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Dragon Quest 11 beginner’s guide

11 tips to help you find your way through Erdrea

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Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

Dragon Quest 11: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a turn-based Japanese role-playing game through and through, and that means it’s got a lot of conventions and mechanics common to the genre. It’s a mix of grand scales and micromanagement (in a good way) that is just a whole lot to juggle all at once.

As our first tip below says, Dragon Quest 11 is a slow burn, so you’re going to have a lot (a lot) of time to get comfortable with its concepts. With such a long game, though, it can be a struggle to remember everything that’s going on and everything you can do. This guide is here to help you. Our 11 tips will help you find your way through the sprawling world of Erdrea and through the various mechanics of Dragon Quest 11.

It’s a slow burn

The events of Dragon Quest 11 unfold slowly. When you add in exploration and a few too many monster fights, you play for hours before you even add your first party member (and close to 10 before you add a third member).

You don’t have to play like us, jumping every monster you see and trying to find every nook and cranny available, but even trying to mainline the story is still a long process. Don’t fight that and don’t rush the experience too much. Settle in and enjoy the game at its own pace.

Exploration is rewarded

Since the game is a slow burn, there’s no rush, so you can poke around each of Erdrea’s areas that you get to explore. You’ll almost always find sparkly spots in each location (more on these below), but there’s usually more to discover.

You’ll often find chests in hard to reach or out of the way places.
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Most areas are, to oversimplify it, a hallway — you’re there to get from Point A to Point B. But there are diverting paths and dead ends. These will usually lead you to a treasure chest with a valuable goodie inside. Similarly, look behind things. There’s usually a treasure chest behind the main building in an area — this might be the only building in the wilds or the local leader’s house in a city.

It’s a lot of work to explore every twist and turn, but the things you pick up are going to help you on your journey.

Grind, but don’t fight every monster

The monsters of Dragon Quest 11 respawn endlessly, and that means you’ll never run out of baddies to grind for XP and the occasional item. There’s a time and a place for that, though.

Monsters to fight or avoid in the overworld.
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The monsters that populate each area are appropriate for your level when you get there. It won’t take much work to outpace that difficulty, though, and that means fighting every monster you come across quickly becomes unworthy of your time.

You can see the monsters as you traverse the overworld and you can always outrun them, so you’re in control of entering fights. Since you can avoid them if you want, you can choose when and what monsters to fight. If you’ve already leveled everyone up in this area (or gotten even most of the way to their next level), you can probably start skipping fights. That will keep you progressing through the story, rather than exhausting yourself on each area.

Fight your way

Dragon Quest 11 is a turn-based role-playing game. That means that whenever a fight starts — either as a result of a cutscene in the main story or by just bumping into a monster in the overworld — gameplay switches to a small arena. Once there, your team of heroes and the bad guys you’re fighting take turns swinging at each other until one side is victorious.

When you’re managing four team members, the turn-based fight mechanic means that even the simplest fight can become a lengthy (or time-consuming) endeavor. Navigating menus to select “punch” over and over again probably isn’t the best use of your time (or all that entertaining). Luckily, the game lets you manage each party member’s Tactics.

Setting up tactics for the party.
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Tactics let you decide how your party as a whole or each individual party member behaves during a fight. You can choose to decide every action each member takes, or you can set them all to fight automatically (with options to fine-tune what actions they prioritize). This allows you to fight the way that works for you.

If you want to choose every action each party member takes, you can. If you want to set it to fight completely hands-off, that’s also an option. If you want to only control your heavy-hitters and set someone else to automatically cast only healing spells, that works, too.

The Fight Wisely tactic is a good way to start playing. This is the hands-off approach. Your party will tackle their enemies with a balanced blend of magic, abilities and attacks. In fact, we used Fight Wisely for almost the entire game — including boss battles — and it worked as well as (and usually better than) when we took control over our party’s actions.

Check your map constantly

Your map does a few things to help you out. There’s a helpful text box in the upper right that will give you some quick guidance about where to go next as you continue on your quest to save the world. And you’re be able to see the adjoining areas as you figure out where you’re going.

Your map can guide you with hints and the locations of crafting materials.
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You can also turn your camera while looking at the map. It’s easy to get turned around in the overworld of Dragon Quest 11. The “you are here” arrow on the map shows you which way you’re pointing, so by looking at the map and spinning the camera, you can make sure you’re pointed — and stay pointed — in the right direction.

