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Review: Dragon Quest Builders

by onOctober 24, 2016
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Let’s face it, great ideas, creative innovations, are bound to get copied, and in video game industry where some titles’ ailing and outdated mechanics take a heavy toll on them, the situation is the same. Titles come and go, some set the standard higher, some trailblazing a new path for other games to follow, a path so tempting that even long running beloved series can’t resist take a detour from the genre synonymous with their games, deviate from the pattern and foray into the newfound genre. Some; much to our surprise manage to find footing whereas others, fails miserably, for this example: Minecraft despite it’s simple design has taken the world of games by storm, had millions of gamers swoon over it, ultimately galvanizing Dragon Quest to bite into the hype and move the needle to the direction of the building and crafting gameplay style of Minecraft.

In a nutshell; Builders is Dragon Quest’s take on Minecraft, the air in Dragon Quest Builders is thick of DQ’s ineffable lure.  Make no mistake, the game have borrowed  tricks from Minecraft’s book, and it has evidently followed on the trail blazed by it, but it did not peel itself off from its unique identity as every small detail in the game screams JRPG and Dragon Quest in equal manner, from the lush, eye catching world made of blocks to the deftly animated characters modeled by the legendary Akira Toriyama, from the HP meter to the well-known and beloved progression pace of JRPGs  the developers have poured the heart and soul of Dragon Quest into every aspect of the game, making it in the process a charming mixture of RPG and building and crafting game.

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The plot of Dragon Quest Builders is simple and it revolves around rebuilding a ruined world assailed and reduced to rubbles by the minions of the dragon lord, with special power only you possess, the inhabitants of Alefgard are wringed out of the gift of building by the Dragon lord and left wandering, directionless, disoriented and squeezed out of hope. It weighs on your tiny shoulder to build the world to its former glory, given the nature of the game I haven’t been expecting a thick woven narrative anyway, a simple yet loveable story of the struggle between the power of building and the power of destruction, as you seek to build, the forces of dark unleash their onslaught to reduce your architecture to rubbles.

The mechanics of the gameplay is easy to learn and get accustomed to; you will get familiarized with almost most of the mechanics since the very first hour in the game, the disembodied voice of the spirit of the land runs you through the crucial elements of the game, lightning your way in the process and helping you understand how the functions works, the tutorial gathers the crucial pieces together in neat order what is more is that all the crucial elements of Dragon Quest Builder will be well documented for future reference, eliminating the sense of disorientation we had to cope with in Minecraft as everyone who played that game remembers.

The gameplay of Dragon Quest Builders is an addictive and charming mixture of Minecraft’s building and crafting gameplay style, tossed and sprinkled with a slew of glittering JRPG elements. You will forage for resources, smash and break through dilapidated buildings, tufts of grass, tress and all, almost every object you see in the game is breakable; the objects you break will be reduced to raw materials, can be picked up and took to the working benches scattered around the world to make new items and objects out of them. Over the course of the game you will be learning new recipes for either new objects or advanced versions of your objects. However; before you start flexing your building muscles you will make bases in predetermined areas in the game identified by a ray of light, you plant your flag there, and voila! That small area is yours, and yours alone, it is the canvas and you are the artist, although partly limited by the fact that the blueprints of certain buildings must be built to certain areas of your base, it does not take away an iota of the freedom this game offers you.

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You may say that Dragon Quest Builders resembles Minecraft, true, but remember Dark Cloud 2? Do its Georama worlds building system ring a bell? This is overlooked, I have not come across a mention about how the whole towns and bases building system, the NPCs recruiting system bear a striking resemblance to Dark Cloud 2’s Georama building system, if you have fallen head over heels to it, no doubt that you will be smitten with DQ Builders.

As much as the game adheres to Minecraft, this apple does not fall away far from the tree of JRPG, and sure it does not sway too far away that much from the norms of RPGs, the pace which RPG games strictly follow is here, you start crafting objects from clay, and improve to Blocks, Irons and so on, there is an HP meter, your base levels up, and as in the RPG games, you will not be served the dish in one single bite, the game will feed you recipes for stronger and shinier versions and upgrades of objects, of your items and equipment morsel by morsel.

There are also quests in the game, must of them are mandatory and yield you somewhat worthless rewards, it is in fact the missions you take in order to progress in the game.  You will be scratching through a checklist of quests by the NPCs, varying from building specific rooms for them, slaying monsters, searching for NPCs to recruit to expand your towns, and seeking new recipes in faraway lands, the quests are fun and never dull to tell the truth.

dragon-quest-builders-the-vgprofessional-review-1The control system is super neat and it is really easy to get familiar with, the character moves around nimbly, strikes with simple swings of his/ her sword,  the resources and materials you gather, and objects you craft are neatly lined up down the screen, although you can carry a limited amount of items/ resources with you, I have not faced any problem managing them, thanks to the storage boxes that you can access anytime however far of your base, sparing you the frustration of going back to your base in order to free some space.  You simply navigate through the items by the cursor buttons, build by the square button, control the desired level of in which you want to place your objects by the shoulder buttons as the character tilts his head to below or up, the camera is fine but it struggles when you are close to walls, the music and the soundtrack is uplifting and familiar to any Dragon Quest fans (the childish kind) the visuals are outstanding, lush and vivid 3D visuals harmoniously married with blocky visuals perfectly depicting games of yore. The graphics, the world of Dragon Quest Builders is made of blocks, the eye catching vivid art style of DQ is pervasive here, the monsters and the character models are so beautifully modelled, for the DQ fans expect a lot of familiar faces here like the slimes, the ghouls and others, staying true to its roots, there is no voice over here save for some growls of the monsters.

