Dragon Quest Builders looks like a Minecraft game with a Dragon Quest coat of paint, and in many ways, it’s exactly that. However, the game manages to uniquely blend the resource gathering and crafting of a sandbox survival game, with the plot, characters, and whimsical world of a JRPG. Dragon Quest Builders provides the player with a litany of engaging gameplay systems, from resource collecting, to hacking and slashing. Dragon Quest Builders initially released back in 2016 on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita, but the game has now been ported over to the Nintendo Switch, allowing for even more to experience an already highly praised and revered title. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of Minecraft (or most crafting games for that matter), or overly well-versed in the lore of Dragon Quest, I was unsure of how my experience would play out, but I was pleasantly surprised by how enamoured I was while playing through Dragon Quest Builders.
The game is set in an alternate timeline of the original Dragon Quest game, where the Dragonlord has defeated the hero and plunged the world of Alefgard into darkness. The story is exactly what you’d expect from a JRPG, and despite being heavily cliched, is charming enough to be enjoyed by young and old. Your player character wakes up with no recollection of their past, they are told of their destiny by some sort of spirit (in this case, the lovely Goddess Rubiss), and then they are whisked off in to the world to become the Hero they were destined to be. However clichéd it may be, Dragon Quest Builders flips the script somewhat, making sure to emphasise that you are in fact not a hero, simply a builder. It’s jarring upon the realisation that you may not be the impervious hero who will save the world, but somebody who will instead pave the way (quite literally) to restoring peace to the world. Dragon Quest Builder’s story isn’t trying to be an overly strong and engaging narrative, it simply serves to give purpose to the enormous adventure that lies ahead.
Not going to lie, the legendary builder is a cool looking dude
The world of Alefgard makes it desperately obvious right away that it is in dire need of saving. Everywhere you look there are multitudes of monsters ready to attack you whenever you come near. There are dozens of enemies in the game, all of which have appeared in other Dragon Quest titles, from the easily recognisable Slimes, to other franchise mainstays like the Dracky and Ghost monsters. There is plenty of fan service on offer for fans of the franchise, with the game also serving as a great way for people keen to ease themselves in to understanding the world of Dragon Quest.
Before setting off in to the world of Alefgard, you are directly told by Rubiss to, “Rebuild the world however you see fit”. Dragon Quest Builders gives you the freedom to do exactly that.
The game is unabashedly littered with plenty of JRPG silliness that is both charming and enjoyable. The people of this now monster-controlled land have lost the ability to design and create, to the point in which people don’t even understand what the word ‘build’ means. It’s nonsensical, but the charm makes it easy to look the other way and not question the absurdity. As the Legendary Builder you are tasked with rebuilding settlements throughout Alefgard, to reunite the people of the world and allow them to restore their ability to create (it’s silly, but adorable). The characters that you befriend along the way are brilliant to be around, with the writing of the characters being absolutely wonderful. Characters are witty, humorous, and oozing with charm, making constant jokes and silly quips that highlight that despite the world being in ruin, the people of Alefgard still have a sense of humour.
I’m undoubtedly very popular with the townsfolk
The game is split into four chapters, with each chapter being a new adventure with its own intriguing side story. You build your town from nothing to something, doing quests and collecting as many resources as you can along the way, in preparation for the final boss of each chapter. The conclusions to each chapter all feel remarkably satisfying, and become somewhat bittersweet upon the realisation that in order to go to the next chapter, you must leave not just your friends you’ve made along the way behind, but also all the resources you’ve collected. Leaving all your materials behind is a hard thing to do, but starting with a clean slate each time keeps the grind for resources alive. For example, the wooden club you have taken for granted since unlocking better weapons, becomes your best friend again. It’s an aspect of the game that makes each chapter feel like its own distinct 8-10hr experience.
The best thing about each chapter is that they focus on a different issue in Alefgard. In one chapter I arrived at the remains of a once great city, with the aims of rebuilding it and protecting the community against a legendary foe, while in another chapter I was collecting resources to build a makeshift hospital town and craft medicines to cure people infected with the plague. The variety is something that took me by surprise, I was perplexed after spending a whole chapter mining for ores to smelt, that I was instead going to spend the next chapter creating medicines and managing a hospital full of patients. Some materials that were commonplace in one chapter may be much more difficult to find in the next. The variety in each chapter keeps the game remarkably fresh throughout the entire playthrough, with new things you didn’t know you could create constantly becoming available.
From humble beginnings
The game also features a creative mode titled Terra Incongita, which is unlocked upon completion of the first chapter, with the completion of subsequent chapters adding new islands to explore and things to craft. This mode allows you the freedom to simply build and craft whatever you like, without needing to complete quests. It’s a nice optional mode to have for those that just want to spend time making awesome creations, which can also be shared online.
