Dragon Quest XI features a collection of gut-wrenching, bittersweet redemption stories.
The Dragon Quest series often puts the spotlight on tragic stories affecting its main characters and NPCs alike. NPC characterisation is strong in the worlds of Dragon Quest, with Dragon Quest XI paying special attention to its cast as well as the characters they meet along the way. The common theme with just about every important character in the game is that their story arcs entail overcoming personal guilt and carving out paths of absolution, even if this means getting a chance to do so in an altered timeline.
One of Dragon Quest XI’s best story quests has two very different endings. One gives its central characters a happy, fairy-tale ending. It’s a stark contrast to the other ending in which the forgiveness one character achieves comes at a horrible cost.
In the village of Hotto, the Hero and his companions learn that the head chief, Miko, is in an awful predicament. The story takes many turns but at the heart of it, the party discover that Miko chose a mother of two young children, Atsuo and Atsuko, to be a sacrifice to appease the gods and temper the volcano near their village. It’s an alarming decision given the usual village rites are performed with fruit, corn, and silk.
In an attempt to find out what’s really going on, the kids and your party learn Miko’s secret: Tatsunaga, a dragon which terrorises Hotto, and which Miko said she slayed in a battle alongside her son Ryu, is actually still alive. As the children deduce, Miko intends to feed the beast with humans. In true Dragon Quest form, the twist doesn’t stop there. Miko’s real secret adds another complex layer to the entire affair: Ryu, who supposedly died in that battle, was actually cursed by the beast during the fight and transformed into Tatsunaga.
Ryu as Tatsunaga returns to the village in an attack that sees Miko throwing herself to the beast in an effort to protect him from being killed by the villagers. In that moment, Miko decides to give herself up as food to satiate Tatsunaga’s hunger. It’s later learned that she found the magic mirror, a mythical item that reveals true forms, and was trying to use it to cure Ryu but could not get it to work, hence her decision to use the villagers’ lives as food until she could figure it out. Eventually, the group face off against Tatsunaga and the curse is lifted (Miko has the mirror on her when she is consumed, and it works from the inside – yikes), with a tragic ending of a young man’s soul freed without the knowledge that he killed his own mother.
It’s a complicated story that poses a difficult scenario for Miko in which she weighs the life of many against that of her beloved offspring. Dragon Quest XI does a curious thing here: it pulls at heartstrings by giving Ryu peace, and he’s able to cross into the next life with his regained human soul. But while Miko’s last minute decision is a selfless act, she arguably gets an ending that is deserved for her commitment to execute a grievous sin – her punishment fit the crime, so to speak.
Achieving redemption isn’t always a cut and dry affair in Dragon Quest XI’s world of Erdrea, leaving characters with profound consequences to bear.
Neither character gets much of a happy ending in this scenario. When Ryu gives Atsuo a message to deliver to his mother he unknowingly kills, it’s heart-wrenching. In that message, he says that he’ll wait for her in the afterlife. It’s unclear to me if Miko would even be able to join him given the gravity of her sins. I found it particularly sorrowful, as the player looking into this world, that I became the keeper of the horrible truth of Miko’s demise.
Miko, for her part, gets her forgiveness from the villagers after her death. Atsuo notes that although she betrayed them, sacrificing herself is what ultimately saved them.
There’s a second meeting with Miko and Ryu that is attainable in the post-game where altering events of the past is necessary for achieving Dragon Quest XI’s true ending. In the post-game timeline, crafting a powerful end-game weapon will take players back to Hotto. In that quest, Miko and Ryu get a happier ending without their respective deaths as the magic mirror works without Miko being eaten, and Ryu surviving the curse. It’s a better resolution to a story in which Miko does not resort to murder out of desperation. For me, the original timeline’s story is much more impactful even though it’s quite tear-jerking seeing their reunion. But I might be a horrible person who much preferred the drawn-out twists and turns that Dragon Quest XI dishes out to disastrous results.
But there’s something poetic about the fact that I had to work hard to give Miko and Ryu that good ending, given that it is a part of the post-game. I’m not a person who usually delves into a game after seeing the credits roll the first time. It adds a whole other layer to the game where these characters could live in one timeline and never see a second, if not for players actively seeking it out. Although to be fair, Dragon Quest XI gives you a very good reason to play the post-game content, which I won’t spoil here.
Miko and Ryu’s tragic tale is just one of many in Dragon Quest XI’s world. While the post-game can bring about relatively happier endings to some, how the game expertly crafts each of its stories is one of Dragon Quest XI’s greatest achievements. Even for some of the more predictable outcomes, the game deftly subverts expectations on how the stories play out by including subtle twists to draw out empathy and emotion in players. For some characters, redemption comes with endings that humble them. For others, forgiveness does not come as easily, resulting in incredible depth to the narratives the game tells.