One of the crucial pieces of the Dragon Quest Builders’ puzzle is combat of course, although simple and lacks depth, I liked the subtle addition of attack and retreat which works in full tandem, you won’t garner experience points from the defeated monsters, but you sure gather the loots they drop. The combat is the weakest link of the game, it is obvious that this aspect had not treated equally by the developers, you won’t manage to get away unscathed from combats here, but there is no challenge whatsoever in the battles, as I can easily heal up with almost infinite stock of recovery items I have crafted from bulky stock of resources, your town’s residents and accompanying NPC’s will join the fight, and oftentimes you will be finding yourself fending off fiends assailing on your base from all fronts, a la base defend system we are so fondly acquainted with in many games.

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DQ Builders has done a great job blurring the barrier between the modern and retro games, one fine example is the digging and climbing system that instantaneously encapsulates you into a nostalgic sphere of the 8-bit games. As a good old gamer who spent the better part of his time on Nintendo Famicom’s Ice Climber, I really liked the mechanics it is extremely fun and in sometimes a game in its own right.

We have also played the PlayStation Vita version of the game; graphically speaking, the handheld version was the original version of the game (previously released only in Japan), so do not expect a downgrade from the PlayStation 4 version. On the PlayStation Vita, monsters are as well modeled and animated as the bigger console version, perfectly topped by Akira Toriyama designs, which provide a very pleasant and striking visual aspect to the game. In addition, the appearance of the world in block form conveys the feeling of being in a classic 8-bit game which was forced to become a 3D title, with each of the blocks almost like a pixel, and is very much in line with the fact being at the continuation of the first Dragon Quest.

The control scheme on the PlayStation Vita feels natural at first, with the same base as the console version, but as you get to do more complicated things such as the battles, you soon discover that the camera controls are frustrating to use. Unlike the high precision of its big brother, the Vita version lacks the precision where you want a certain block placed because of the camera control that affects where placing blocks happen.

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Ultimately; did I enjoy the game? Sure I did, what I liked about the game is that it does not force your hand into following a “predetermined” path in building, although a little bit limited you can build your towns and bases to your heart’s content. Initially; as I always do with the games that stress and enunciate the term “freedom” I have taken the freedom aspect of this game with a pinch of salt. Sadly, truth is, in some games that offer the player the freedom to approach missions, objectives and whatnot, there are concealed and invisible predetermined paths that you must follow, when I got my first blueprint that thought stroke me and wiped the smile out of my face, but thankfully as I learned new recipes and made cool new objects my doubts vanished. Granted, I would like to clear the air and stress that there are limitations to some extent, especially when the game requires you to place particular objects in particular area but it does not take away from the fact that you are free to determine the size of the buildings and which furniture you want to place it in. In this respect; the game had wistfully reminded me of Dark Cloud 2 and its unique Georama building system more than it reminded me of Minecraft, so if the building system in that classic made you sing its praises, this game will dig that memory out from deep within you, whet your appetite and subsequently sate it.

Dragon Quest Builders was reviewed using an PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita digital code of the game provided by Square Enix. The PlayStation Vita version was tested by Nazih Fares and the game is also available on PlayStation 3. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published

What we liked

• Fun, innovative game.
• The heart and soul of Dragon Quest persists here.
• Eye catching visuals.
• Cool crafting system.
• The freedom to build to your heart’s content.
• The digging and climbing system encapsulates you within the sphere of retro 8-bit games.
• Addictive gameplay appeals to both adults and kids.
• Well balanced elements of different gameplay features.

What is not fun

• Worthless quest rewards.
• Somewhat clunky camera.
• Too childish.
• The combat lacks depth.
• No EXP system.

Editor Rating
 
Concept
8.2

 
Graphics
8.8

 
Sound
8.0

 
Playability
9.0

 
Entertainment
9.0

 
Replay Value
9.0

Final Score
8.7


Our final verdict
 

Dragon Quest Builders has found a solid footing in the grounds of the extolled and well praised genre of building and crafting innovated by Minecraft. However, it is not a flat out copy of Minecraft; it is unique title, never peeled off of what made Dragon Quest games great and appealing, chalk it to the fact that the heart and soul of Akira Toriyama’s design being poured into almost every detail in the game. Dragon Quest Builders is a game that has so beautifully woven together the elements of building and crafting with JRPG elements, neatly placed, to the point that there is no element protruding out of place.

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