Dragon Quest XI is a very long game full of tragic twists and turns, so when my journey finally came to an end, it felt like a real accomplishment. The credits rolled. I’d defeated the main villain and brought peace to the land. I actually felt sad that my time with my companions was coming to an end because I liked them so much. There was a 'The End' screen marking the quest’s conclusion. I was about to turn the console off when to my surprise, another line of text followed that read “to be continued...”
That’s when the post-credit sequence began. I thought maybe it’d consist of a few new bonus quests, some extra dungeons and a chance to find treasures I’d missed in my first playthrough. But I was wrong as there was an entirely new journey awaiting which had me question everything I’d done up until then.
The second half of Dragon Quest XI was remarkable. I put it on the same level as the moment Kefka succeeds in decimating the world of Final Fantasy VI and the Kingdom of Zeal being destroyed by Lavos in Chrono Trigger.
That’s because it’s so rare when villains succeed. In Dragon Quest XI, not only does the Lord of Shadows, Mordegon, corrupt the Sword of Light, but he destroys the Yggdrasil Tree. Your party barely escape with their lives. When the main character wakes, he’s transformed into a fish and is hiding in the underwater city of Nautica. A massive monster called Alizarin, who’s one of Mordegon’s Spectral Sentinels, commences his attack on the underwater city. When you do escape, you immediately see that Mordegon has wreaked devastation on the land. The sun hasn’t been seen since the fall of the world tree. The land is corrupted; there’s poisonous patches all over the place and vicious forms of monsters are roaming everywhere. It was especially depressing because I’d felt such a deep connection to the world with its likable NPCs.
From there, the quest becomes an emotional and physical struggle to regather the party and destroy Mordegon. There’s a lot of character building after the fall of the tree, from the desperate situation at the Last Bastion, to Hendrick’s joining your side and the friendship you build, to the revelations Erick undergoes with his sister. A world of ruin, suffering from the consequences of the Luminary’s failure to stop Mordegon, makes every act more grave. I felt the second act was even more poignant than the first.
Things do become more hopeful as you meet back up with your companions, especially Sylvando, whose Smile Brigade tries to bring cheer, and rhythm, to the land. But the party’s search for their last member, Veronica, takes a tragic turn. You find her in the Grove of Repose in Arboria. At first, her sister, Serena, thinks Veronica’s sleeping. But when you touch Veronica’s staff, you get a vision of the past, jumping to the moment the tree was destroyed. You learn that Veronica did her best to save the party from destruction. “You’re the only ones who can save this world. Don’t let me down!” she yells as she transports everyone to safety. The tree is engulfed in a blast of fire that fatally wounds her. Veronica’s body evaporates soon after you see the memory. The whole party is both saddened and angered. Serena gains Veronica’s powers, who lives on through her sister.
I took out Mordegon’s sentinels one by one. Then I stormed his castle and finally defeated him. Game over, right?
An Elusive Age
I’m always talking about how underrated I feel Yuji Horii’s contribution to Chrono Trigger is and in many ways, Dragon Quest XI has themes that reminded me so much of what I loved about the classic time travel JRPG.
That’s thanks to the post credit sequence. A few days after the party defeats Mordegon, they gather in Arboria in a memorial to their fallen companion, Veronica. They share a drink, mourn their friend and marvel at Yggdrasil being in full bloom again. “It still hasn’t sunk in, you know. We really did it. We really saved the world,” Sylvando states.
Serena states somberly, “We survived. We have to make the most of that. We have to laugh and smile for those who can’t.”
While the people of Arboria partake in a festival to celebrate their victory over Mordegon, the Luminary decides to sneak off on his own. The rest of the members catch him and they agree to set off on some new adventures, starting with investigating a shining light south of Octagonia. They find the remains of one of the floating islands that the Watchers lived on and discover there might be a way to save someone “lost to eternity”.
In other words, Veronica.
The party finds their way to the Tower of Lost Time where they encounter a being called the Timekeeper. The Timekeeper informs them that the Luminary can actually jump to the past using Time’s Sphere to the moment where Mordegon is going to destroy the tree. The Luminary can stop him there, preventing the destruction of the Yggdrasil, and saving Veronica’s life in the process.
“But to lose time is to lose much,” the Timekeeper warns them. “To take a sword to the Sphere would be to erase those moments.” Only the Luminary can go back, but if he does, everything that happened afterwards would be erased. The whole second act wouldn’t have happened. The new memories, new bonds and character growth I’d had would be wiped clean. There is some debate among the party members, but the choice seems like a no brainer.
I made the jump, stopped Mordegon, and saved Veronica, which was awesome. If the game ended here, I would have been super satisfied. But as you quickly learn, since Mordegon is defeated, it has a ripple effect that isn’t all good. In the original timeline, one of Mordegon’s Spectral Sentinels prevents the summons of an evil monster called Calasmos. With Mordegon out of the picture, Calasmos is free to enter the universe and wreak havoc. A whole new quest begins.
I appreciated the way Horii shows that the consequences of a time jump like this isn’t all cheery. Horii is always playing with morality in his games, showing subtler nuances that make for uncomfortable truths. In this case, one terrible evil wards of an evil greater evil. Stopping Mordegon has unintentionally unleashed the potential for even greater mass destruction.
What I didn’t like was that it pretty much erased everything that had happened in the second half of the game. That made the dozens of hours I’d spent fighting Mordegon feel empty. I had invested so much of myself into that journey, that this new quest didn’t feel as important. While your party does regain all the experience and skill points from the second quest that had been erased with the time jump, the events I remembered had pretty much never happened.
In Chrono Trigger, there’s that moment where you can change time to save one of your companions. But that doesn’t erase the experiences that happened previously between the team members. Even in Avengers: End Game, the time jump doesn’t erase what Thanos did. It was as though I’d undergone an arduous trial where I’d lost so much, but only gotten through thanks to my companions who’d stood by my side. Then everyone around me forgot it ever happened. I felt isolated, lonely and frustrated.
What was a gripping narrative with really dark moments in Dragon Quest XI had turned into a fairy tale. Bad things happens in fairy tales, but for the most part, the consequences are minimal as good triumphs. I’d jumped from two different types of stories; the grim, but quirky, quest of the Luminary with bittersweet consequences in their journey to defeating Mordegon, to one where good completely triumphs over evil and even some of the more tragic NPC sidequests get happy endings once you switch their original fate.
So I stopped. I turn off my PS4, removed Dragon Quest XI, and moved onto a new game.
My stopping isn’t an indictment of the game. It’s actually the opposite as it’s a testament to how much I loved the second act of Dragon Quest XI (I consider Dragon Quest XI, along with Persona V, to be my favourite JRPGs of this generation). I felt a strong attachment to the characters in ways that made me relate to them as much as humanly possibly to people with magical abilities who fight fantasy monsters.
Will I go back? Maybe one day as everyone tells me how good the post-credit scene is. But for now, I’ll leave it unresolved, stuck in a Time Sphere of its own. I’m not the kind of player that needs to experience every ending to feel satisfied (even though I often do, like with Nier: Automata). But in this case, the Timekeeper was right. To lose time was to lose too much.