The games crafting system is remarkably fun and rewarding, with the progression in terms of what you can craft feeling natural and justified. You’ll start off with very little, using the dirt of the earth to form structures for your town and collecting tree branches to make wooden clubs. As time progresses however, you’ll have sprawling buildings made of stone, and the wooden clubs and stone swords of old will be replaced with iron swords, shields, and armour. Seeing both your town and character progress throughout your time in Dragon Quest Builders feels immensely rewarding and deserved for the effort you’ve put in.
Upgrading your town walls from dirt to stone or brick is always a great feeling
Unlike many crafting games such as Minecraft and Factorio, the crafting systems in Dragon Quest Builders are remarkably simple. Simplicity could be perceived negatively, but I believe the game’s crafting has been handled perfectly, in a way which allows people of all ages to progress through the game comfortably. Want to make ingots? Gather the required resources and craft them using the furnace. The ease of crafting allows for mindless collecting, encouraging you to go out and collect as much as you can while away from your town, and seeing what you can make when you return. There’s even an item you can craft called the Colossal Coffer, an enormous chest that will hold items you’ve picked up, even if you inventory is full. To make owning this item even more amazing, you can withdraw and deposit items from the coffer wherever you are. The fact that this is an option further allows Dragon Quest Builders to be a game in which you can farm resources to your heart’s content. As someone who has a strong hatred for over-encumbrance in games such as Fallout 4 and Skyrim, it is a great relief knowing that I don’t have to make return trips to collect a few pieces of iron that I left behind.
No JRPG is complete without combat, and Dragon Quest Builders offers players a simplistic hack and slash approach to taking out Slimes and other creatures that get in your way. You slash your sword constantly until the enemy dies, and that’s basically it. You do get a spin attack that can be charged up to deal more damage, but besides that, there is nothing more to the game’s combat. This would probably be an overwhelming negative if the game was solely an RPG, however the enemies you kill don’t provide the player with experience, instead offering items that are used to craft. The combat is simply an extension to mining for materials, and combat only needs to be engaged in when you require resources or when town invasions/boss fights occur. The combat is simple, but I don’t believe it to be bad. A little variety in combat would be nice, but it’s nothing to knock the game down for.
I woke the dragon and he wasn’t pleased
Despite Dragon Quest Builders being an excellent experience, the game still has an array of minor issues. The in-game camera for the most part is completely fine, but when walking into houses with roofs or tight mining caverns, the camera seems to lose all control. The odd first-person perspective in mining areas makes depth perception borderline impossible to grasp, and the camera hovers when you’re in houses seems to lose where the player is it entirely. The issues with the camera can be manoeuvred around somewhat, but it’s still a major annoyance. There are also questionable, head-scratching design choices when it comes to building and crafting. Not being able to rotate items seems asinine, and having no option to specifically choose how many of an item you want to craft is also an odd design decision. These are easy things to fix, and with the sequel set to be coming later this year, I’m sure these problems will be alleviated. The game’s music, despite housing some great tracks that evoke the feeling of 80s and 90s JRPGs becomes too repetitive, which hurts me to say because I love the music style. None of these issues are deal breaking, but they are issues nonetheless.
When it comes to performance, Dragon Quest Builders runs perfectly well on Nintendo Switch, operating at 720p in both the handheld and docked modes. The docked mode hovers around its goal of 60fps, with minor drops in busier areas such as forests. The game when blown up on a large TV screen doesn’t look amazing due to the 720p resolution but overall the Nintendo Switch provides brilliant performance when docked. When the game is in handheld mode however, the frame rate drops to maintain around 30fps. This isn’t at all an issue, and is to be expected considering the game maintains the same resolution in handheld mode that it sports in docked mode, but it is immediately noticeable. The performance in handheld mode does take a hit in comparison to docked mode, but this is to be expected, and it by no means hinders the experience.
Regardless of the 720p resolution, the game looks great
The Switch version may not look as sharp and pretty as its PS4 counterpart,but it provides a distinct advantage over the PS4 version thanks to the system’s portability. What further aids Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch is that the game is suited to both long play and short burst sessions. I found myself numerous times playing the system on the go, doing a quick quest for the townsfolk before sheathing my Switch and returning to the real world, while also playing for hours at a time in docked mode. It’s a nice luxury to have. Regardless, the Nintendo Switch version is a perfectly fine port of the PlayStation 4 version, and if portability is a feature you’re after, picking up the Switch version is an easy decision.
Overall, Dragon Quest Builders is a content heavy game that is an absolute pleasure to play. Yes, there are some minor issues when it comes to its camera and item placement, but the majority of this game is something that should be cherished. The crafting is amusing, the combat is entertaining and the characters witty dialogue always manages to make me chuckle. Dragon Quest Builders successfully manages to conjoin two different game genres flawlessly, creating an impressive sandbox that has the backing of a JRPG story to keep players interested from start to finish. Don’t disregard Dragon Quest Builders as a mere Minecraft clone, it is far more than that (and arguably the better game).
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch | Review code supplied by publisher