Restoring the Realm
I’ve always had problems with motivation in Minecraft. Once I build a decent home in survival mode I always go off exploring, only to find nothing interesting before I turn the game off and do something else. Creative mode isn’t much better; even though I have all the tools to build whatever I want, I get bored because there’s nothing I can actually do with my structures except stare at them. Dragon Quest Builders, a single-player mash-up of Dragon Quest and Minecraft solves both of those issues for me.
Dragon Quest Builders is first and foremost a story-driven game. It takes place sometime after the first Dragon Quest title (called Dragon Warrior back then) and features a handful of towns from that game. This time, however, the Dragon Lord reigns and each of the once-great towns has been demolished. Players take control of the Builder and are tasked with rebuilding each town across four different chapters.
On the surface, Dragon Quest Builders looks very similar to Minecraft. The world is made up of blocks that players destroy to gather various resources, and then use those resources to craft objects like doors, forges, windows, and so on. Thankfully, Dragon Quest Builders merely takes the base fundamentals of Minecraft and fuses it with the Dragon Quest charm and plenty of new gameplay mechanics. The music and visual style, for instance, are one-hundred percent Dragon Quest. All of the classic sound effects and tunes are here, and the game runs flawlessly on Nintendo Switch in both docked and portable mode.
I Used to Punch Trees
Each chapter in Dragon Quest Builders offers a completely different building experience. The first chapter acts as an extended tutorial of sorts where players will build a general, all-purpose town and will have plenty of access to resources like wood, copper, coal, and iron. The other three chapters are more specialized; for example, the second has players building a town with a sick bay to heal infected villagers without access to wood or ores until much later in the chapter.
This leads to the two biggest improvements Dragon Quest Builders makes to the Minecraft formula: villagers and rooms. As each town is built up, NPC villagers will move in (in later chapters they need to be saved through various means) and provide the player with quests. These quests include things like resource gathering and building construction. Unfortunately, there’s no quest menu, so players will have to talk to that quest-giving villager again if they’ve forgotten what to do.
A villager may request that players build a crude kitchen, and unlike Minecraft players don’t just throw up some walls and pretend it’s a crude kitchen.There are a myriad of room recipes in Dragon Quest Builders that dictate what objects are required for an empty room to be a crude kitchen or an armory. For a crude kitchen all that’s required is a door, a light source, a cookfire, and a treasure chest. To turn that into a cafeteria, players just need to add a couple tables and chairs. Throw in some beer barrels and stools and it’s a bar. There’s a room recipe for just about everything: several types of inns, treasure rooms, armories, throne rooms, and so on. Players don’t need to unlock a room recipe in the game, they just have to meet the requirements and that’s what the room will be — that means players can stumble across room recipes or just check online.
The best part is that the villagers will actually interact with these rooms. Villagers will cook food inside kitchens and put it inside the treasure chest so that players can take it and eat the food to refill their hunger meter, for example. Each town feels alive.
Enemies will launch an assault every so often to try to destroy the town, and each chapter has a main boss that must be defeated before the next chapter can be unlocked. Sometimes overcoming these assaults will award players with a teleportal — three for each chapter — that’ll warp them to a different area that’s filled with new enemies and resources. In later chapters, resources like wood and ores aren’t available until players have access to these teleportals, so they’ll have to make due with weak weaponry and buildings made out of dirt. Thankfully, players can construct cladding and flooring out of straw, wood, and various stones that can be used to turn already-placed earth blocks into straw, wood, or stone. Players will never have to tear down their buildings and re-build them once they find better materials — just sprinkle some magic dust on them instead.
Each area that players explore is pre-made — there are no randomly generated zones in Dragon Quest Builders. This allows the developers to place a multitude of side-quests throughout the world, ranging from helping a dojo of werewolves, slaying dragons, and solving puzzles. There’s a real sense of adventure in Dragon Quest Builders that Minecraft simply doesn’t have; in this game players may actually find something interesting and fun out in the world, instead of just a new biome with some more blocks.
Players will unlock the free build mode, called Terra Incognita, after completing the first chapter. This mode acts more as a companion mode rather than an alternative. Every object that players learn how to craft throughout each chapter is available to build in Terra Incognita, but they’ll still have to gather the resources themselves. Additional islands to explore and gather resources will unlock upon completion of each chapter, so this mode can’t be fully utilized until all four chapters of the story mode have been beaten.
The entirety of the main island is available to build on, and this made me feel a little overwhelmed. In each of the story chapters, the town has a decently-sized zone that players can build in, so everything isn’t space too far out and a lot of creativity is required when constructing buildings with multiple floors. Villagers, including friendly monsters, will even move into town and wander around.
Dragon Quest fans like myself will be happy to hear that blocks based on classic Dragon Quest sprites can be crafted in Terra Incognita. All players have to do is locate the Great Sabrecub on Terra Incognita and then jump on an enemy’s head to collect a resource called pixels, which can be used to craft these classic blocks.
Sadly, there isn’t a multiplayer mode in Dragon Quest Builders. This might be a deal-breaker for a lot of people. There is an option to share structures with other people online, at least. Square-Enix has already announced that Dragon Quest Builders 2, which will see a release on Nintendo Switch, will have multiplayer.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of Dragon Quest Builders for this review.