One of the first games I ever “professionally” reviewed was Terraria, a classic building/adventure game that remains popular to this day. That review taught me a little about the audience I was writing for because people got unduly upset that I referred to the game as a “Minecraft clone.” I mean, it totally is, that’s not even a bad thing! Silly pedantry aside, I’ve been playing Dragon Quest Builders. Like Terraria, it’s a Minecraft clone, and a damn good one at that.
In Dragon Quest Builders you do not, in fact, control a legendary hero who’s going to find allies and work to save the world from the vile machinations of the Dragonlord! No, the Dragonlord’s already won. The world’s been torn asunder and the people who used to live happy, sheltered lives have been cast out to wander the world as nomads. It’s not like they can rebuild, after all; the ability to create has been taken from them.
That’s where you come in. You’re the Builder, male or female per your taste, and you’re the last human being with any creative potential. Your ability to take raw materials and make something new from them is unique amongst humanity…but it doesn’t have to stay that way. The Builder is able to create new settlements and attract others to join them, and in turn those newcomers can also be inspired to create. In this way, the Builder is tasked with reconstructing the world.
It’s a cute setup that provides a look at how Builders toys with the Minecraft formula. Unlike most building games, Builders gives you a purpose for your work and offers a degree of structured gameplay. In each of the game’s four areas, you’re working to rebuild part of civilization; you’ll attract new residents by building a place they want to live, then work with them to make that place even better. You might want to stick around to complete side quests and fully explore the area, but when you’re done, you’ll move on to the next (though you can return to completed areas if you wish.) This will technically entail starting over, but since each area offers a different “tech tree,” they all feel different and it’s always a delight to see what they have to offer.
Construction works a lot like it does in every game that wants to be Minecraft; you’ll run around punching blocks and killing monsters to get raw materials, turn those into tools so you can punch better blocks, then use even more blocks to build structures. Unlike Minecraft, though, Builders recognizes the work you’re doing to, say, build a house; if you construct the house according to specifications that the game tells you, then the game will designate it as an actual house and NPCs will move in to live there. The same goes for workshops, labs and so on, allowing you to create a fully functioning settlement that your NPC followers will actually inhabit and use.
It’s a neat concept; Terraria did something similar, but there it’s more of a cute side activity while here it’s the focus of the game. In fact, instead of gaining experience points by slaying monsters, you level up by improving your base! Builders places bounds on your creativity by giving you quests to perform and quotas to fill, but at the same time it rewards you for working within those constraints in a way that Minecraft doesn’t. If you’d prefer just exercising your left brain and building the whole world as you see fit, then Builders has a freeform mode for you to dive into as well, but personally I enjoyed the concept of an actual honest-to-god RPG that uses these mechanics.
The importance of creating new things to progress through the story, upgrade your character and improve your base provides much of the draw to continue playing Dragon Quest Builders. Each time you go out to explore, you might find a new material, and who knows what you could make from it? Some of your material collection occurs through combat with classic Dragon Quest monsters, which is mostly simple: whack them until they’re dead, heal if you get too hurt, make sure you eat so the hunger meter doesn’t run out. Sometimes the monsters will even go after your base, in which case you’ll need to work with your NPCs to hold them off, and each area also features a creative and exciting boss to battle.
You’ve seen screenshots of Builders, of course, so you know that it combines the block-based graphics we’ve come to associate with Minecraft and the Dragon Quest franchise’s unique cartoon style (thanks to the magic of Akira Toriyama). The two aesthetics mesh well together; Dragon Quest uses simple, clean concepts that lend themselves well to Minecraft’s low-fi blocks. That’s not to say the game isn’t graphically impressive by any means; players who put the work in can create some truly beautiful settlements on par with any RPG. Naturally, a lot of the fun of Builders comes from the presence of classic Dragon Quest baddies, and the game also makes great use of recognizable music and sound effects as well.
The only real complaint I had with the game was the camera, which has huge problems dealing with enclosed spaces (like, say, the buildings you’re working on) and will slam itself straight into your character’s butt instead of doing anything useful.
Long-time slime fans should absolutely check out Dragon Quest Builders, even if they’re a little hesitant toward the game’s odd concept. Minecraft fans will also love the title. Frankly, this is one of those games I think anyone would do well to at least try; imagine my surprise when I couldn’t pry my significant other away from the game, thanks to its similarities to the building portions of The Sims! Square Enix went in an unusual direction when they decided to create a Dragon Quest-based Minecraft clone, but it’s a gamble that seems to have paid off.