Review: Dragon Quest Builders [PS4]

Release Date
14th October 2016 (EU), 11th October 2016 (NA)
PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Publisher / Developer
Square Enix / Square Enix
Action RPG, Sandbox

Dragon Quest Builders may appear to be a Minecraft clone, but it’s far from it. As someone who has dabbled here and there on Minecraft and enjoyed my time, I’ve always been left feeling not quite satisfied. Dragon Quest Builders, on the other hand, made me realise exactly what was missing and now I’m hooked on what might possibly be my favourite game of 2016!

Dragon Quest Builders is based on a possible alternative ending to the original Dragon Quest game, or Dragon Warrior as it was known in the west, where the hero decides to strike a deal with the Dragonlord and rule part of the world for himself. The treacherous Dragonlord, of course, eliminates the Hero and the world is then overrun with monsters and plunged into darkness.

Chosen by the Goddess herself, you take on the role of the Legendary Builder; using your power to build, it’s up to you to return the realm of Alefgard back to its former glory. Since being plunged into darkness by the evil Dragonlord, Alefgard and its people have been robbed of the power to build and are forced to survive in the ruins of their once glorious homes. With your power of creation you set out to rebuild this world and inspire those you meet to relearn how to build; only by working together will you be able to overthrow the evil Dragonlord.

Gameplay, as you would have guessed from the promotional material, is almost an exact copy of Minecraft, but with a twist of RPG styling from games such as The Legend of Zelda. This combination of resource gathering and building and quest-based story progression works fantastically well. If there was one thing that Minecraft was lacking, it was a story element. Dragon Quest Builders provides just that and with that typical Japanese RPG charm that we have come to know and love.

Once you have started the game and created your character you’re then tasked with rebuilding the city of Cantlin which currently stands in ruins. At first, you’re only able to craft very simple items but as you proceed to rebuild Cantlin you’ll unlock quests from the residents to build specific items or rooms and even going out to find new people to join your city. Each resident will have different skills and offer unique quests for you to complete. As you complete quests and advance the story you gain access to more and more craftable items to level up the city of Cantlin which in turn attracts more people to the city. Quests can be completed whenever you wish which allows you free reign when it comes to exploring Alefgard. Of course, completing quests will unlock new items and locations so try not to get too distracted. That in itself is quite the challenge as exploring randomly can yield some nice rewards such as hidden chests or friendly monsters willing to impart some useful knowledge or items. Be sure to pay attention to your city though, as there are also quests that can see you come under attack by a horde of monsters.

If you’re familiar with Minecraft’s mechanics then you’ll feel right at home when it comes to crafting, building and resource gathering in Dragon Quest Builders. This makes jumping into this game really easy and even if you’re not familiar with the mechanics it couldn’t be simpler. Crafting and recipes are a lot simpler too which means less time trying to figure how to craft something and more time actually crafting. Combat, while simple, doesn’t quite match the same level of ease that the rest of the game offers. Just landing a hit on a monster requires you to get into such close proximity that you actually damage yourself which can become rather annoying. Even weapons that you would assume to have a much longer reach may leave you slashing away at thin air because you are not nose to nose with the enemy. It’s still satisfying when cutting down millions of loveable Slime’s but it could have been implemented better. The camera controls, however, work well for the most part but whenever you enter a building you need to spend some time messing with the right analogue stick until you can actually see inside. An annoyance, sure, but it manageable once you figure out that looking down will solve the issue although it not perfect by any means.

The story mode doesn’t begin and end with just rebuilding the city of Cantlin but actually sees you, when you’re ready to progress, effectively start over from scratch in a new area with landscapes and materials different to those of the one previous. While it may seem counterproductive now that you have a firm grasp of the game mechanics it brings forward a brand new set of challenges and unique environments. Once you have completed the first chapter you’ll also unlock a free-build mode that places you on an unknown island free of monsters allowing you to build to your heart’s content. Recipes that you have learnt from story mode will be carried over and you can also access certain areas to gain ingredients to use.

Featuring the same signature visual stylings of series artist Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball), Dragon Quest Builders looks absolutely wonderful. Original series composer Koichi Sugiyama also returns to help create a nostalgia-filled soundtrack that will have any Dragon Quest fan popping with joy at every song that plays throughout the game. Fans of the franchise will no doubt feel a lot of nostalgia from this game, as a fan myself it’s a magical experience, but even those new to it will appreciate how well-crafted this game is.

Dragon Quest Builders, despite its issues, brilliantly marries the sandbox survival gameplay style with traditional Japanese RPG storytelling. Fans of the franchise will feel right at home with a whole roster of familiar monsters to fight and a nostalgia-filled soundtrack. Whatever your play-style, whether it be story progression or building to your heart's content, you can expect to pour countless hours into this game and continue to be entertained. Dragon Quest Builders is easily one of the best games of 2016 and quite possibly the most addictive.