Review: Dragon Quest Builders
Posted 29 Apr 2018 at 14:23 by Grazza
There is a scenario in Chris Sawyer’s classic PC title RollerCoaster Tycoon, named Pokey Park, where the objective is to cram a tiny space full of the maximum money-making devices. Efficiency is the name of the game, requiring the player to use every technique they have learnt thus far. I’m mentioning this because I was constantly reminded of it during Dragon Quest Builders.
A cross between Japan’s beloved RPG series and the more recent, extremely popular Minecraft, Dragon Quest Builders expertly mixes the two. Set in the world of Alefgard (the location of the original DQ), the story cleverly plays with the cliché of the chosen Hero, and how certain individuals are designated for set roles. In this reality, the Hero wasn’t very heroic, and you, the Builder, must clean up the mess. Your job is supposedly just to rebuild the shattered environments because, as you are initially told, “You are not a hero…”
*Grazza reads the sign* it reads... "You are not a hero..." good to know I suppose.
Split into four chapters, the initial aim of each is to establish a small, square zone, within which you will construct various buildings. The better your town becomes, the more residents you’ll attract, whose wisdom and fighting prowess comes in very useful. Indeed, conversations with them are a highlight. Employing a sparkling script featuring the occasional blisteringly rude double entendre, Dragon Quest Builders is, tonally speaking, the most authentic title for years that has been attached to the name. Not only is the English translation utterly superb, graphics and music are absolutely top notch. Environments are always clear and sharp, with movement through them generally smooth (although there is a noticeable frame skip every second or so, especially later on in the game). Music is even better, with Koichi Sugiyama’s beautiful and dramatic melodies permeating every moment.
Gameplay-wise, the aim is to go out into the wider world and to bash and collect every material you find – as the Builder, you’ll suddenly learn recipes just by obtaining new items. Whereas in a normal RPG you might desire the contents of a treasure chest, this time we also want the treasure chest itself; and whilst cutting a flower will get you the petal, digging it up will allow you to obtain the whole plant. This can take some time to get your head around, but it’s important, as the more you collect, the greater your chance of success.
Now this is how you do a battle with skeletons, more Ocarina of Time, less Sea of Thieves.
With all your materials, you can begin to construct houses, weapons and workstations from which to make them. Often, townsfolk will give you a blueprint, which needs to be built accurately, but there is also plenty of freedom. The size and quality of your buildings is key, as most of them act as some kind of buff. Bedrooms and inns, for example, will always boost your residents’ HP. Armouries will improve their strength, and a good enough eatery will prevent your hunger from falling while in town. This is one of the most satisfying aspects of the game, while you experiment as to which furniture strengthens the quality of a room and, arguably, could be taken even further.
These buffs matter, because every time your town improves a “level”, you will be invited to enter a battle with invading monsters. Whilst most main-series Dragon Quest entries are turn-based RPGs, this is strictly an action game, and a very serviceable one at that. Townsfolk will fight alongside you, with some good AI making them useful allies indeed. You’ll also need strong walls if you don’t want the enemies ruining your work. This is manageable in the agreed battles, but not so much fun at times when you’re just trying to be creative.ÂÂ Thankfully, only the strongest monsters, which are generally restricted to battles, can demolish the toughest brickwork.
Moving house... Dragon Quest Builders style!
Each chapter concludes with an excellent and imaginative boss fight. These often feel like a kind of magic, as though you are genuinely playing in a real toy set. You’re given just enough hints regarding what to do, but nonetheless have to bring your own improvisation to the table. In Chapter 2, for example, you are told where the attack will come from, and what type of defences to employ, but not much more than that. When you use your instincts and your plan actually works, it feels very organic indeed.
After each boss fight you’re invited to be on your way and help the next land. Upon moving from one chapter to the next, you do lose most of your materials and, in a way, have to “start again”. This is a somewhat controversial aspect, as there is the slight feel of losing progress. However, it’s very much part of the design - the four chapters are intended to show you something different rather than build upon what you have already done. Technically, known recipes are still available, but you won’t always be able to make the same things anyway. Whilst Chapter 1, for instance, focuses on mining and metalwork, Chapter 2 has more of an emphasis on woodwork and carpentry. Like any good strategy game, the real treasure is what you have learnt, not what you’ve gained.
Obligatory open-world, Breath of the Wild opening type screenshot... check!
You’re also presented with a ranking for each chapter and told whether you have met certain criteria. Completing these tasks unlocks recipes for the free build mode, Terra Incognita, which is not without challenge itself. Perfectionists may well find themselves striving to finish these rather than pushing on with the main story.
Dragon Quest Builders is an absolute gem of a game. The only negative is that, being so focused on collecting materials, and having so many to find, it’s quite likely fatigue will set in at some point. Lands are so large, they take a while to explore, which is not bad in itself, but there are a couple of things that make that less enjoyable. Whereas the day & night cycle in Ocarina of Time, for instance, is an opportunity to explore different atmospheres and opportunities, here it restricts your endeavours. Nightfall is so dark, you are forced to either bluster through or call upon your resources and build a makeshift bedroom out in the wild. It’s also debateable whether constantly having to refill your Hunger (stamina) meter makes things more fun.
What a fantastic evening to take one's favourite fanged beast for a ride, look at that glorious sunset.
Nonetheless, Dragon Quest Builders is so gripping, many will fight through to the end. Those who do so will have experienced of the most innovative gaming experiments in recent years, as well as one of the most rewarding games on the Switch so far. There is much potential for improvements in the sequel, such as constructing a bigger town and being able to gain even greater buffs from the buildings, but it’d be wise not to overlook this superbly crafted and written first foray.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Minecraft meets Dragon Quest in a perfect blend of both. With stunning music and a witty script, it expertly fuses the adventure and feel of Dragon Quest with the creativity and construction of Minecraft. With so much to collect, the going can get tough, but the overall experience is immensely enjoyable.
Authentically Dragon Quest
Incredibly addictive construction gameplay
Superb mixture of traditional RPG and sandbox-style creativity
Poor visibility at night
Hunger meter a bit of a nuisance
Resources can be scarce