Dragon Quest is no stranger to the spin-off. Some were widely successful in Japan – the Mystery Dungeon franchise got its start this way – others like Dragon Quest Monsters take a leaf out of the main series, while the likes of Fortune Street go completely off the rails as a Monopoly clone. It’s perhaps not all that surprising that Dragon Quest Builders is borrowing quite liberally from Minecraft’s book, but as it turns out, this is a more RPG focused affair.
Set in the world of Dragon Quest, the original JRPG from 1986, it tells an alternative scenario where the hero chose to side with Dragonlord, sending the world of Alefgard into darkness. Awakening in an enclosed cave, a young child has been chosen by the goddess to be the “Legendary Builder”, sent to rebuild humanity after its downfall. While nowhere near as light on plot as Dragon Quest was back in the day, the few plot points here are minimal at best.
If Minecraft is in first person and Terraria in 2D, Dragon Quest Builders brings this familiar formula to a third person perspective. This come with its own problems though, especially when manipulating the camera for indoor areas as it tends to zoom in awkwardly. Still, the voxel style of the terrain combined with the smoother textures for enemies and NPCs help make this game look nice and inviting.
The same can’t quite be said for the music. I’m not going to bash on the tracks themselves, as they’re modern remixes of the classic Dragon Quest tracks, but there are some that are reused from the likes of Dragon Quest Heroes or iOS ports of the classic games. Music is one of the standout elements of the franchise, so I can’t be too harsh on this, but I would have liked to hear new music for the series.
Foraging for resources and mining are not without their issues. Chief of these is that under no circumstances should you attempt to mine while escorting a person back to town, because you can’t place blocks on tiles occupied by NPCs. This means if you get stuck in a cave, you may not be able to get out. This is an especially hard lesson to learn when you lose hours of progress from a simple issue.
Crafting and mining aren’t the sole focuses of this game, though they are how your character becomes stronger. Enemies no longer give experience, so it’s tied to what you create for your town. Equipment built is also tied to how strong your character is, so the fact the game actively encourages you to build to get stronger is an interesting idea that is executed well.
Citizens of your town will hand you quests to help guide your progress, making Dragon Quest Builders feel more of a guided process than a freeform sandbox. This may irk those who prefer their experience to be a voyage of discovery rather than being led by the hand, but for others the sense of direction is good for learning all the mechanics at a leisurely pace. You even get blueprints that help with building more complex structures, so you won’t need to turn to the internet for ideas.
Quests usually involve gathering materials to make an item or bringing back a new face to town, but occasionally you’ll be asked to defend your town from the monsters. Fights against the Dragon Quest monsters are in real time, though they’re somewhat basic in nature.
The short range of the weapons makes some fights a little cumbersome, but by learning the patterns of each enemy they should be manageable enough. However the techniques that can be learned as you progress through the game, such as the spin attack, having the dual purpose of attacking enemies surrounding you and mining quickly.
Each chapter has a bunch of areas to teleport to; environments range from plains and swamps with ruined buildings to deserts with temples. Some of the best moments in the game are when there is a boss battle, with the big hulking monsters requiring new tactics to fend them off.
Those who feel the structured nature of Dragon Quest Builders is too much for them can take solace in the knowledge that the Terra Incognita mode is a sandbox that allows not only for near complete freedom in what you build, but also the ability to share with your friends. Progressing through the chapters of the main game does unlock more materials with which to create, though.
One thing that struck me as I played was that I felt at times a little on the old side to be playing this particular game. It’s not that the game isn’t interesting to adults, but younger audiences might get more of a kick out of the simpler gameplay, perhaps even see it as an entry point into the Minecraft genre. Those who have played Minecraft or Terraria might find this simple in comparison.
Obviously the appeal of Dragon Quest Builders is the universe it’s set in, but there’s also the appeal for younger audiences who will find the guided nature of this sandbox JRPG an inviting and accessible proposition. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a good effort and another potentially successful spin-off.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4