On the 27th September Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition arrives on Switch after debuting on other platforms over two years ago. Japanese gamers were lucky enough to get the game on Nintendo 3DS (with a special feature that had both 3D and classic 2D views of the game running simultaneously), but this will be the first chance for Nintendo gamers in the west to get their hands on this celebrated entry in the venerable RPG series.
We caught up with the game's producer Hokuto Okamoto, assistant producer Hikari Kubota and the development director Masato Yagi at PAX West 2019 for a chat about this enhanced port and its journey to Switch.
Nintendo Life: You can play Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition entirely in 2D. What does that design decision say about Dragon Quest in 2019, when you had just made the leap to 3D, (that) it’s apparently still important (to you) that the players are still able to play in 2D?
Hokuto Okamoto (producer): We have over 30 years of Dragon Quest series history behind us and many titles have come out in that series, so fans of the series have their own particular favorite titles and when they think of Dragon Quest and what Dragon Quest means to them, they may think of a particular title. So one of our goals with Dragon Quest XI S, was to make sure that whatever Dragon Quest meant to you, you were able to play it in this version of the game.
And so that’s why our version of the game contains both a modern 3D mode, and the more nostalgic 2D mode as well.
What are you most proud of with this port to Switch? It’s quite a feat to get the whole thing handheld.
Masato Yagi (development director): I think it has to do with the fact that we were able to get both the 2D and 3D versions onto the Switch, and that enables the user to play both on the television and to take the Switch around and play wherever they want to. It means they can play and enjoy the 2D visuals on the television screen or they can take the Switch outside and play 2D or even enjoy the beautiful 3D visuals outside.
And so I guess if there is something that I’m thinking of that I’m proud of, that would be it.
Which mode do you personally enjoy playing?
Okamoto: [laughter] I prefer the 3D mode...
I want to take a step back and talk a little bit about Dragon Quest, in general. It’s just an observation that RPGs are always changing and evolving. And games can be anything. So how important is it to you personally, for whoever wants to answer, that “classic” RPGs persist in the gaming market - both with Dragon Quest and outside of Dragon Quest?
Okamoto: When you say these “classic” or nostalgic RPGs, what are you specifically talking about?
Specifically referring to menu systems, turn based...
Okamoto: Are you talking about specific titles, though?
Oh, no, just referring to the genre at large. It could be something that Square-Enix puts out, or it could be something that somebody makes in their living room. Referring to the genre as it has evolved over 30 years ago.
Okamoto: Speaking from the perspective of Japan, we have a lot of fans of the Dragon Quest series that aren’t expecting a lot of change. They like to experience new stories that are added to the games while playing the game with systems, menus (and) battle styles that they recognize. They appreciate that familiarity as opposed to wanting to reinvent the wheel each time. And so when it comes to continuing to make RPGs in that classic style, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
No, it’s not a judgment of quality ... I’m hearing that (Dragon Quest’s persistent style) is based on audience expectations.
Yagi: I have a bit more to add to that. That’s speaking more about the Japanese fan base for RPGs and for people who play only Dragon Quest games - those types of fans. But thinking about the overseas audience, you know, there may be people who are fans of turn-based style RPGs, but as we continue to make games, we need to make decisions in real time, as we continue to develop. And if a game is well-suited to have turn-based battles, then I think that’s the decision we would make for that game. And if we need to evolve the battle system for a particular game, then that’s what we would do.
Let’s jump to the fact that the Switch and PS4 version of the game is now on console (in the) west here ... Dragon Quest has a history of skipping titles for the west. Whenever these releases come out, do you feel any differently after you see it played in America or read western reviews of your game? And does that feedback influence you any differently than eastern feedback?
Yagi: We do pay attention to impressions that we hear coming from outside of Japan, whether it pertains to voice acting that’s in the game, and people’s desire to have more options for that, or the way text is displayed in certain windows. And it even extends to the music. We heard strong requests for an orchestral soundtrack. People have a lot of nostalgia for the music from Dragon Quest VIII, (and) there are ways to listen to that to that in the game as well.
Can we discuss the differences between the definitive edition and the original version? It’s a little bit of an unusual thing to have such a wide (amount of time) between the two territories, but your team adds a lot of different content to the new version in that time. Can you speak to what’s new?
Yagi: So the new scenarios were added to the game, and also there were some quality of life changes added to the game from the PS4 version, like for example, the ability to dash across the map and the ability to change battle speed. We added in additional voice, so now there’s Japanese voice in the game. There are also different sound modes that you can change between, so you have the orchestrated version and the midi version. We also added in Famicon style soundtrack as well, for areas that use past title’s music. And also, monsters that you can ride, you can now use some of those monsters to attack enemies on the field. You can knock them out of the way while you ride, which you could do in the PS4 version, but now you gain experience points.
We recently did a reader poll at Nintendo Life and we found that (for) a lot of our readers, (Dragon Quest XI S: Definitive Edition) is their first Dragon Quest experience. And this is my first Dragon Quest experience. What do you want to say to me and our readers who are going into this for the very first time?
Hikari Kubota (assistant producer): The Dragon Quest series from the beginning has been made as a series that anybody can really play. If they try really hard, they can get to the end. So for somebody trying this for their first time, as we said before, the entire history of the series is packed into this game. So it’s also been made so they’ll be able to experience the game smoothly as well.
One other piece of feedback we were able to see from when the first edition of the game came out was that the characters of the game resonated with the fans who played it. So with the additional scenarios we hope to offer people more of what they liked about those characters and, I would say that overall, if you’re someone who likes the story elements of the game, and really like sinking your teeth into something like that, then Dragon Quest XI would be the game for you.
There was a lot of press in America about the fact that Dragon Quest XI: Definitive Edition had a 10-hour demo. Can you talk about that decision, and how you arrived at the conclusion (to release it), and ... did it work?
Yagi: We thought about a lot of the players whom this would be their first Dragon Quest game and we wanted to give them enough time to gather party members together, see what the plot would be, and also give them a sense of the ease of play, but also give them a sense of wanting to play more of the game. Because there’s still, even after that 10 hours, a lot more of the game for them to enjoy.
Just by playing 10 hours of the game, you won’t even be able to return back to the real world, you’ll get so enthralled. [laughter]
[From our PR person] Just one more question.
Okay...this is my most important question. Why is Hero so overpowered in Super Smash Bros.?
Kubota: That’s because Mr. Sakurai likes him so much.
Okamoto: Is he powerful?
A lot of the tournament players are debating whether or not to ban him...
Okamoto: That’s not because he’s too powerful, it’s because of the random element being too powerful, right?
Uh...in short...sort of.
Kubota: We thought that he would be an easy fit just putting him in Smash, but from Mr. Sakurai there were all these ideas that kept getting added in after the fact, like putting in a turn-based command window, as well.
Okamoto: You know, as somebody on the Dragon Quest team, we make games, like we said before, that we want people to get through from start to finish - anyone should be able to get through our games. But you get to Smash Bros. and you’re dealing with an action fighting game. As that skill ceiling increases, there are people who won’t be able to keep up, (as there are) people who can’t play at a certain level of difficulty.
So I think that with Hero from Dragon Quest XI, because that strength of his randomness is so powerful at times, that gives him the appeal of being a character that (for) somebody who’s a button-masher, (they) can get in and deliver some really powerful blows. And I think that’s kind of a good point about the character.
Yes. Dragon Quest is for everyone. Even in other games.
We’d like to thank Mr. Okamoto, Mr. Kubota, Mr. Yagi for their time. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.