Most importantly, though, you can pull up every sparkly spot in the area. These spots are crafting supply locations where you’ll pick up the stuff that goes into your Fun-Size Forge (more on this below).

There’s a ton of information in the menus

Between the 400 monsters, 200 weapons, 100 materials, 44 side quests and the dozens of locations and pep powers, there’s just a ton to keep track of while playing Dragon Quest 11. For the most part, you’re not going to care about or even have to think about all of those things, though — until you need one specific item or need to do one specific move.

A list of Pep Powers available and who you need to team up with to pull it off.
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Your menu will give you a lot of the answers you’re looking for (or the answers you’ve forgotten in your many hours of playing). In the menu, Attributes will let you see each party member’s current stats. If you select them, you can then cycle through all of their spells, abilities, skills and — most importantly for those few side quests — their Pep Powers and the requirements to activate them.

The Miscellaneous option in your menu is where you’ll find the rest of the useful information. Traveller’s Tips will let you revisit the basics of the game’s controls and mechanics. You’ll also find the Quest Catalogue here to help you keep track of the errands you’ve picked up during your travels. Under Info, you’ll find some general behind-the-scenes information about your game like The Story So Far or a list of the monsters you’ve fought and defeated, along with an Item List.

You can figure out where to find crafting materials and what enemies drop them in your menu.
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Each option in under the Item List will let you filter what you want to look at — like weapons, armor and materials. When you dig into that information, you’ll be able to find the stats and general in-universe information about that item. More useful, though, is the Found In and Dropped By lists. This will let you track down any specific item you’re looking for without having to wander all across Erdrea.

Let the game point you to your next step

Like we said in our Dragon Quest 11 review, the game is really good about leading you by the hand (or the nose, if you’re more cynical). There are, however, some pauses in that guidance. You might need to figure out where to go next, but no one in your party immediately offers up any suggestions. At these points, it’s best to just let the game unfold.

Finish what you’re doing and leave the area. Most of the time, someone will come up with a plan as soon as you leave.

Loot everything

Presented without comment.
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Houses are where you’ll find some of the game’s best loot. Nearly every house (that you can get into) in every city will have a chest or wardrobes or bookshelves or some combination thereof. You might get the occasional comment from nearby NPCs about taking other peoples’ stuff, but there are no negative consequences. And that means that anything not nailed down is yours for the taking.

It takes a lot of time to poke through every house in every city you visit, but just like sparkly spots, your efforts are going to be rewarded.

Don’t forget about the bookshelves

Reading books teaches you history and recipes.
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Bookshelves you can interact with — the ones with a bright red book right in the middle — will have one of two things. Some will have a book of lore that fills in something about Dragon Quest 11’s world or history, while the others — arguably more importantly — are recipe books. These teach you how to make new things at your Fun-Size Forge. A lot of the time, you’ll find a recipe book for gear around or just above the best gear you can currently buy — which means that recipe books translate into gear upgrades (especially early in the game).

Use your Fun-Size Forge constantly

Any time you rest at a campfire in the overworld, you’ll be able to use your Fun-Size Forge — the game’s crafting mechanic. You use the recipes you’ve learned from bookshelves to mash the crafting materials you’ve picked up from sparkly spots and houses into gear. There’s a bit of a minigame involved, but the game aspect only involves the quality — vanilla +1, +2, +3 — of the item, not its creation.

Using the Fun-Size Forge at a campfire.
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You’re going to be using the Forge a lot. The most obvious use is to make better gear for your party. Like we said about bookcases above, the Forge is going to give you access to better gear than you can buy early in the game. But even after that, there’s reason to keep cranking out low-level items. Every item you forge well — you’re looking for things to turn out “brilliantly” or “really well” when Appraised in the Forge’s menu — will earn you Perfection Pearls. These Pearls can be used at the Forge to, effectively, replay the minigame and (hopefully) improve the quality of an item. This works for things you’ve made yourself as well as for things you buy at shops (which are always of the vanilla, +0 quality).

Later in the game, when what you buy in shops matches or outpaces what you know how to make, the Forge is still useful. Beyond getting you Perfection Pearls to improve the stuff you’ve already got (or that you’ve bought), you can sell the things you make — so you can afford to buy the shiny new stuff.