Dragon Quest Builders is a sandbox roleplaying game developed by Square Enix Business Division 5, following the Builder on his quest to quell the darkness that plagues the land of Alefgard. You are the only person with the ability to build, at least in the beginning, with your power to build you must rebuild broken towns, furnish them and create equipment to protect your land from the monsters surrounding you.
The game starts off with a look into the past, where the last Hero gave into temptation and accepted the offer of half the world from the Dragonlord. Sending the world into a spiral of decay, Alefgard lost its light and its citizens forgot how to craft items or create buildings. Jumping ahead to a boy within a crypt we are introduced to both our character, the Builder, and the goddess who watches over us, Rubiss.
Recovering from our rest, we set off for the nearest village of Cantlin, meeting survivors in this desolate worlds, one after the other. We are tasked only with rebuilding the city to its prior strength and brining enough people back to its walls in hopes that they can protect it in your absence. This task is used over and over again throughout the 4 chapters of the game, moving on to a new decayed city in hopes of restoring the light to it.
Each chapter will last you around 6 hours each, with the final game time sitting around 24 hours. Even though the chapters are pretty straightforward they contain 5 challenges each, either completing it within a time limit, completing all the side quests or finding hidden items. As you complete chapters and challenges you will also unlock new items and recipes in the Free Roam mode of Terra Incognita. With the challenges and openness to building there can be quite a bit of replayability on hand, though only for the completionists or those who love to build, as there isn’t much for random generation in this title.
Playing in a very similar manner to games like Minecraft, you will mostly be destroying the world made of blocks, recovering those blocks and placing them in your own arrangement. Collecting branches you can make oaken clubs, hammers and the like which are used to destroy harder blocks or defeat harder enemies. Besides building you also have a Health and Hunger bars which you need to keep an eye on, keeping some sort of survival aspect to this bright game.
You use the left Thumbstick to move around, X to jump or activate objects, Square to place or use your equipped item, Triangle to attack and the trigger buttons to change if you want to aim up or down. The controls feel a bit foreign at the start but quickly become second nature. As you continue further into the game you will unlock a spinning attack, cannons to fire and other items that can be used within battle, adding to the complexity at which you fight.
Building and crafting is rather simple, yet rewarding, to create a room it just needs to have a 2 block high walls, a door, light and furnishings. With each item placed within your area of light you gain exp for your Builder level, which is mostly used as a quest objective to allow you to proceed further into the story. Crafting items requires you to use a workbench or profession table, like furnaces or cook fires. You can craft blocks for building, food for eating and buffs, weapons and armour for fighting and more.
The main objective of the game is to complete the quests given to you by the villagers, mostly to build new rooms and save the villagers outside of your light. However, even though it is heavily forced against you, you are asked to fight a lot of enemies and bosses along the way. Plenty of NPCs and even the goddess say you shouldn’t fight as you are a builder and not a warrior, yet you do it anyway, going against the main theme of the game. Each chapter ends with you defeating a boss all on your own… because villagers are all but useless.
Overall thoughts and feelings
The music in Dragon Quest Builders is incredibly nostalgic, considering I am in UK I don’t have good access to DQ games in recent years. There are calm tunes with piano, horns, drums and synthesised noises for exploring, building and resting, with action packed songs for battle and bosses. Sadly the music does find it hard to loop sometimes, with quite a bit of adventuring being done in silence. The music is also a good indicator of what is going on, as it changes almost instantly if you move out of your light or enter battles, so the music never fades into the background.
The difficulty of DQB is consistent, with enemies getting harder the further away from the village you get, a good indicator of this is the way they are designed and coloured, Slimes being the weakest with Iron golems being much stronger. You collect seeds of life to increase your max hp and some of these are hidden away for those explorers, rewarding exploration in a meaningful way.
One of the major gripes I have with DQB is the story and how the NPCs interact with you. A lot of the time they dismiss your power, underestimate you and demean your actions, then suddenly change their tune when they need your help to do something. It creates a caustic atmosphere and leads you to hating the villagers. This is also prevalent in them saying you shouldn’t fight, yet asking you to fight monsters and forcing you to fight them alone for a good amount of time. Mixed signals fill this games narrative and it can be quite jarring.
Overall Dragon Quest Builders gets an 8/10, it’s a lovely calm experience, rivalling a lot of the time I spent on Minecraft. However, it lacks that certain spark that Minecraft had, either through the ability to play in multiplayer or the generation of the worlds. Each chapter has you reset to 0, hindering your progress and it feels more like a slap on the wrist then a challenge to meet in the new area. The story is pretty cliché, with some boring characters, though there are quite a few interesting ones with the Dragon Quest style like the muscle heads. I easily lost 30 hours into this game because it’s just something you can tune out to, but with a lack of cooperation it can become tedious on its own.