Dragon Quest Builders Review – Slimecraft

Square Enix delivers a Minecraft/Dragon Quest hybrid with astonishingly pleasant results.

01

Developer: Square Enix Business Division 5
Publisher: Square Enix
Format: PS3, PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita
Released: October 11, 2016
Copy purchased

It’s Minecraft and Dragon Quest.

That seems reductive, but it’s the best description of Dragon Quest Builders you could hope to see. Imagine Minecraft and then throw a load of Dragon Quest stuff into it – you’ve just imagined Dragon Quest Builders, the hot new game from Square Enix!

Explore the world, smash the environment apart and fight monsters to get materials, use the things you find to craft items, use those items to create whatever you feel like – Square Enix has thoroughly plundered Minecraft like so many “me too” indie games trying desperately to get through Steam Greenlight by chomping Mojang’s flavor.

There’s one major difference between this effort and all the other wannabes however – Dragon Quest Builders is really, really good.

Part of what makes Builders stand out – and far more personally entertaining than Minecraft – is how is adds some structure and story to the concept. Playing through DQB‘s campaign chapters, you’ll never be short of specific objectives that introduce you to core concepts in a digestible fashion.

Most crafting games present very little guidance – if any – allowing players a great deal of freedom in how they interact with the world. This can be liberating, but I often find myself wandering aimless, desperately poking around and trying to make my own fun. Truth is, I’m just not the kind of person who gets pleasure from constructing sprawling towns and ornate buildings simply for the sake of doing it.

Of course, I hold no grudge against those who do, and I’m routinely impressed by the amazing things people build. I just can’t enjoy it, myself.

02

The sense of purpose in Builders keeps me invested far more than any similar game. As the legendary Builder – a person capable of creating things in a world where humans have forgotten how – players are tasked with rebuilding fallen cities to their former glory, meeting and enlisting new NPCs as citizens with each significant growth.

These NPCs will bring with them new missions, often asking the player to find materials and construct previously unseen things. As the Builder claims materials for the first time, they’ll unlock recipes for fresh creations, learning to fashion a variety of walls, doors, weapons, crafting stations, edible dishes, and more.

Rooms within the city are built by laying down walls at least two blocks high, then adding both a door and a light source such as torch or sconce.  From there, rooms can become more specific by laying down key objects – a forge will turn it into a smithy, a cookfire will create a kitchen, a mattress will give you a bedroom, etcetera.

Beyond that, rooms can be upgraded by placing complimentary items in them, and enhanced with various decorations such as flowers, chairs, and dolls. Every time an item’s placed in a room they grant points, and when enough points are accrued, the overall base goes up a level.

I’ve had so much more fun building things in Dragon Quest Builders because everything I create inherently means much more. The residents of my city will use the facilities, they’ll surround me and applaud whenever I’ve completed a major task, and everything’s being constructed with an end goal in mind.

Defending the perimeter of one’s base is also an essential component, with traps and barricades helping fend off the monster attacks that appear as wave-based missions throughout each campaign chapter.

Survival is a key aspect of the game, as one might expect, with a hunger meter and a need to find shelter at night lest the nocturnal monsters prove too dangerous. Square Enix wisely kept the survival demands light – it takes a long time to starve, and food is plentiful enough to mean one never feels too discouraged from exploring.

Dragon Quest Builders is one of the few “survival crafting” games to not constantly harass the player with needs and limitations, placing player enjoyment above the sleeve-tugging commonly found in games that throw hunger, thirst, diseases, and more at their audience.

03

The only major letdown is how progress resets from chapter to chapter, with the Builder arbitrarily “forgetting” all recipes and losing any equipment whenever a chapter is completed and they move to the next locale. It’s hard to get back into the game when you’ve spent so much time crafting cool armor and making nice things, only to begin anew from scratch.

Combat is also a pain in the arse to deal with, mostly because I expect better from a game with the Dragon Quest name attached. The monsters encountered throughout the land are dealt with in basic hack n’ slash battles where taking damage is almost a given. It’s mindless, and leaves little room for technique.

