In some games in the Dragon Quest series, party composition is focused on creating a powerful combination of classes. Look at Dragon Quest VI or VII, for example. Who is in your party may stay the same throughout the game, and you simply switch their active class in order to get them to perform the way you need them to. There might be other character options, but their class is more important than their person. In other games, like IV and V, there’s no degree of character customization. Instead, each character has a defined role in the game and there are more than can realistically fit in your party at once. The trick is knowing which ones function well together and having them in your party in the right moment. In both of these styles, each character has a defined role – either one assigned by the player or one assigned by the game.
Dragon Quest XI doesn’t push the envelope much on that front. Each of the characters who join you fit very specifically into an archetype. However, what is unique is that there is wiggle room within each character archetype to do something a little different. Which weapon do you want to focus on? How much do you value the character’s personal skill? These questions can push you in interesting directions and they help make my particular DQ11 playthrough a little bit different than yours based on what skills I want to emphasize.
After my adventures in Hotto, my party grew to a group of four. The magical twins Veronica and Serena joined the adventure and brought with them specializations in skills that the Hero only dabbled in, and that were completely foreign to Erik. During the time I spent with them I began to learn the ways in which their abilities synergized, and by the time I was exploring the desert around Gallopolis I had a pretty strong vision of the role for each party member and they had great chemistry on the field. Because of that great chemistry, things got a little awkward when a certain somebody showed up: Sylvando, the fifth wheel. The guy who now requires someone to sit in the back while the rest of the crew does battle and gets experience points. Sylvando seems like a pretty cool guy, but is there room for him in this well-oiled machine that is my adventuring party?
Look at the Luminary, the player character of the game. I named him Hero, just as I name all of my Dragon Quest protagonists Hero. Like many heroes before him he commands a balanced skillset that incorporates physical attack power, offensive magic, and healing spells. He can wear the heaviest armor, bear the heaviest shields, or throw the shields aside entirely in favor of wielding swords twice his own size. Yet despite this he is quick and has a gift for magic which allows him to damage enemies with spells as well as keeping the party healthy.
In my playthrough, Hero has been the physical powerhouse of the party. I’ve focused my skill investment in greatswords and aimed to get to Attack+15 as quickly as possible, making it so that many common enemies are either defeated or left only with a sliver after a single blow from Hero’s sword. I also made sure to pick up Helichopper so that he could spread his damage among a group, increasing his usefulness when dealing with more than a single enemy. During the days before Serena, he also made sure that both he and Erik were kept in good health. Using him in this sort of paladin role – a physical powerhouse who can heal in a pinch – has been quite effective during the early chapters of the game.
Next came Erik. Thief archetypes can be very hit or miss in JRPGs – it depends a lot on how well speed actually functions, and how beneficial and accessible it is to steal things. Erik immediately appealed to me not because of his thieving ability but because he gets access to boomerangs, the best weapon in Dragon Quest. See a whole horde of enemies? No worries – the boomerang will damage all of them, allowing you to much more quickly chip down a large group of opponents. I invested in boomerang quickly looking for attack bonuses, but learned fast that accuracy would also be important as boomerangs in DQ11 seemed to miss more often than I remembered.
While Erik doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of magical power, he does have a wickedly useful spell that I’ve fallen in love with: Rubblerouser. It deals damage every time the opponent’s turn comes up, and chipping away at bigger enemies bit by bit has been a very useful strategy for me. When facing bosses who also have trash mobs of allies to clear out, Erik is key in whittling the allies down so that my big guns can focus on pounding the boss. I haven’t used him much for his thievery, but when it comes to crowd control via physical attacks there is none better on my team.
Then there’s Veronica. She may have the body of the child but she has the magic of an ages-old witch, and the magic system in Dragon Quest XI has been vastly improved from previous entries. For a long time, magic in the DQ series didn’t scale based on a magic stat and instead had a set range of damage. This was good if you had access to a high-damage spell early in the game, but spells would become less and less useful as you progressed and eventually it would get to the point where no spell was really as good as a fully buffed physical attack. That’s not the case with Veronica – her Frizz and Crack spells can do as much as Hero’s greatsword to a single opponent, or she can use Bang or Sizz to deal Erik-equivalent damage to a group of enemies at once.
