The first experience with a Dragon Quest title that I have a strong memory of (AKA I was older than ten) was Dragon Quest VIII. I remember spending hours exploring the game world, talking to NPCs in towns, building the skill trees for my characters, and of course battling monster after monster in the overworld and dungeons. The typical difficulty curve in Dragon Quest is focused on the equipment available in shops. Each shop has new weapons and armor that enhance your ability to take on the boss of the next dungeon, but raising the gold to pay for those weapons and armor takes a repeated series of battles against the local monsters. During those battles you also gain much-needed experience points for growing in level, adding to your skill points and learned spells. That grinding experience is typical of many JRPGs.
Dragon Quest XI has been different for me. It seems that the game has been balanced to be more generous with both experience points and gold. As a result, my party has been pretty consistently overleveled throughout the game. Even when I enter new areas I tend to find the monsters in those areas running away from me. I rarely need to raise additional gold in order to buy items in the towns I visit (this is helped in part by the crafting system, as keeping up with quests and learning recipes makes it pretty easy to make your own high-power equipment). It’s been an interesting change of pace to be able to progress through the game a little more quickly, but the time finally came when I encountered a more familiar grinding element.
Most Dragon Quest titles feature a location in the game world with a casino. These casinos have a number of minigames which allow you to try and raise tokens in order to purchase rare items. The casino is typically the location in the game which has one of the strongest swords in the game, and often you can earn other useful items like better armor than what is currently available or rare consumables. Raising money in the casino short of winning the jackpot requires regular save-scumming, incrementally building wealth with small victories until you get the one big enough to push you over the hump and give you the tokens you need to buy what you want. Since I’ve spent a significant portion of time engaging with this particular aspect of Dragon Quest XI, today I want to talk about my experience and perhaps make some recommendations of how to approach it differently.
The first casino you encounter in Dragon Quest XI is located in a town called Puerto Valor. It’s accessible from the moment you gain the ability to sail, but in my case I didn’t go there until after completing the quests in Octagonia. The casino here is attached to a hotel and your attention is easily drawn to the entrance by the line of people standing outside. The folks are waiting for a special type of slot machine where you try to win tokens by having a slime undertake a quest. Personally I tried that slot machine once on accident and never revisited it again – I much prefer the classic machine that didn’t involve a five page instruction manual. My first mission once inside was to locate the things on the prize list that I wanted to buy.
Puerto Valor’s casino has two pages worth of different prizes. Some of them include consumables like the Yggdrasil Leaf but most are equipment. A few of the items are one-time items, such as the Arriviste Vest or the instructions for the bunny suit. But there are plenty of items you can buy over and over again such as the spangled dress, the white shield, or the platinum powersword. Once I looked through the list and identified what I wanted, I added together the total cost in medals for my wish list and discovered I needed to grind for 265,500 medals.
In a typical Dragon Quest, the slot machines have a few different levels. There’s the 1-token machine, the 10-token machine, and the 100-token machine. The reward mechanisms for each machine are essentially the same, but multiplied by a factor of 10. So that makes the 100 token machine the fastest one for raising a significant amount of money quickly (although it also has the most expensive entry fee as a result). Unfortunately, the 100-token machines in Puerto Valor are locked behind story events when you first arrive; I’m not sure how much longer I need to play through the game to get the machine, but it certainly didn’t unlock just by opening the sea gates.
The slot machine has three rows of five columns each with a spinning wheel with a number of different symbols. The symbols are of course Dragon Quest themed with slimes being the primary method of conferring value. A single slime has the least value, followed by the triple slime, the slime knight, then the king slime. There are also lucky sevens which of course have the most value. Getting at least three in a row of any symbol multiplies the investment on that row by a factor based on the symbols matched. Three regular slimes, for example, double the amount of tokens you spent on the row. You can invest up to 30 tokens in each row if you choose, for a total stake of 90 coins where each winning combo multiplies its factor by the 30 tokens in that particular row.
There are other symbols on the slots that have more unusual effects. The treasure chest icons cause an event called “treasure trove” which seems to bestow a large amount of tokens based on something other than a multiplication factor. The size of the treasure trove varies based on how many chests you line up. Moneybags are enemies in the Dragon Quest series and in this case they represent free spins – lining up a group of moneybags will give you ten free spins, allowing you to try to win as much money as possible without spending any of your own. Finally, metal slimes will unlock metal mode, a mode in which the multiplication factor of the winning symbols is doubled for ten spins.
Metal mode is where its at when it comes to winning money at the slots. Not only does it double the prizes you win but it also greatly increases your chances of winning a prize at all. Most of the ten spins in metal mode will be winners, and even if quite a few of them are smaller prizes you are quite likely to make a good deal of money whenever metal mode comes along. What you really want to happen, though, is to earn free spins while metal mode is active. When you win free spins in metal mode, the free spins have double the value but don’t consume uses of your metal mode spins. So not only are the spins free, but they also extend the amount of time you are in metal mode. And since metal mode has an amplified win rate, you can rake in serious money with this combo.
