Dragon Quest Builders mixes aspects from Minecraft with the tried-and-true Dragon Quest formula, making for an excellent game that, despite dull combat, gives players the most interesting and creative experience of the year.
Dragon Quest Builders
Developer: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4, PS Vita
MonsterVine was Provided With a PS4 Code for Review
When it was first announced, I was cautiously optimistic about Dragon Quest Builders. I love the Dragon Quest series, and I’ve had lots of fun with Minecraft, but the two drastically different gameplay styles seemed impossible to cohesively mix. I can admit that I have been proven wrong, as Builders takes the best elements of Minecraft, and near-seamlessly integrates them with some of the best parts of Dragon Quest.
Surprisingly, the plot of Dragon Quest Builders is one of its best features. The narrative runs in a parallel timeline to the story of the original Dragon Quest. Having made his way to the final boss, the Dragonlord, the Hero makes a decision. In the original game, when offered half of the world by the Dragonlord, the hero declines and slays his villainous foe, bringing light and freedom to the land. In the canon of Builders, the Hero shockingly takes the Dragonlord’s offer in a moment of selfishness. The Hero is promptly killed by the fiend, leading to an era of darkness and despair.
The Dragonlord then proceeds to take away mankind’s ability to build, ensuring his dominance over the land. As the only person left with the ability to build, you assume the role of an amnesiac young boy or girl, whose job is to build strongholds, houses, villages, and more in order to return light to the desolate world. This narrative is astounding, as it puts an original and intriguing twist on a somewhat tame story.
Dragon Quest Builders‘s ties to the original game don’t stop there however. Through flashbacks during your character’s sleep, bits and pieces of the past are seen. Though most may not, keen and observant Dragon Quest fans (if you’ll excuse the humblebrag) will notice that many of the lines exchanged between NPCs in flashbacks are identical to dialogue from the original game. A young couple that simply wants to live in peace, and others who fear the Dragonlord all speak their lines from the first game, often per verbatim. Though this is a minor feature, it’s a wonderful little nod to fans of the series, and it shows just how dedicated to the franchise the localization team for Builders is.
The characters you meet throughout the game aren’t particularly deep or awe-inspiring, but each one oozes the Dragon Quest charm that the series happily boasts. Characters endlessly throw out puns, silly metaphors, and charming statements that could melt even the coldest of gamers. While it would be nice to have characters with more depth to them, these characters are fun in their own way.
Even with a unique story, Dragon Quest Builders would be hollow if it had subpar gameplay. Thankfully, Builders takes the best parts of Minecraft, and enhances them so that they fit in beautifully with the prevailing Dragon Quest direction. Builders never feels like the Minecraft rip-off that many feared it to be, as it is more a Dragon Quest that features Minecraft elements, rather than the other way around.
While the controls take an hour or so to really get used to, harvesting materials and building structures becomes second nature once you’re accustomed to it. Gathering materials is surprisingly relaxing. I repeatedly found myself hacking away at blocks, trees, and anything else in my path absentmindedly. Everything you get, from monsters and natural resources, contributes to your near endless cache of materials, making it worth it to leave your mind on autopilot as you break everything in front of you with an oddly soothing sensation.
Building, unsurprisingly, is the best part of Dragon Quest Builders. Using your gathered resources, it’s up to you to rebuild the barren world you’re thrown into. This is the only way to gain experience, as battles don’t power up a builder such as yourself. Sometimes you build specific structures with the aid of blueprints provided by villagers, but the majority of your time is spent building anything and everything to your own personal tastes.
This system of building is as addictive as it gets. What started as a few broken down buildings quickly became a fortress with a ton of furnished rooms, numerous villagers, trees, barricades, and more. There’s an immense sense of satisfaction to finishing rooms and buildings, whether it’s an enormous, trap-filled bunker, or a tiny safehouse for when you need a break from exploring the wilderness. This sense of accomplishment is essential for a game centered around building, so it’s wonderful to see Builders nail it out of the park.
Battles are where Builders unfortunately stumbles. Combat consists of real-time hacking and slashing, like a watered-down version of A Link to the Past. While this makes it easy to gather items from monsters, it’s just boring to go out of your way to battle creatures. Unlike building and gathering materials, battles often require focus, meaning you’ll be snapped out of your creative coma to battle your umpteenth skeleton. It’s not a game-breaker by any means, but the dull battle system is a noticeable flaw.
Exploring the world of Dragon Quest Builders is a treat, as there’s a surprising amount of treasure, quests, and more to find. Random caves and alcoves are scattered throughout the world, each filled with different incentives that reward exploration. There are lots of stunning pre-built areas to explore as well, with an enormous and intimidating Dark Pyramid standing out especially.
The visuals of Dragon Quest Builders are everything you would want them to be. Toriyama’s style shines through once again, especially with the choice of colors used in Builders. The blocky style is contrasted by cartoony textures and slightly more rounded blocks, all of which use eye-popping and beautiful colors to bring out the best of each environment. Monsters and characters are especially enhanced by the visuals, as the chibi-fied versions of these Dragon Quest characters, alongside the iconic enemy designs, feel as though they were pulled straight out of a manga. It’s stunning to look at, which keeps the environments from growing boring.
Dragon Quest Builders‘s sound is absolutely stellar in every way. The return of classic Dragon Quest sound effects is always welcome, but Builders tweaks them ever so slightly to make them more modernized. The music is whimsical and nostalgic, as the soundtrack is largely composed of remixed versions of songs from the original Dragon Quest. These timeless tracks are given new life in these remixes, and provide a feeling of true adventure as you explore the nigh-endless world in front of you.
The Final Word
Dragon Quest Builders is a fantastic combination of Dragon Quest and Minecraft. Despite its dull combat and somewhat lacking characters, Builders succeeds as a wondrous and whimsical take on Dragon Quest, that is sure to resonate with many players.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great