In many JRPGs, MP management means never using spells until boss battles, but Dragon Quest is a lot friendlier in terms of MP restoration. If Veronica needs a bit of a recharge, whacking a couple of bad guys with her staff will absorb the MP she needs in a matter of a couple turns. She also has abilities both in her personal skill track as well as her magical rod track that increase her MP, MP recovery, and attack power, making it so that she has lots of options for keeping herself spell-ready at all times. She also has useful debilitation spells for enemies like Kasap that make my physical attackers even more potent.
Naturally, none of this power is worthwhile without someone to keep it going. Serena is the party healer and she does her job with grace and aplomb. She has access to more and better healing spells than anyone else in the party, and on top of that she also packs defensive magic. She can accelerate the team to make them faster, buff their defense to protect them from attacks, or raise magical barriers that greatly reduce damage from specific elements, making her a good counter for enemies who rely on attacks like fire breath or electrical slashes.
Like Veronica, Serena can basically double-dip on her magical abilities by focusing on her wands and her personal skill all at one time. Each hit with her dainty wand restores some MP that she can use for healing, and given the time and opportunity she can double wield these wands to recovery twice as much in a single turn. During major battles, she can generally start out by boosting the party a bit, then focus on healing after some damage has been done, and then reboost everyone after the crew is healthy.
These four together make a fantastic team. Erik can chip away at the full group of enemies, making some of them vulnerable enough for one swipe of Hero’s sword to bring them down. Veronica can then pick off the remaining foes with one of her spells, and Serena can mitigate the damage done by enemies to keep the party healthy. Their synergy is powerful and the four of them together feel unstoppable – which is why Sylvando’s arrival has me so flummoxed and I’m not sure how to proceed with him. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways in which Sylvando is the clear fifth wheel.
First, let’s take a gander at the guy’s weapons. He is the third person in our group of five to have one-handed swords as one of his specializations. He is also the second person to have knives as a specialization and the second person to have whips as a specialization (Veronica can wield whips also). So right off the bat we have a problem: Sylvando has brought nothing new to the table. This lack of newness becomes more apparent when you look at the fact that Sylvando crosses over with Erik with two out of three weapons. They both use swords and knives, so the point where they differ is in boomerangs versus whips. If I have to choose between these two characters, Erik is the clear choice – boomerangs always hit every opponent on the field, whereas the whip relies on the enemies being a group of the same type. Even if Sylvando can do more damage with his whip (he and Erik aren’t an even level yet so I cannot necessarily compare them directly), the utility of the boomerang still far outclasses him.
Next let’s look at his personal skills. Sylvando is unique in that he has two different classifications of personal skill, one focused on his charming personality and the other on his acrobatic skills. Agility and deftness once again puts him overlapping with Erik, but charm is something totally unique to Sylvando. Great! So what does charm do? Charm creates a chance of enemies being randomly infatuated with Sylvando and being unable to act. Since it functions randomly, I can’t rely on it in a pinch. And while his personal skills do teach Sylvando some unique abilities he can use in combat, they are primarily focused on status conditions – Veronica does magical offense better. And while Sylvando can learn the Hustle Dance ability to heal allies, it’s one healing ability that always affects the whole party and is weaker than other group heals. Serena does magical defense better.
Sylvando, then, is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Fast like Erik with similar weapons but not better ones. He can inflict statuses and do some elemental damage like Veronica but not as effectively. And he can heal like Serena but more limited options to do so. His ability to do a little bit of everything makes Hero the character that Sylvando might truly be most likely to replace. But even then, there’s a comparison of power to be made. Hero’s greatswords definitely outclass Sylvando in single-target damage, and while Hero’s magical abilities may be more limited in the early game, I won’t be surprised if he learns better healing spells or magical damage spells long term.
I don’t dislike Sylvando. I think his personality is a lot of fun, and I’m intrigued by the story that lies behind him. My issues are strictly mechanical. The game has already set me up with what feels like the perfect adventuring party. Sylvando has a difficult time slotting cleanly into any of the roles covered by my other characters, and in turn makes it hard to justify wanting to add him to the party in someone else’s place. My hope is that after getting a few levels under his belt, perhaps Sylvando will stand out more or his particular niche will become more clear. For the time being I’ve decided to have him step in for Erik so he can get some training. Erik is my highest leveled party member and so can afford to lose a bit of experience hiding in the back. We’ll see as the game goes on if my team finds room for Sylvando – or if this fifth wheel will have to roll on to another party.