Release date: February 9, 2018
Developer: Square Enix
Dragon Quest has always been one of those series that’s remained niche for some reason, despite having a long and seminal history within video games. Throughout its many installments, we’ve seen Dragon Quest branch out and explore genres outside of its familiar RPG style. Dragon Quest, unlike some other properties that have a myriad of spinoffs, has actually adapted into these other genres rather fluidly, and the addition of Dragon Quest Builders adds to the list of awesome titles that hold their own outside of the main series, bringing a Minecraft aesthetic to the universe. While it may look like Minecraft at a glance, at the end of the day this really is just another Dragon Quest RPG, only with an emphasis for building and crafting. It’s an amazing mechanic that works to its favor, and with a storyline and vibrant worlds to keep you busy from chapter to chapter, Dragon Quest Builders is a game that’s very difficult to put down whether you’re familiar with the series, genre or not.
Ater having spent hours among hours when it initially launched in 2016, I noticed right away that a lot of the same hiccups and performance issues that lingered within the PS4 and Vita versions of the game are still present here on Switch. This is the definition of a port, changing mostly nothing other than the hardware you’re playing it on. Dragon Quest Builders isn’t a particularly demanding game, and while it looked pretty on the PS4 and was comparable on the Vita – obviously at a lower resolution – I’m a little baffled that the Switch version of Dragon Quest Builders is only at 720p docked and sits right in-between Vita and PS4 when it comes to performance and visual fidelity. At the very least it aims for 60 frames per second, though since it’s unlocked, you’ll often find yourself down to about 45 FPS in the more populated landscapes or when there’s a lot of lighting and effects going on via battles.
The story isn’t much to go on in Dragon Quest Builders, having a fairly simple “You need to restore the light to the land and rid of the darkness” plot to give some sort of overall goal to what it is you’re doing, but it’s the characters, each respective chapter’s overworld, and the adventure within each that really makes this game special. Each chapter has its own sub-plot that ties everything together by the end of the game, so while the overarching story may be simple and forgetful, the chapters themselves are memorable and extremely enjoyable, with tons to uncover, explore, excavate, slay, and build.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed about Dragon Quest Builders is that, for once in a game like this, maps aren’t procedurally generated. Each chapter has its own design that’s intentional and themed. I’ve never enjoyed procedural generation when it comes to dungeon crawling, simulators, or anything like that because I’m someone who likes to memorize a map and know where I’m going – especially after putting hours and hours into a game instead of feeling like I’ve been betrayed and lost each time I boot it up.
Each chapter also a unique boss at the very end before you can proceed to the next one, and they all come in various shapes and sizes to test new weapons and your crafting abilities, as well as your wit. For example, the first chapter has a huge Golem in which you’ll be focusing on crafting shields you’ve learned to deflect attacks. The second chapter will have the Hades Condor, which flies around and has a lot of aerial attacks. Here you’ll be utilizing cannons as well as building multiple levels of structure for your home base to make sure your attacks connect. It’s a unique way to test the player with everything they’ve learned throughout the chapter and the game so far before graduating to the next, and remaking the weapons and materials over and over again gets them familiar with the process.
The battles themselves I never found particularly difficult, though they sometimes feel tedious when things maybe don’t go your way due to a placement error or lack of resources and preparation, but you learn from that and start the fight over if need be. No battle has ever felt impossible, but there are some areas in some chapters that do become overwhelming thanks to the number of enemies with varying abilities like projectiles, stuns, poisons, and more that stack and can really take a toll on you if you’re not properly equipped.
While each chapter will take you to separate areas, you can always travel back to previous locations via teleporters, so you should never feel rushed or annoyed about losing previous progress when continuing to the next. Most things will carry over, but the only real annoying part is that the town you spent so long and hard to build becomes an afterthought once you’re done. I’ve built some beautiful stuff, only to leave it behind and start all over when going to the next, but I suppose when you look at it through the main character’s eyes, it’s a job well done as they’re trying to rebuild what was lost and teach those that have been lost and confused the ability to craft again instead of relying on you to do everything. There is a sense of accomplishment, but it’s bittersweet as you continue on your journey.
There are many moments and mechanics that reside in each chapter that build you up and prepare you for the climax of Dragon Quest Builders. Your character will get hungry, but when you’re like me and just about farm and collect every little thing you see, you can make some of the most amazing cuisine that will make sure you stay plenty healthy and full. The meter in which you can view your hunger before inevitably requiring sustenance to carry on goes down rather slow, so I never found it problematic, though in the third chapter it really tests your ability to survive without food with so little of it around (it’s a desert). You’ll have to get used to crafting just about anything and everything multiple times, and while some may seem harder than others to craft due to a scarcity of materials, by the end of a chapter you’ll end up feeling like a god, especially once some rare items in one chapter may contain a surplus in the next. It’s a nice and clever way to have you explore all worlds and really get the hang of exploration, the enemies in each, and drop rates plus materials found.
Dragon Quest Builders just has so much to love about it thanks to its accessibility and having that lore and charm behind it. While people like myself who obsessed over it when it initially launched may not put in a plethora of hours again this time around with the story since there’s isn’t much replay value or a post-game once you’ve beaten it, there is still Terra Incognita mode which you can unlock sometime after the first chapter. This mode is a lot more relaxed and allows you to build however you see fit, wherever you see fit, using any and all materials you can acquire. It’s the ultimate sandbox relaxation mode in which I find myself coming back to the most on Switch since I’ve done all that’s needed to be done with the story. The creativity is only limited by you, leaving endless possibility to all the great stuff you can make and bring to life. My only wish is that we were able to visit the worlds of other players and see what they’ve made and visit their towns, but thankfully Dragon Quest Builders 2 will be fixing that problem with its newly added multiplayer mode. Though Dragon Quest Builders felt very much alive thanks to all the great NPCs that made me laugh and smile throughout, as well as all the monsters to cleanse and loot, I ultimately felt alone by the end of it all, and in Terra Incognita, it’s pretty much just you, though there’s a sense of serenity with the silence as you focus on building a new world.
On the surface, Dragon Quest Builders may look like a Minecraft clone, which we’ve seen many times before and continue to, but once you get into the meat of it, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Dragon Quest Builders is very much another great Dragon Quest RPG, but rather than traditional turn-based battles, the ability to craft and build takes center stage as the focused mechanic in the game. The surrounding story, world, characters, and combat the series has made a staple and perfected after so many years across a multitude of titles and platforms are all still here. The building mechanics are rewarding, and the amount of treasures and materials that can be scoured throughout each vibrant location are an absolute joy to uncover, with tons to do, smile, and laugh at. If you have even the slightest interest in Dragon Quest, this is a no-brainer to pick up, as it is arguably one of the best game the series has seen, regardless of mainline or spinoffs. Oh, and there is one last thing that you must know. You are not a hero. If nothing else, remember this…
Dragon Quest Builders review copy provided by Nintendo for the purposes of this review.