By William Haderlie / November 15th, 2016
|Title||Dragon Quest Builders|
|Developer||Bird Studio, Square Enix|
|Release Date||October 11, 2016|
|Age Rating||ESRB 10+|
In my recent review for Dragon Quest VII on 3DS, I went out of the way to explain my long history with the franchise. So I will mostly skip that here, but if you want to check it out, here is the review. The short and sweet version is that I’ve played every entry in this franchise except the MMO (unavailable outside of Japan) and a couple offshoots. As for my experience with Minecraft, I played the alpha and beta for almost a year up until the official launch of the game. Once it was released I never picked it up again because, as fun as it was to build, there was such an aimless and random quality that I didn’t want to play for a very long period. I have continued to be interested in what new developments there were in that game and checking out some of the fabulous builds on YouTube. So the concept of melding Dragon Quest and Minecraft was intriguing to me, even before seeing any official assets for the game.
Where this game is the most Dragon Quest is in the character and item designs, and in the story. Those Akira Toriyama art designs just pop off the screen, especially on the PS4 version of the game (which is the version that I will be using for the review). The story is relatively simple, but (with few exceptions) the Dragon Quest overarching stories have always prided themselves on their classic high fantasy simplicity. This time around, however, the narrator and other characters will continuously remind you that you are not a hero, you are a builder. While that can get a bit irritating with how many times they beat you over the head with it, that differentiation is important because you need to understand that no matter how much you fight, you will not get any more powerful. The only way to raise levels is by upgrading your town. You can gain health by using health seeds, but they are only found as rewards for quest completion or in treasure chests.
As simple as the story is, there is still some mystery to it and you will find out more about the past and yourself as you get farther along in the game. Once you get to Chapter 2 the mystery really deepens and you start to suspect that there may be a lot more to the Dragonlord takeover than you initially thought in Chapter 1. The structure of this game is very interesting in that each Chapter feels almost like an entire new game. Not only does your environment drastically change, but you also have to restart (almost) from scratch. You lose all your weapons and armor when you journey to a new land, and you also lose most of your learned recipes for construction. So in many ways you need to build up your new town again from scratch. But it’s not all lost; you do keep some abilities and you tend to have a much accelerated rate of learning new constructions. More importantly, you carry over your own experiences and you will need to build upon that knowledge as they throw new wrinkles and new restrictions on you.
There are four story chapters in total, and then there is a bonus chapter that I will talk about later. Once you defeat a Chapter you will unlock a Challenge Checklist for that stage which will give you some bonus tasks. You can go back to that Chapter after it’s complete so that you can look for those bonus objectives. Finally, entering the final portal will check off that achievement. This isn’t just to gain achievement trophies on PSN; by completing those Challenges you will earn special recipes which you can use later. None of those Challenges are offered as quests and most of them are pretty far out of your way to find, let alone that they don’t give you the list of Challenges until after you complete that Chapter for the first time. So if you want access to those special recipes you will need to go back to the Chapter. The only annoying Challenges for me were the time limit ones, but you can always choose to start the Chapter over again with a different save file and try to complete each Chapter within the specified time limit. It is quite the difficult task, but it does add some fun replay value to the game. And you will still keep your other Challenge progress after you complete the one for under the time limit.
It felt a bit tragic to lose the town I was working so hard on in Chapter 1; its design was rather beautiful and I made it like a stone castle straight out of Dark Ages Europe. Thankfully that loss was assuaged a bit by the opening of Terra Incognita. That is a special location, which you unlock after completing Chapter 1, where you can build freely and keep that area as a monument to your imagination and innovation. There is even a large area within that world where you can share your creations with others online and pull community creations into your world. There are also a lot of bonus things to do there like finding all new building materials, befriending monsters, fighting waves of enemies and many other things. Terra Incognita feels much more like Minecraft than the rest of this game, and after you have completed everything else it is there to provide some very long lasting replay value.
The combat took me a while to get used to. It is, in many ways, the least similar Dragon Quest of all the game elements. For enemy and boss invasions, the music playing is straight out of Dragon Quest, but in practice the combat plays much more like The Legend of Zelda. In fact, because of the aesthetic style of the game, an even closer parallel would be the combat of 3D Dot Game Heroes, a very underrated PlayStation 3 game. The normal fighting and the enemy invasions of your base feel like pretty generic Zelda style fighting, but when it comes to the end of chapter boss fights, it’s pure Zelda goodness. It actually was so fun fighting the Chapter bosses that I actually wanted more of them, even if they were challenging.
And speaking of more, I wanted more of everything with this game. They almost needed to affix a warning label that it may cause addictive behavior. Every time I tried to just go in and play it for an hour or two, I realized 4 or 5 hours later that I was still going. I literally lost a lot of sleep playing this game. Part of that is my own obsessive tendency with needing to find everything, and do everything, and craft everything, and build something I would be proud of. But another part of that obsession is that this game is just a high quality mix of many things that I really love. The story and the character interactions give me much more reason to build a dwelling that I want to protect and to spend some serious time with. The worlds are vast and beg to be explored, and you are almost always rewarded by finding some rare materials or a special bonus quest from some monster out on the fringes. If you aren’t careful you can get caught out at night and may struggle to survive but by the time that becomes a real concern in Chapters 3 and 4, you should have learned to always have what you need on hand to build a room you can sleep the night away in. The game is quite simply a blast to play.
The farther you get into the game the more options you will have for what to do with your time, especially after you learn skills like Fishing and Farming. It gets to a point where it’s almost too much to do. But since the only time limits imposed are for the time challenges (and you should never try for that your first time through), it never felt overwhelming. If you get tired of exploring, spend some time building up your town. Then if you get tired of that, you can fish for some food. After that, you can fight to see if you can get some monster dropped items. You will never really run out of things to do in this game, which may make some people feel overwhelmed but it was right up my alley. The classic Dragon Quest elements, such as the music and the character designs, give this game a wonderfully cute aesthetic which is really appealing to me, and that made it even easier to just spend a lot of time there.
This a full priced game that definitely merits the $59.99 cost. The game can potentially be completed in much less time, but I spent over 60 hours on it. And I have no intention of just shelving it to play other things (besides keeping up with my review schedule, of course). This is a game that I will keep on coming back to, and I find myself admitting that this game ended up being even better than I had hoped for. This is a quiet masterpiece, and one that may be talked about for years to come as kind of a sneaky wonderful game that not enough people played. I know that if I had kids, I would be more likely to give them this game to cut their teeth on rather than Minecraft. They both have that Lego building aesthetic going for them, but this one also contains a lot of wonderful story to get lost in. Or you can just play Terra Incognita for hours upon days upon years and never need to finish the game. The beautiful character and world designs make your creations much more interesting (in my opinion) than what you create in Minecraft. So they started with the concept of combining Dragon Quest with Minecraft but they ended up with so much more due to a lot of developer love and attention. There is literally nothing bad that I can say about this game.
Review Copy Self Purchased
Action RPGBird StudioDragon Quest BuildersPlayStation 4PSNSquare Enix