Review Game Dragon Quest Builder
Like so many before it, the Dragon Quest series has taken a detour into the realm of Minecraft-style collecting and crafting – no points are given if you predicted that turn of events. Mucho points, however, if you called that it would execute the premise so seamlessly, and embrace its own signature traits while delivering a single-player RPG adventure that alludes to the Dragon Quest classics. To be clear, unlike Minecraft and others in the building and crafting frame, this is a solo pursuit not a social enterprise.
Ready to make a mark with my lightly personalized character I was immediately shocked to be told that I was not – repeat NOT – a hero. But the gameplay informed me differently, because right out of the gate the NPCs in this simplistic RPG tale knew I was special and treated me accordingly. Tragically, it wasn’t until way past character creation did I discover I was known to them as the “Builder” because I desperately wanted to go back and rename myself Bob.
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Building or, more specifically, creating, is your unique talent in a world where people have been stripped of the fundamentals of creation. They literally don’t know how anymore. It’s a strange but convenient conceit to hand you the keys to leadership through your ability to architect a town and manage conflicting functions, but most crucially protect a small but steadily growing population reemerging from their background-story wilderness. Some characters need rescuing, others come to visit, enthralled by your abilities that had inexplicably been lost to the world in some conflict possibly stemming from the Dragonlord.
Flaunting Dragon Quest’s endearing signature style, the graphics in Builders represent a world crafted in vibrant cubes. And as Minecraft has taught an entire generation to expect, it’s pretty much all destructible using your tools as you mine the earth itself (used to erect room walls in your slowly growing town), and eventually coal, copper, and iron that allow the construction of more advanced weapons, armor, tools, and artefacts for your townspeople. It also means that almost anywhere is accessible. Don’t fancy walking around the base of the mountain and risk drowning in the drink? You could, with patience, hack your way through.
While mining resources and collecting plants and metals alongside an occasional flurry of combat is all- too familiar, the pace and dexterity of progression is initially refreshing and, crucially, keenly aware of itself. It reveals your abilities in this world quickly, but without overbearing you with process. Given that it involves building a town from ruins, scavenging for a wide variety of useful resources, and fighting both fauna and the geography of this cubed world, it’s an impressive balance.
The fundamental processes don’t sway from crafting RPG norms: you build from rags to leather to iron to steel. But the ultimate bad guy isn’t so clear, and that’s evidence of how Builders tiptoes across the chasm between “kids game” and “adult friendly.” While most of the dialogue is by-the-fantasy-book, it’s also peppered with occasional notes that remind you it was written by a real person in the 21st century. A personal favorite: “You want to take a look at my tool…we only just met.” I know, I know – but in this context it was refreshing. All the dialogue is snappy, so while conversations can grind on, quickly clicking through them gets you to the point at your own pace.
So you harvest the resources of the land and parlay that into the ability to build machinery or functions around your town that encourage growth. By growth, it really means from a couple of people to a handful – barely a village – but the purpose is clear and persuasive. These guys and gals will even pitch in to help while you’re off fighting the good fight. Once they have a campfire for cooking they will fill a chest with the food they make so you can snag it whenever you want. I appreciated the thoughtful assistance (and the fact I didn’t have to micromanage absolutely every element, since you do have to manage your hunger as well as your health while out in the wilderness).
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Of course, you can’t get away from the chopping, hacking, mining of metals, or even the slaughter of aggressive scorpions or passive Dragon Quest blobs. They all present challenges in their own right and though it takes some time before Builders flexes its muscles into pushing you to make more cerebral considerations, the focus is always clear. It never bogs down in overcomplicated combat mechanics, though there is a subtle art to the attack-and-retreat mechanisms against some of the bigger critters. A simple upgrade to a charged spin attack (that can also be used effectively to harvest resources a little quicker in some areas) is about as complex as it becomes.
When random skeletons attack your fledgling town, knock down walls, and undo your careful deliberations it’s a shame, but you’re not overly punished, and that’s so much to Builders’ credit. Sure, you have to spend time rebuilding, but the door, armoire, or furnace is still there to be picked up and replaced instead of needing to be recrafted. It’s also refreshing to see your townsfolk pitch in here, too, joining in the fight and offering their own defense. Since the town is where you need to sleep—because staying out when the lights go down at night is dangerous due to an increase in wandering creatures—it pays to keep it well stocked with beds.
Similarly, Builders doesn’t punish you for dying, for failing, or for taking your time. Though the rewards for completing the soft “quests” are almost worthless, the point is that you will be scavenging for yourself through the portals you discover that provide instant access to new islands. But when you win the battles, be it via building structures according to a provided blueprint or from your own defenses, the people still demand more. Never, though, are their suggestions pure busywork. They all have a purpose in progressing at a steady pace towards a satisfying conclusion. Well balanced and well presented, I can’t get over the fact that Dragon Quest Builders is pure, playable, RPG-lite fun.
Dragon Quest Builders is totally, thoroughly engaging. Its gameplay is accessible to kids while its dialogue offers enough sly references to keep Dad or Mom amused. Collecting, crafting, and building all sounds familiar, but this package encapsulates so much of the best parts of this creative process and wraps it in light roleplaying progression and storytelling. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t a multiplayer component, because it wouldn’t have contributed to the world. So that means this is a gold-standard RPG for the non-connected gamer to flex all their cerebral muscles wherever they want it to go.