Even worse, enemies do contact damage like it’s the bloody 1980s, and the player character’s attack range is pitiful. Simply moving close enough to land a blow can cause the Builder to stagger and take an insultingly small amount of damage just for touching the target.

Upon completion of the first chapter, a sandbox mode called Terra Incognita unlocks, providing all the freeform gameplay of Minecraft should anybody require it. This is where you may build things to last, and even upload them for the enjoyment of other players.

There’ll be no handholding as players are expected to make their own way, using everything they learned in the campaign’s first chapter to succeed.

Unique items and gladiatorial combat against monster hordes can be enjoyed in Terra Incognita, with more stuff added when new campaign chapters are concluded. I imagine many players will be able to spend hours upon hours with this mode, though personally it leaves me feeling disconnected and listless as Minecraft and its ilk typically does.

I’m all about that campaign, even if it does have the same problem old Bullfrog games had – that sense of sorrow in completing the final objective and saying goodbye to the theme park/hospital/dungeon I’ve lovingly, methodically created if I want to move things along.

04

Dragon Quest‘s classic aesthetic lends a naturally endearing flavor to Builders with familiar character designs from Akira Toriyama and iconic music from Nanking massacre denier Koichi Sugiyama. Though the world itself has a “blocky” look reminiscent of the game from which it takes its major cues, textures and flora are detailed and colorful to bring it in line with the RPG series’ artistic direction.

There are some problems with the in-game camera, specifically when navigating anything that has an interior. By default, rooms do not have nor require ceilings, allowing one to maintain a birdseye view of the action. If one does opt for roofs or enters any covered space, they’ll need to push the camera around to see what’s happening.

For the most part, the game works well with a third-person character, but there are times where being able to switch to first-person would be nice.

[Edit: There is a first-person look mode, activated by clicking the right stick. At least on home consoles, anyway.]

I realize I’ve brought up Minecraft a lot in this review, but it’s impossible not to constantly compare it to the game that made Notch a billionaire since the inspiration isn’t even vaguely hidden. Ultimately, though, I have to confess I find Builders to be the better game, the more rewarding experience, and ultimately a superior production.

With the humor and silliness of Dragon Quest, a series of goals to keep players compelled, as well as the introduction of form and meaning in that everso popular survival crafting gameplay, Builders escapes being the cynical reskin it may at first glance appear to be. On the contrary, it evidences more love and care than could be expected.

05

Square Enix wanted more than justMinecraft clone with Dragon Quest art. It is a Minecraft clone with Dragon Quest art, most definitely, but it’s also got a little extra magic all its own.

Now if you’ll excuse me, these spikes won’t surround my obsidian walls by themselves.

8/10
Great

ChaostheDude
Guest
ChaostheDude

Ooh, Minecraft with objectives… Fun idea too bad I’m getting it later…

Trouble Man
Guest
Trouble Man

Crap, now I’m interested in playing a Square Enix mineclone. I do love me some “world restoration sims,” but nothing lately has really scratched my ActRaiser itch.

Talking of which, does anyone know any good Minecraft mods that fill that niche?

Will Bertazzo
Guest
Will Bertazzo

I really wish I had this back when I was a kid with enough free time to actually enjoy building games like minecraft.

Nathan Hull-Crew
Guest
Nathan Hull-Crew

Hey Jim, just a quick heads up here, you might want to readjust your Format and Tags sections. The PS3 version is Japan only, us filthy gaijin apparently only get the Pisspoor and Vita versions.

adampoole
Guest
adampoole

i’ve only played the demo and i really like it.. i like minecraft on my ps4, but the fact that the game is more the just another minecraft clone is a great thing

Trofimos Psyxiatreiou
Guest

Damn. They need to port this to PC… Come on Squareenix… Port it to Steam. Please, pretty please…

michael bailey
Guest

59.99 …when did games…get so expensive :/

Austin_sj
Guest
Austin_sj

I thought this was a DS game for some reason. I sort of enjoyed minecraft but felt it had little to hook me in, so maybe this will be a good alternative.

Stormbringer
Guest

“Nanking massacre denier Koichi Sugiyama.”

