What would you get if you mixed Minecraft with an RPG?
Dragon Quest Builders is an odd amalgamation of ideas. It’s interesting to see something done with the sandbox crafting genre that isn’t just another standard survival experience. Instead of focusing the gameplay experience entirely on building an impenetrable fortress and lasting as long as possible, Square Enix chose to make their latest entry in the franchise include a story to help move the player along.
So how does it stack up alongside the likes of Minecraft?
Get it? “Stack up”?
Nevermind, let’s just get on with the show.
There are two major components to Dragon Quest Builders: building and fighting. One of these elements is more robust, and infinitely more fun than the other.
I bet you’ll guess easily which part is better. Let’s just say that there’s a reason why the word “Builders” is in the title.
The vast majority of your time will be spent either gathering resources, or slapping things together, which is fine because constructing things is by far the biggest strength of the game. The issue is that you’ll be at the mercy of incredibly boring quests, which often consist of locating either a person or specific material to complete some part of the settlement you’re restoring. Luckily, you have a ton of freedom to do whatever the hell you want with your town.
Interestingly, the effectiveness of the your town is tied directly to the types and quality of rooms your construct. Where many other games of the genre only require specific tools or workbenches to be built, Dragon Quest Builders puts greater emphasis on the rooms throughout your town. For instance, while a basic workroom will allow settlers to create some useful things for you, an upgraded version will do things like make your equipment more durable. The same applies for bedrooms, dressing rooms, and even kitchens. I’ve found this approach to be much more useful, as it gives you a reason to do more than just throw only one of each type of crafting table down. Instead, you’re given more to work with, and can improve what’s available to you.
Similarly, your character’s progression is tied to what you can make, as well as the occasional health increase from completing certain quests. Your armor, weapons, and hammer offer power increases to your character, and there’s little else for you to worry about. This isn’t an RPG in much of a sense other than having some basic customization options, but it’s enough of a progression system that it feels like you have some say in the process.
However, don’t expect to make progression in Dragon Quest Builders quickly. I haven’t felt like there has been a point where the reins were ever let go. Instead, the game holds you tightly to a specific path, with a slow drip of new craftables being given to you as you complete objectives. There’s a shallow degree of experimentation that you’re allowed to play around with, but key items are held back from you until you hit specific milestones.
Oh, I almost forgot. Remember how I mentioned the combat?
Yeah, it’s about as fun as drilling a hole through your hand with a pencil. Combat takes place in two distinct settings: either when you’re out exploring, or when you’re forced to defend your town in probably the least exciting battles that I’ve had the misfortune of sitting through.
It’s the combat system. It consists entirely of smacking an enemy with a weapon, then getting smacked in return. Sometimes you heal yourself if you get low, but you’ll likely never need to. You have no decent way of avoiding damage (and there’s even contact damage too); either through blocking, parrying blows, or dodging out of the way. It’s basically the video game equivalent of Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. You just hack away at the bad guy until it disappears.
I’ll give credit where it’s due though, there are a few enemies that have special moves which add a little flavor to the combat, as well as a special move of your own that seems ripped straight from The Legend of Zelda (gotta love that charged spin move).
Those battles that I mentioned aren’t any better considering that you only need to step outside your town for a little bit to wipe out the enemy. They don’t pose much of a threat if you’ve built a wall around your town either, and even the few enemies that are legitimately difficult to deal with are only that way because they soak up a ton of damage.
Still, you’re given the luxury of building up a number of towns through the course of the game, so while the combat leave a lot to be desired, the construction is still fun to mess around with.
I imagine that Square Enix’s board members saw the ridiculous success of Minecraft and thought to themselves, “How can we get in on that action?” Honestly, I have no idea what made them decide to create Dragon Quest Builders otherwise. It looks and feels very similar to Minecraft in a myriad of ways. The cutesy cubic construction and crafting seem ripped straight from Minecraft itself. The only major differences between the two is the inclusion of a storyline, as well as less blocky character and item designs.
