Dragon Quest Builders has combined the juggernaut Minecraft with their classic series Dragon Quest, in a very Japanese and literal way.
For the purpose of this article I played the entirety of the Japanese Dragon Quest Builders demo, on top of this I spent about 90 minutes in the free roam mode. I have also watched around 20 minutes of someone playing the English translation.
Dragon Quest Builders has a simple premise. You take Dragon Quest or any JRPG really, then you take Minecraft with the other hand. Then just smash ’em together. That’s what Square Enix have done here and it in such a way that it has come out great. I wouldn’t have spent an over an hour wandering around in the demo’s limited free roam mode if it wasn’t such fun to play.
Dragon Quest bits
Of the Dragon Quest series, I’ve only played DQ 8 to any great length (DQ Heroes for PS4 doesn’t count but I’ve played the shit out of that). So I’m not knowledgeable of the series at all, but I can tell you in terms of plot, this game takes place in an alternate timeline where the villain won in DQ1. Dragon Quest Builders brings DQ’s trademark Toriyama art style as well as the typical JRPG elements of quirky NPCs, side quests and levelling to the game. The enemies are faithful to the source material and look cute, everything is really charming. The graphical style really pops and it’s easy to see what is going on.
Your level rises by improving your town and completing quests, you know how it is. Along the way you can also acquire new armours and weapons. The cringe inducing ye olde speak is back, thankfully just in text form this time. The missions are very simple, tending to be “collect this” or “build this” or “find this“. As an aside, I had no problem playing the Japanese version as the quest items were represented by pictures with values by them. NPCs will populate your town and you can find them wandering around in the wilderness, waiting to be rescued or requesting a task of you. There are some passive enemies too, who stand around wanting to chat.
The game also leans heavily on Minecraft for its “inspiration“. The ability to dig up blocks from the earth and place them however you want is here, you can get recipes for building new equipment for yourself too. You can gather different materials from the various areas, with the demo containing 4 very different biomes. The long inventory and ridiculously high resource count is instantly familiar. A hunger meter carries over from Minecraft, along with the building of fires to cook and worktops to craft on. Basically if it is in Minecraft, you can do it here to a limited degree.
I don’t know if this is just because it was the demo version but I found the max height from ground I could build was about 16 blocks, so you won’t be building super tall skyscrapers or the insane 1:1 scale models you see on Youtube.
You play as the hero of the story as always. Though your power isn’t that you were the chosen one or you have magic flowing through you or anything like that. You are just really good at building things, it is a refreshing and charming take on the genre. The game borrows a lot from Minecraft and it’s own source material, though it does bring some new ideas to the table too.
The NPCs will often give you blueprints to build on. They appear as giant pieces of scrap paper that sit on the ground for you to build on top of. Once you have completed building upon one of them the paper disappears leaving you with the structure.
For example, a stone wall barricade is two stone blocks high lined with spike traps. If you build this wall to its exact specification you will get an EXP boost for yourself and your town, increasing the towns size.
This is not to say you have to follow the rules. You can add to the structure however you see fit or even build without a blueprint at all.
The town is a lit up area of the world, and a safe zone for your NPCs to chill in. You can build in here and the NPCs will potter around going about their daily lives. As you level up the quality of the town, the lit area expands and more people come to join you.
It is a simple idea but seeing your town grow is satisfying.
The gameplay loop tends to go, you get a quest, venture out into the world, collect resources, go home then build up your town and prepare for attack. Rinse, repeat.
At certain points in the story your town will be attacked by swarms of enemies you will need to defend against. You can build traps and cannons, and your NPCs will bring their A game to these fights. Obviously you are fully able to get in there too and get your hands dirty.
The combat in the game isn’t turn based like you would expect from DQ, it is more like a top down Zelda games. Unfortunately it isn’t mechanically tight, you can’t roll or really dodge without just jumping out of the way. It is serviceable, but nowhere near nuanced enough for anyone to really sink their teeth in to. There is a variety of weapons and shields to build, but ultimately its a numbers game. Though the spin attack from Zelda is in here.
A few problems
The game has a couple of glaring issues, they didn’t stop me having fun but they might cause problems in the full game. You can build your town up with buildings, however, you cannot construct roofs. In fact none of the buildings in your town will have roofs, so you can see in to every room. It looks quite strange but gives a clear view. Your NPCs will also jump up single blocks as they go about their business. If you leave a single block on the end of a wall that is two blocks high, they will skip up and start running along the walls. This meant a lot of the NPCs started running along the walls of my already roofless rooms, the whole thing was really bizarre looking but it didn’t hamper the actual gameplay.
The other thing I found was having absolute freedom to shape the landscape actually detracted from the experience.I spotted a massive dragon in the open world, he could spit fire and spin around at high speed, beating my little low level guy in a single hit. I dug underneath him and attacked upwards on my second time around, he couldn’t attack down. It took a long time just chipping away for 1 damage point at a time, but I did beat him. In the town siege section I just dug a trench 2 blocks deep around the town and no enemies could get out of it once falling in. I stood over them simply attacking downwards, and they could not attack back. Again, this made this section very easy. In the full game, hopefully the enemies will be a lot more capable of attacking and moving.
The game is really fun and looks great, it has a couple of problems but nothing overbearing. You don’t need knowledge of Dragon Quest or Minecraft to have fun with this title. It is coming to PS4 and PS Vita on October 14th. Expect some more coverage on this charming little RPG around that time.