Dragon Quest is one of the oldest and longest running franchises in the history of this industry. In Japan, Dragon Quest easily outsold every RPG franchise from Final Fantasy to Persona but has recently fallen behind these mega giants. Dragon Quest has since gone on to reinvent itself. Focusing more on the handheld market and even releasing an MMO on Nintendo’s Wii console, all of which launched to critical success in their new ventures, and now Square Enix is moving with that momentum with the release of Dragon Quest Builders.
The story of Dragon Quest Builders follows the events of the original Dragon Quest where in its conclusion the Dragonlord makes an offer to the player: Join him and rule half of the world or face him in battle. Builders follows the story as if the player took the Dragonlords offer and plunged the world into darkness. Years later, the “Builder,” as you are referred to, awakens in a tomb by a mysterious voice and is asked to rid the darkness from the land and rebuild humanity.
The comparison between Minecraft and Dragon Quest Builders is an easy one to make. But what makes Dragon Quest Builders stand out is its direction. Unlike Minecraft where you are thrown into a world to do whatever you want, Builders directs you and gives you a purpose. The goal is to banish the darkness and restore light to the land. As the Builder you are the only human left with the knowledge to build. Your task begins by finding an abandoned settlement and claiming it for yourself. As you begin to build your settlement, other humans will be drawn to it and request to stay and help you rebuild.
Your settlement and the safety of its residence depends on you and your ability to build its defenses and equip the town with the tools it needs to survive. Creating the perfect town is the big draw to Builders, and in order to do this you must take on requests from your townspeople. These requests range from simply creating a bedroom for them to more epic quests like stealing fire breathing statues from a cult to use in your towns defenses. These requests will help you unlock new items to craft and some will even give you blueprints, so you know exactly how to built a specific structure or room.
As you explore, every new material, plant, monster drop, and piece of terrain you collect will teach you how to craft something new from furniture, to new weapons and armour, so it’s always important to collect everything new you find. Your settlement has a leveling system to it. Every item is worth points for your settlement. As you build and expand you must decorate these rooms to add points to their value, which in turn increases the settlements level.
Building your settlement is made easy with the easy control scheme. Building on ground level is easy enough and simply holding either the L1 or R1 buttons will allow you to build below you or above you. Another amazing addition is your ability to simply transmute simple earth structures into whatever other material you want as long as you have enough of that particular material, but be warned you can only transmute on the same surface only one time so choose wisely.
As you place new items in the different rooms the rooms will also upgrade, netting you even more points and better things to craft. Place six straw beds in a room, a light source, and a sign and you will turn a simple room into an inexpensive inn. Add an armoire, a light source, some chairs, and ornamental armor and swords and turn a simple dressing room into an armory. Everything you add can either upgrade a room or change it completely.
Some rooms even benefit the settlers. By turning a room into an armory your settlers will arm themselves with better fighting equipment when the settlement comes under attack while upgrading a bedroom to an inn will increase their maximum hit points. Even though the game gives you direction, it also allows you to build new rooms for yourself. At one point I was in a process of building myself a bedroom but by adding plant life and a bench into my home before adding a bed I was able to create a basic garden.
As your settlement expands, monsters will take notice and begin attacking your small little paradise. At first these encounters are simple but grow in difficulty, accumulating into a massive boss fight encounter, which changes some combat mechanics and gives you the use of some awesome equipment. As you progress with the story, you will have to take some extreme measures during these encounters, fortifying your town with stone walls, building traps around the perimeter, and creating heavy metal doors that that the monsters can’t get through.
I created some fairly unique traps and a wall made of the strongest material you can find so I didn’t have to worry about most monsters breaking through. At one point I created a trap where I dug a giant hole which I then lined with stone so they wouldn’t dig themselves out and put spike traps down into it so when the monsters would break through a part of my defensive wall they would fall into this giant hole and slowly die.
Unlike Minecraft’s open-world, Builders is a semi open-world. As you progress in the story, you will unlock portals. These portals will teleport you onto different islands with different monsters and terrain. This alternative to an open world is a perfect fit for this type of game simply because you no longer need to travel long distances just to get to an area that has a certain mineral you need. Builders goes even a step further in allowing you to simply fast travel back to your settlement wherever you are.
When talking about a a crafting game of this magnitude, one would naturally worry about inventory management. In this regard, Builders again makes things simple and easy for the player. Sure you have a certain amount of inventory space on your character, but Builders allows you to create a giant inventory chest. This chest can story a lot of times and the best thing about it is, you can carry on you if you want or leave it behind at your settlement. If you character’s inventory is full, everything you pick up afterwards will automatically transfer over to your inventory chest, allowing you to collect to your heart’s content. The other great thing that Builders does is allow you to craft straight from your inventory chests. That means you don’t need to take a certain material with you every time you want to craft something. If you have it stored away, it will simply take it from there.
Graphically , Builders is very charming on the eyes. Sure the square world looks simple, but it has its charm. The chibi characters pack a great amount of detail and Akira Toriyama’s signature art style still holds strong many years later. The music is also very charming. Rather than creating a massive new score, Square Enix have instead went and remixed the original Dragon Quests soundtrack giving it that retro but modern tone. It won’t be for everyone, but I sure as hell enjoyed it.
There isn’t much to say about the game’s combat other than its very simply, but it gives you plenty of options on taking down your foes. You can craft swords, axes, sledgehammers, and some nice surprises I won’t spoil for you here. The monsters also come in great shapes and sizes, some even requiring you to use some crafter tools like bombs to take down as well as some hidden bosses, that I encourage everyone to go out and face.
It’s not all sunshine and gravy though. As fun as it is to build the perfect settlement, Builders does one thing that sent me into a sad state of depression. After defeating the massive boss that comes to destroy your settlement, you must travel to a different part of the world to help build a new settlement and clear the darkness from it. Well, the problem is that after spending nearly ten hours perfecting my settlement I was told I was going to lose it all. Yup, you heard that right: Everything I build, all the time I spent building, all the materials decor I created, it was all being taken away and I would have to start from scratch, rebuilding a new settlement.
I was absolutely devastated after losing everything, but I championed on and discovered that although it sucked to restart from scratch again, all the recipes I learned were still available to me and the better equipment and decor I learned to craft was well worth it, it allowed me to create some great masterpieces and even better traps. I should also mention that after completing the first chapter of the game where you must travel to a new land, you will unlock a free-roam mode where you are able to craft, collect, and build whatever you want whenever you want.. Settlers will still come to help you build and you can even share your creation with other players while checking out the cool stuff they have built. Some may also be discouraged by the lack of any multiplayer, but I was not discouraged by this in the slightest. Would it have been nice to have an online multiplayer? Sure, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Dragon Quest Builders delivers in every way. With all the game’s released so far, Builders is a game of the year contender in my book. Building your settlements is a blast and having a sense of direction helps you watch as your simple creations transform into giant marvels is a sight to behold. Simple and charming, Builders is a game that everyone can and should enjoy.