Dragon Quest Builders from Square Enix is a very interesting take on the building genre that became a thing thanks to Minecraft and to some extent Terraria. It heavily borrows from Minecraft in terms of visuals and even building mechanics but manages to hold its own with aspects of Dragon Quest and even a bit of The Legend of Zelda thrown in to some extent. It has surprised me with the amount of depth and just how relaxing and addictive I find the core gameplay loop.
The premise is simple and the localisation helps tell you a tale of a hero saving the world through unconventional means. The world of Alefgard (Alefgard is where the very first Dragon Quest game took place) has been overrun by monsters and everyone has forgotten how to build anything. This is where you come in. As a gifted builder or “The Builder”, you help build back the world and overthrow the Dragonlord. Unfortunately there are no mind bullets involved here but just a super fun gameplay loop that will entertain you for dozens of hours.
You are encouraged to explore and there are survival elements at play. The toned down nature of said elements make the overall experience much better than what we saw in No Man’s Sky with you constantly needing to fill up bars. As you explore and destroy various things, you find new recipes and uncover the ability to build more things. The story progression is split up into chapters and the way new mechanics are introduced is really well thought out. Even basic things like learning the placement controls involves interesting quests requiring you to navigate to a different area and dig out an NPC carefully.
There’s a basic form of combat that may seem too simple to most action RPG veterans but the focus here is building not fighting. The combat aspect can be even considered a necessary evil as you nearly button mash to plough through many enemies while dodging attacks. There isn’t a levelling up system for your own character so equipment is very important as it adds to your stats. As you explore more areas, enemy variety increases and some of them hit really hard so you better be prepared with healing items ready.
The NPCs in your town are very reactive and this keeps things dynamic. In Minecraft when you create something, the feedback you get is nowhere as good as that seen in Dragon Quest Builders for completing a request or building something. When you build a kitchen, the NPCs actually spend time interacting within it and your creations feel lively. They even applaud you on completing certain quests. Speaking of quests, Square Enix have done a superb job of making basic fetch quests feel fresh. The NPC dialogue and interactions with you are well worth the basic quests you sometimes have to complete.
Once you complete the first chapter you unlock Terra Incognita which is basically free or creative mode. This mode allows you to build without threats as expected. It is a lot more limited than what is possible in Minecraft but if you just want to relax and build things in Dragon Quest Builders without worrying about the narrative, this is the mode for you. As you complete more chapters of the main story mode, Terra Incognita gets more islands. The first island you unlock will serve as your base and none of the towns from the story mode are here.
Visually Dragon Quest looks a lot like Minecraft but it plays out in third person with a camera that may annoy you at first. The difference is, Toriyama’s charming art is the icing on the cake. The third person view works well in many cases but inside a small area with a roof, the camera is annoying. Toriyama’s enemy designs are timeless and character designs will invoke your Dragon Ball nostalgia. Dragon Quest Builders has music from Dragon Quest composer Sugiyama and I wish there was a bit more variety as you spend hours exploring and building. There isn’t any voice acting which is a bit disappointing after the amazing voice acting we saw in Dragon Quest Heroes. The presentation is mostly top notch and there’s only one real flaw with the performance while panning the camera.
While I love Dragon Quest Builders, it has some problems. The controls take a bit of time to get used to and there’s no option to change anything. Why Square Enix thought X for menu, O for Jump, and Triangle for Attack makes sense, I will never know. I played the Japanese version of Dragon Quest Builders when it released back in January and the English version has a noticeable stutter problem while panning the camera that is not present in the Japanese release. For a game with visuals that don’t push the hardware I didn’t expect any performance problems but it seems like Square Enix added some in the localisation that need addressing. Another problem is in the actual building mode where you can’t actually decide how many items you want to create outside of one or using up all your materials to create as many of a certain item as possible. This is a very basic problem that I didn’t expect from a building game.
Dragon Quest builders is one of the best genre mashup games I’ve ever played. It perfectly blends the best of Minecraft with an addictive gameplay loop and throws on the wit and charm of a Dragon Quest Game. If you’ve wanted to play a sandbox game or are creative but wanted some direction, Dragon Quest Builders is the game for you. It does that and so much more and the localization deserves another mention because the team did a commendable job. It is absolutely worth your time.