The problem for me is that even “serious money” on the 10-token machine is still only about 10000 tokens. I needed ten times that for just one of the items that I wanted to purchase, and metal mode doesn’t exactly come along every other spin. Those hot streaks making me a bunch of money were few and far between. The rest of the time was spent taking spins which more often than not resulted in a loss of tokens. When this happened, I would reset the autosave and walk into the casino again to try my luck an additional time. The majority of my wins were small amounts, but anytime I made a profit (earned more tokens than I invested on the stake) then I would walk out and back in to set a new autosave and start again. In this way I incrementally built wealth and kept myself from losing large numbers of token on bad spins until I could finally get a significant amount from the next lucky spin that unlocked metal mode.
I am not exaggerating when I say that grinding in this way took hours. Without the benefit of the 100-token machine, I spent a full ten hours grinding in the casino to try to make 265,500 tokens. Spinning, resetting, spinning, resetting, spinning, walking out to autosave, walking back in, spinning, resetting – all in hopes of eventually hitting a jackpot big enough to earn my way to the platinum weapons. This was a good opportunity for multitasking and I used the time to watch a speedrun of Chrono Cross (which is still like 7 hours for such a long RPG with no glitches) and I even took turns at the slots while playing my weekly Dungeons and Dragons game. My total take from 10 hours of grinding at the slot machines? Around 90,000 tokens – not enough for even one platinum powersword, let alone that plus all the other things that were on my list.
It was at the ten hour mark that I decided the effort wasn’t worth it anymore. I don’t know how much story I need to finish in order to unlock the 100-token machines, but had all my winnings been multiplied by a factor of ten I would have won everything that I wanted within a fraction of the time. While in some Dragon Quest titles the platinum weapon reduces the degree of combat grinding that you need to do, in this game I have been so consistently overpowered that amplifying that factor even more with an overpowered weapon would make the game a joke. And unlike grinding for gold through combat, I get no additional benefit for earning casino tokens. My characters are not getting stronger as they do this, and every token unspent is essentially time wasted.
Grinding can take many forms in video games, and which grinding is valuable versus which grinding is not ultimately boils down to the perspective of the player. For me this experience ended up being valuable for out-of-game factors – I can write an article about it. But were I not a blogger and had no reason to do this degree of grinding other than the promise of better weapons, ten hours spinning slots instead of experience more of the game would most certainly not have been worthwhile for me. I’d recommend to anyone visiting the casino in Puerto Valor to wait until the better machines are unlocked so you can earn the items more quickly.
Now that being said, I’ll share the end of my story. Maybe a week or so after I wrote this article I jumped back into the game and decided that I really did want to try and grind out the rest of the casino tokens that I needed. I continued spinning the slots as I watched multiple videos of Pokemon Sword and Shield competitive battles during a five-hour session and then part of a Dragon Quest VIII speedrun during a two-hour session. It seemed like my luck was turning. During the first session I got up to 75,000 tokens, which is what I needed for one of the two items I had remaining. However, I wanted to purchase the platinum powersword first so I decided to push for 100,000. During my second shorter grinding session, I got to 100,000 during a particular Metal Mode sequence. I started to sign off to go ahead and purchase the sword, but since I had some silver spins left I went ahead and finished them off.
With around 6 spins left, I inserted my casino tokens and gave the machine a whirl. My eyebrows raised as two 7’s quickly lined up in the center row. Then a third one fell into place. As the fourth row became a lucky 7, I briefly dared to imagine a world in which I was actually about to get a jackpot. And sure enough, I did! The fifth 7 landed in the center row and 200,000 tokens came raining down. Combined with the 100,000 I’d already raised, I now had more than enough for the two items I was trying to raise money for. But of course I still had five more silver spins, so I kept going. Two, maybe three spins later, two 7’s lined up again. The third slot looked like it was going to land on a different symbol, but as often happens in Metal Mode, the slot defied gravity to spin back up and lock the third 7 in place. After that a fourth 7 locked in. There’s now way, I thought. The fifth lucky 7 zipped by – but then once again the slot ran just enough in reverse to lock the 7 in place. A second jackpot within three spins of the first! 200,000 more tokens rained down and now I found myself with more money than I knew what to do with.
My hope is that the 300,000 tokens I have left over after this experience will purchase everything I would want from the game’s second casino, preventing me from having to do any future roulette grinding. It just goes to show that luck can be manufactured by a willingness to persist. The question is how much time you’re willing to invest in order to manufacture that luck for yourself. Multitasking for 17 hours finally got me the tokens and items that I wanted, but whether or not that was worthwhile is going to be up to each individual player. For some of my readers, that effort would not be worthwhile for a medium-sized advantage in a game that’s already somewhat easy. Knowing yourself and knowing why you play is the key to whether or not grinding will be fun.