’ve never really stretched my legs beyond that.

Most recently I gave Octopath Traveller the old college try, but ultimately I was disappointed with its disjointed storytelling and unchallenging gameplay.

Since Dragon Quest XI was offering up a free demo, I’d thought it would be rude to decline. I dived in and was happily hooked.

A patron of a tavern takes a drink and declares: 'This is the future!'
Stay ambitious, dude.

It is simple, bright, beautiful, and engaging. A good JRPG is one that sinks it hooks into you and takes not just a few hours of your life, but whole days. At least, that’s what I remember loving about Final Fantasy VII so much. It forces you to commit to the world, and although it’s characters can often be cliched, combat grindy, and storylines trite, you love it anyway, and you give up those days with glee.

I’m only a tiny little bit into the game so I can’t tell you if XI actually does anything new or innovative, but it does everything so well that it becomes fun to play with these potentially tired mechanics all over again. For instance, the encounters are in theory no less random than any other JRPG, except this time you can see the respawning enemies in the world before you engage them, giving you an opportunity to pursue them during a grind, or avoid them if you’re rushing to a mission or town.  

I think Dragon Quest XI is going to be the kind of JRPG that really grabs me, but I’ve still got a while until it’s full release. Until then I need something else to fill the current-craving I have.

Why not more Dragon Quest? There are plenty of previous entries to jump in on…

But where should I start?

Forums offer up suggestions of III, V, and VIII most frequently, but I’ve ignored those suggestions for something radically sensible…

I’ll just start at the beginning.

Dragon Quest is available for £2.99 on the Play Store and it’s absolutely nuts-and-bolts stylings make it a perfect fit for mobile play. The story is as bare-bones as you can imagine from a game from 1986, and for some reason the dialogue comes across as if it was written by a terrible Shakespeare knock-off, but in the end I’ve been left thinking: what’s not to love?

I’ve dumped a whole load of hours already into grinding my way through the levels, appreciating the ultra-simple combat mechanics, the beautiful sprite art, and the excellent updated score. For £2.99 I don’t think I could have hoped for anything better. It feels minimalist in comparison to just about any game that has been released in the last 30 years, and there is an element of challenge which comes with that. Objectives aren’t painted on the screen as they often are now, and to work out how to progress you must explore the world, talk to its citizens, and tie together clues in order to progress. I can’t tell you why some random bloke wandering around outside the inn has vitalinformation for your quest, but he just does. Thankfully there aren’t too many places to go wrong, the game relies on backtracking to stretch out it’s run time so you can’t get too lost, and if a fight feels too hard you know what to do.

The grind is part of the experience.

For me this is the perfect introduction into the series, and I have no regrets starting here, although it is probably far from being the best on offer. I might skip the next couple to see what was offered up a bit further down the line (I’m thinking V) as this is small enough to knock out and move on before I have to draw my carving knife out for the heroic roast dinner that will be Dragon Quest XI.

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