Lately I tend to pinch myself every now and then just to make sure that I’m not dreaming. In the span of about a year, we’ve gotten three Dragon Quest titles. It feels like just yesterday we were hounding Square Enix to release more of these games in the west. It seems our prayers have been answered though and the best thing about it all is that all three games are really good!
Dragon Quest Builders takes place in Alefgard, the same world as the original Dragon Quest game. The only difference now is that it’s actually based on an alternative ending where the hero sided with the evil Dragonlord. Back then, the ending was never fully explored, so it was really cool to experience the world after choosing a ‘bad ending’. As it would turn out, the Dragonlord engulfed the world in darkness and unleashed his legion of monsters upon mankind. During this time, humans not only lost a hero, but they also lost the ability to build and create things, which greatly diminished their chances of survival. This is where the player comes in however; taking on the role of the legendary builder, tasked with rebuilding ruined homes and driving out the darkness to bring back peace to the land.
The narrative for Builders is as simple as it gets, but that’s a Dragon Quest game for you though. It’s just as effective here as it is in any other mainline entry, and this is largely due to solid and funny writing which accompanies a charming world and cast. Most of the characters act as quest-givers but each one has their own unique personality so they end up feeling more like they actually belong in the world rather than lifeless tools used for the sole purpose of progressing the game. At one point, a character named Pippa asked me to make her a few healing herbs. Now, traditionally, this would seem like any other quest, but it turns out she was worried about my character, and made me make those herbs for myself just to be safe. It’s a silly thing, but it’s these little narrative beats that went a long way in making me feel invested in the world.
The main focus of Dragon Quest Builders is, well, building. If it wasn’t apparent from the get go, this game bears many similarities to Minecraft. The world is divided into little cubes which can be unearthed, collected and reused as building material. The purpose of building structures is more akin to Terraria rather than Minecraft though. Like I mentioned before, your main objective is to rebuild a settlement for the surviving humans. Each of the settlements or bases as they’re called is in ruins and needs to rebuild from the ground up. There is usually one starting NPC who gives you a few quests to get things started and they consist mostly of building a few rooms and other basic necessities. As your base grows however, so does the population, as more and more NPCs will start to move in, each with their own needs and requests. Before I knew it, my base was full of colourful characters all doing their own thing, and what was probably the best part of this experience is changing what was once a lifeless ruin into a home.
At first, your home will consist of nothing more than dirt walls and straw beds, but as you progress through the story, you’ll come across more materials that’ll allow you to build better items and structures. One thing that really impressed me about this game was how aware it was of the tedium that can come from this kind of gameplay. For instance, I spent a lot time building using dirt blocks, and once I unlocked the more durable stone variation, I dreaded having to tear everything down and start from scratch, but the game instead allowed you to craft an item which converts large portions of your existing dirt structure into stone. I was probably most impressed with the item management however. Even though you can only carry a finite amount of items, once you build a magical chest, everything you collect will instantly be sent there should you not have any more space on your person, and if you want to take something out, you can access it from anywhere in the world. This made venturing out to gather materials so much more enjoyable.
The core gameplay became quite addictive. I was so engrossed with building a perfect home. I made rooms tailored to specific characters, adding little extra touches like furniture and personalized signs. Even though this was never required of me; I really enjoyed making it feel like my own. It’s a shame then, that every time you complete a chapter, you move to a different island, losing all of your accrued possessions and forcing you to essentially start all over again. This is probably the only real gripe I really have with the game, but as I came to accept this (odd) design decision, I realized that, at the very least, each chapter lasts long enough for your efforts to feel like they mean something. It also helps that each island is unique with its own set of characters. I was still sad to say goodbye to my first home, but you can still revisit it in a separate save file which will also allow you to partake in special challenges specific to that area.
There is also combat in the game, but it’s a simple affair. You’ll start off with the classic Oaken Club, but as time goes on you’ll be able to craft better weapons and Armor. Engaging enemies essentially boils down to mashing the attack button. It’s standard stuff, but I was disappointed nonetheless. There was actually some potential here as some of the bigger battles had some strategy to them. One boss battle had me facing off against 3 strong mages and a large group of skeletons. My normal attacks hardly did any damage, but there were 2 fire breathing statues that I had to keep repositioning so that I could lure enemies into its line of attack. I kind of wished there more encounters like this, but they were sadly far and few between.
Visually this game is pretty and the bright colours are immediately eye-catching. Though the characters still look like classic Akira Toriyama creations, they’re unique enough to not have you wonder if one of them is going to do a Kamehameha. The best thing about the presentation overall has got to be the music. Seriously, every time I play a Dragon Quest game I can’t help but fall in love with Koichi Sugiyama’s compositions. The man has yet again delivered one heck of a delightful soundtrack.
Dragon Quest Builders was a surprise for me. I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did. This could’ve easily been a basic Minecraft clone but there is enough of that Dragon Quest magic injected into this game to make it stand out from the rest. I’ve got to say, Square Enix has really been doing right by fans of this franchise, and I look forward to seeing more, be it in the form of a spin-off or mainline entry, in the future.
Last Updated: October 28, 2016