I can’t say that it’s a bad looking game though, even if it looks dated by 2016 standards. Now, to be fair, this isn’t the type of game that you play because of cutting edge graphics. You play a game like this to express a little creativity and have some fun with building. It’s impressive what you can create in the game, and it’s a wonder to behold at times. I remember walking into a derelict castle in the first chapter and thinking to myself “this is pretty amazing. I should try to build something like this.”
There’s little else of note in the visuals and sound department however. The soundtrack is suitable to say the least. I have no complaints there.
While it may not be wholly original in every aspect, there are a number of features in Dragon Quest Builders that sets it apart. As I mentioned before, there’s a focus on room bonuses which give players bonuses to crafting or their settlers, but that’s not all. Players are also occasionally given blueprints to work from, which help give an idea of some of the things they can create. For example, early in the game, one of the characters gives you a blueprint for your first workshop, which allows you to craft tools and furniture for the town, while also allowing your settlers to make some things on their own too. There are other blueprints you’ll come across as well, and it’s nice that you aren’t left only to your own devices to explore the possibilities.
It’s also kinda cool that your task is to build semi-functional towns too, even if your town sizes are remarkably small. I suppose it makes sense in the context of the game that you wouldn’t be building sprawling metropolises (more on that later) and it’s a constraint that forces you to get creative with your designs, but it’s still a little irritating that you’re so limited.
Regardless, I’ll applaud any game for encouraging creativity and implementing a settlement building system. That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed most of my time with Fallout 4 despite how it didn’t compare favorably to previous games in the franchise. Dragon Quest Builders isn’t much different in that regard. Thankfully, crafting and constructing is far more refined here, especially when putting up buildings. You’re able to quickly stack blocks, and you’re able to target specific heights where you’d like to place materials. While I suspect it was a concession that had to be made since the game is in a third-person perspective, I feel that it definitely worked in its favor.
Dragon Quest Builder‘s story is… pretty boring. A big purple guy is responsible for stripping all humans of the ability to create. That’s where you, the player, steps in as the prophesied “Builder”. The only who could restore humanity’s ability to build again, and usher in an age of enlightenment. There isn’t much else to say about it. From what I understand, it takes place after the events of the very first Dragon Quest game, for what it’s worth.
I can appreciate that the developers have a sense of humor, and there are multiple jokes made by almost every character, but I feel like the opening moments of the game speaks volumes about what the player can expect. Even the main character is bored during the exposition from the goddess. After a while, I returned to the main menu to speed up the conversations a little, because it became a little too much to have to sit through the conversations that went nowhere.
Ugh. Now I feel wrong. I don’t skip through dialogue in other games…
WILDCARD: BUSY BUILDER
If you pick up this game, just be sure to understand that you will be doing everything for the villagers. Sure, they’ll pick up some slack by making torches and cooking every now and then, but every building created and every room furnished will be done by you, and you alone. Venturing out into the wilderness to gather new recipes and blueprints will fall on you, and your settlers will come up with all kinds of mundane tasks for you to carry out.
To be fair, they’re pretty helpless, and you’re the “Builder”. However, even though the goddess drives home the point that “you’re not a hero”, you’re sure expected to be one anyway.
My only point here is that you’re going to be doing a ton of work for these folks, and the best they can do to thank you is to occasionally fry an egg or two for you.
Come to think of it, the fact that this entry in the franchise takes place after the first game, it does make a lot more sense to me now. Dragon Quest Builders is a mixture of retro game design and Minecraft concepts. The combat is exactly like it was in games like The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, only you can’t even block. The story is pretty ho-hum, but this is a game about building stuff anyway.
All in all, it isn’t really a bad game. I can’t say I’d be interested in buying it at full price, but I’ve had fun with it anyway. I just can’t see myself looking back to it after setting it down, and that’s really the only thing wrong with it. It’s a pretty average experience.
That said, if you’re a fan of building stuff or love the Dragon Quest franchise, this is probably worth your time. Otherwise, I’d say steer clear.
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