Terriosaurus Hex
Guest
Terriosaurus Hex

But it costs sooooooo bloody much. I agree that Minecraft was not engaging, but Terraria did what Minecraft wouldn’t. Yet here, I don’t know dragon quest (is that a popular IP? It’s the first I’m sure I’ve heard of it…but it isnt a particularly standout name anyway), Minecraft isn’t that appealing, though still at most a tenner…yet this game is asking full AAA price?? With Terraria, who is this aimed towards?

Local Content
Guest

“As the legendary Builder – a person capable of creating things in a world where humans have forgotten how – players are tasked with rebuilding fallen cities to their former glory” Holy shit, it’s just current gen Mysims from the Wii, that game was excellent.

Michael Alexander Seiler
Guest
Michael Alexander Seiler

So basically this Minecraft if Notch had put any thought or ideas into his game.

aimei66
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aimei66

I totally agree with this review. The games great, but the combat is simple to the point of being frustrating at times; losing health for getting too close when you need to be almost too close to hit stuff feels like there is more luck than skill in not losing health. I also find the ‘back to the start’ deal with each chapter can feel a bit of a kick to the teeth, even if they do use it to inject new stories and game mechanics.

Brodie Jones
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Brodie Jones

Reading about this leaves me yearning for a new Dark Cloud game.

John Rodriguez
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John Rodriguez

It should be noted the PS VIta doesn’t have a first person camera

PowerSerg
Guest

I’m gonna have to keep my eyes out for this one, Maybe it will come to the Switch

Wolfie
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Wolfie

I really hope this gets ported to PC, because I think I’d really enjoy it, yet I do not have any consoles aside from the last one being a Wii.

mrhair
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mrhair

Oh man, I want it. But with the Dragon Quest VII remake out, I don’t know when I’ll find the time to play it…

Shiavui
Guest
Shiavui

I think the problem with people not knowing what it is comes down to marketing. You would be surprised (maybe not) by how many people do not know what Dragon Quest is. They have no idea what the game is about either as a result.

I haven’t seen this game marketed at all in the UK.

I definitely love the game, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to support Square Enix.

Polishfury5000
Guest
Polishfury5000

I like how different and inventive squenix has been with DQ lately. I really enjoyed DQ Warriors last year, and I’m excited to try this out too.

It is odd too, Squenix will get weird about all their other properties, and pack them with anti-consumer shit, but DQ has just always been solidly handled.

Cameron Ward
Guest
Cameron Ward

Yeah i agree. it’s such a good game and while i do wish the hunger meter was taken out, i do agree that the game isn’t pestering you every few minutes in terms of survival.

I do wish they let you keep your items and such since once you get into the third world, food becomes very scarce until you get the fishing rod…..

British Gamer
Guest
British Gamer

This is absolutely my favourite game right now, but I’m streaming it and a lot of my viewers, Minecraft players mostly, have either never heard of it, don’t know what it really is, or have big misconceptions. It’s a shame, because I’m having so much fun but I can’t see it doing well. It reminds me a lot of the first Dragon Quest Monsters which managed to borrow the Pokemon format really well too. Nice review, Jim.

MrWeavile
Guest
MrWeavile

I can’t say I agree with you on this. The movement and animations immediately conveyed a sense of cheapness and rushed development. Obviously the animations are aesthetic only, but when I’m walking side to side and my character’s walking forwards in his animation, it really feels cheap. The movement itself feels very shoddy and basic. There’s no weight of feel to the character, they just go where the stick’s pointed which does sound quite ridiculous, but makes a lot of difference when I play a game. Even if the characters had some form of sway to them, it’d make the… Read more »

Michiel Roelants
Guest
Michiel Roelants

Pretty much agree with all you said. It’s a wonderful world to explore and that sense of given direction adds tremendously to the overall experience. Combat could be a lot better though and starting from scratch(even though you don’t lose all your recipes) is a bit cumbersome.

goodbyejojo
Guest
goodbyejojo

every time you write “pleasure”, i read it in the voice of that guy from hellraiser who asks:

“what is your pleasure sir?”

ehem, i also like this game, despite having no interest in minecraft and alike.