DRAGON QUEST XI S: Inside the side stories - Erik and SylvandoSPOILER WARNING: We talk to the game’s Development Director, Masato Yagi about the RPG’s new companion-focused side stories. This week, we discuss the contrasting tales of Erik and Sylvando.
DRAGON QUEST XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition is packed with new stuff: new side quests, a 2D mode that turns the game into a 16-bit style RPG, photo mode, faster battles… the list goes on.
But perhaps the most exciting addition is brand new story content, focusing on the friends and allies that the Hero makes along their journey. Each of these substantial new chapters digs into characters, presenting wildly different, but equally memorable tales.
In short, they’re pretty great. So much so, that when couldn’t wait to talk to the game’s Development Director Masato Yagi about them. Due to the length of the conversation, we’ve split the interview into two parts - today’s focuses on two fan favorite characters: Erik and Sylvando.
The following discussion contains SPOILERS for both the original game and the new companion stories. If you haven’t played them yet, and you want to go in blind, close this page and come back to us later. We won’t be offended.
For those of you who have played the new content (or just don’t care about spoilers), then scroll past the spoiler-slimes to read on. I hope you enjoy the discussion!
Hello Mr Yagi - thanks for speaking with me.
DRAGON QUEST XI launched with an acclaimed story, so why did you want to create additional narrative for the Definitive Edition?
When DRAGON QUEST XI launched, the party members proved to be extremely popular.
So when we had the chance to revisit the game, we immediately saw an opportunity to delve into their charming personalities and get to know them even better.
The new companion stories are part of the main narrative in DRAGON QUEST XI S. Why did you make that decision - were you not tempted to make them side-quests, for example?
We were briefly, but we thought that if they were implemented as side-quests they may be considered as something that doesn’t necessarily need to be played.
No, pretty much from the start of development, we thought of these stories of the Hero’s friends as part of the main story, so they should be folded into the narrative accordingly.
How did you decide when to place these stories in game’s timeline?
That was very carefully considered because we wanted to position the stories in a way that added to the game’s overall narrative.
The period that most of the side stories take place in is a low point for all the characters - the heroes have seemingly failed in their quest and darkness has been unleashed. But this dark setting also meant that their actions could shine much more brightly.
How did you decide on the content for each story?
Well, the starting point was the original game, of course.
What the characters were doing during the time jump in the game is touched on during the original adventure, so we started developing each additional chapter by making what they were doing more concrete.
Once their specific stories started to form, we could decide on what the gameplay characteristics for each one should be - that was quite challenging.
We wanted each story to stand out and feel unique, so when we put each story together, we had to make sure they didn’t all follow too similar a structure.
We also had to think very hard about how to balance the story and gameplay in a satisfying way. We were regularly faced with situations where the story was really interesting, but we weren’t sure whether they would be as interesting to actually play.
This is something we worried about right up to the last moment of development (laughs).
How much refinement and iteration did it take to find that balance?
Let’s just say… a lot (laughs).
Erik undergoes quite a major change during his story - what was the thinking behind the prison break scenario?
Erik can’t afford to be stuck in prison and has to escape - for his friends, and for his sister. When you consider that, he must have had an extraordinary desire to get out, and we wanted this section to give shape to those feelings.
How did work get started on this section?
We started by discussing the story with the scenario team. We know from the main game that Erik ends up with amnesia, and this isn’t something that could be altered, so we thought very hard about how to make it as dramatic as possible.
As we built out the story, we realised that the Erik losing his memories worked best as the culmination of the chapter, and we worked closely with the development team, carefully constructing the event scenes, battles and mechanics to make this climax feel impactful.
The battles, for example, have many unique aspects that make them stand apart from the rest of the game.
The character of Healijah makes it stand out too!
Yes - in terms of the story, we put Healijah in this section because we wanted to have a strong pull for the narrative, and give Erik someone to interact with.
Why a healslime though?
It was partly because of battle balance. We needed something with a support role, as Erik’s not able to heal himself well, and a Healijah fits that role perfectly.
In addition to that, though, it was a way to pay homage to the past. The model used for Healijah is the same as the healslime who travels alongside Ragnar McRyan in DRAGON QUEST IV!
So a healslime is the perfect choice - not only can it use recover spells and keep battles fair and fun, it’s also a fun nod to a previous DRAGON QUEST game.
I think some fans were surprised by how emotional this story is. How did you get that depth of feeling into the chapter?
Coming up with the concept of a power which can only be used once in exchange for your memories was a big help.
This idea helped to make Erik getting amnesia all the more dramatic, and also succeeded in connecting this chapter both narratively and emotionally with the wider story.
The dialogue for this part of the chapter was thought of by Mr. Horii the creator of DRAGON QUEST and his signature dialogue wrapped up the story in a way that just right.
Let’s talk about a true fan-favorite character - and my personal favorite of the new stories - Sylvando
We wanted to do a story specifically about Sylvando for a number of reasons, but first and foremost was how charming he is!
Was it difficult to find the right story to tell with him though?
Actually, when we thought about his actions and emotions, as well as his actions in main story, his story came to us without much effort.
I believe Sylvando is the only one of the Hero’s friends who is not bound by fate to fight with him. Instead, he chose to battle against powerful enemies by his own volition - he followed his heart.
So when he faces off against the Lord of Shadow, he loses more than just the fight - he loses his reason to fight.
This formed the theme of our story - what would he need to regain that? His motivation is finding ‘people’s smiles’ but the process of rediscovering that motivation must have taken place up until Sylvando’s Parade (in all its endless delights) was complete.
This section almost feels like a ‘mini-RPG’, with Sylvando travelling the world, completing quests, gaining followers… was that the intention when you started developing it?
That was very much the intention! We thought that because Sylvando is so charming and likeable, fans would want to be able to play as him for a long time and go to as many places as possible.
We put in a number of mini-quests, and new followers like Dave and the other members of the parade so that it feels like an RPG and not some lonely adventure. Just for this moment, Sylvando essentially steps up as the protagonist of the game.
Was it challenging to essentially make a mini RPG within a decidedly-not-mini RPG?
It was. The biggest challenge we faced was using the limited number of maps, characters, items and cutscenes we had to create multiple quests. We had to make sure they had enough variation between them that they stayed fresh.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case at first - as what we could do in the story was limited from the start, all these quests felt similar in terms of content. As a result, they were rather tedious.
To get around this, we tried to give the characters who appear in the quests as much individuality as possible. This helped differentiate them, so that even the quests that had the same structure did not just become a case of ‘fight this, collect that’.
Instead, they all had their different ways of being requested, their own circumstances and their own text to express the desire of the characters. It makes each quest more personality, making them more distinct and enjoyable.
The other big challenge with Sylvando’s story was making the battles with the new party members fun - despite them understandably having a much smaller set of actions than the main heroes.
To do this we put in special moves and styles that matched each character’s personality, and revised the battle settings and text again and again in order to improve them.
Thanks to Mr. Yagi for his insight into Erik and Sylvando’s stories. These lengthy chapters each offer very different experiences, but equally memorable ones - a testament to the hard work we just head about.
You can experience them for yourselves in DRAGON QUEST XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition - out now for PS4, Xbox One, Xbox GAMEPASS, Steam, Windows 10 and the Epic Games Store.
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