Also available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita
Imagine, if you will, Minecraft but a version of Minecraft that isn't totally pointless. Now imagine Dragon Quest but a version of Dragon Quest that lets you build a town and craft your own weapons and armor. That's Dragon Quest Builders. Take Minecraft, make it not look like shit, and add in a reason to play for more than twenty minutes. Boom. Dragon Quest Builders.
Your journey to rebuild the world begins in a quaint little....well, it's not a town, but the ruins of a quaint little town where you build your first house. In this world, houses don't need roofs. Just stack some dirt about six feet high, throw a door and a burning stick in there, and hooray, it's a house - construction standards almost as low as the 1980s. Let me expand a bit on my earlier Minecraft comparison. The construction part - 75% or so of the gameplay - is almost exactly like Minecraft. You punch the ground to get dirt and build shit. The difference between Builders and Minecraft, however, is that there's actually a purpose to Builders. "Oh, but there's the Ender Dragon to beat!" Yeah, shut up, nerd, that's totally optional and wasn't even in the original build. Minecraft is cool, but it's ultimately pointless IMO. Builders gives you an objective, quests, and a long-term goal to achieve. Minecraft gives you misshapen green pigs that hiss and explode. Woopdie-fucking-doo.
I said building is about 75% of the gameplay. What's the other 25%? Well, this is still a Dragon Quest game; you still hit shit with your sword until it dies. And yes, I know Minecraft has combat, but again, it's totally just a side thing that barely even serves a purpose. You literally cannot progress in Dragon Quest without combat. You have waves of enemies to repel, bosses to kill, drops to farm, dragons to kill with giant cannons that blast holes in the floor and trap said dragon just out of his fire breath range. In all seriousness, the combat is very similar to Minecraft. It's not NEARLY as awkward and clunky, but at its core, it's basically the same sort of deal. One thing to note is that this is NOT an RPG. You do not gain experience, your stats do not to up except by making better equipment, and you cannot grind. The only "experience" is gained by your base for building more and better rooms, and the only thing that affects is a few quests and some extra unlockables at the end of each chapter.
The story is fairly simple. It's an alternate universe branching off from the first Dragon Quest. When the hero gets to the Dragonlord in the first game, he's presented with a choice to side with him or stick with your plan to kill him and save the world. In the actual game, it doesn't matter what you pick; you always save the world. Builders takes place several hundred years after this fateful encounter when the hero chooses to join the Dragonlord, ensuring that the world will be plunged into darkness. To prevent humanity from being able to resist him, the Dragonlord takes from humans their ability to build and create. They can have ideas, but some bullshit plot device magic keeps them from actually making anything. I guess they just graze on all fours like cattle since they can't even do so much as cook since that counts as creating.
Along comes the legendary Builder, sent by the goddess to restore light to various parts of the world and teach humans how to build again, laying the foundations for the hero who will eventually destroy the Dragonlord (and not fuck it up this time). You are not that hero. That's made very clear. Like two dozen times. You know when someone tells you that you're NOT supposed to do something over and over and over again at seemingly random times and they're really trying to get you to do that thing? Yeah, that's basically your interactions with the goddess throughout this entire game. I mean, did anyone really expect to play a Dragon Quest game and NOT kill some horrible tyrant monster and save the world?
The game is broken into four chapters, each in a different part of the realm. Each chapter is a self-contained unit. Your items do not carry over. Your equipment does not carry over. The recipes you learned do not carry over. You HP boosts - the only "stat" in the game that isn't dependent on equipment - does not carry over. Nothing you built or did carries over. Here's where I started to take issue with the game. On the one hand, these are perfect "stopping points" if you want to take a break. Other than "kill Dragonlord, save world," there's no plot that you need to remember because each chapter is its own quest. Every chapter has a "main" villain you must defeat to restore light to that part of the world, and every chapter has its own cast of characters with side quests for you to do that lead up to that main showdown. On the other hand, even if you try to rush through, you'll inevitably spend enough time building up a great base that you're loath to just abandon everything and start over with literally nothing but the clothes on your back. I've seen people online say that it's great for keeping the game fresh, but it really burned me, and that one aspect made the game wear out its welcome REALLY quickly. By the end of chapter 2, I was ready to call it quits, but I really wanted to finish it, especially since you unlock stuff for the free mode by completing each chapter as well as various optional challenges in each chapter.
Now for those of you who say "BUT I LIKE SPENDING DOZENS OF HOURS ON A POINTLESS GAME LIKE MINECRAFT WITH NO OBJECTIVE OR STORYLINE WHATSOEVER," Dragon Quest Builders has you covered, but you'll have to put on your big boy/girl britches and actually play a real game first. Builders has a mode called Terra Incognita which is essentially your free build mode like Minecraft. The catch is that you don't unlock it until you finish Chapter 1, and you have to finish the other chapters to unlock more islands to visit (which means more resources) and more recipes to build in Terra Incognita. Being burnt out on the game, I won't be visiting Terra Incognita for a while, but because I think Dragon Quest Builders is a superior game to Minecraft in every way (well, except one), I'll definitely revisit the game at some point for some free stress relief building. That one single way Minecraft wins out? Multiplayer. You can upload certain parts of your creations in Terra Incognita to an online server and download other people's creations, but there's not true multiplayer. You can't enter each others worlds online and build, and there's no local multiplayer whatsoever. That's really the only way this game is inferior to Minecraft. Square Enix has said that they're considering adding in local and/or online multiplayer should they decide to make a Dragon Quest Builders II, and that would make it better than Minecraft in LITERALLY every way, but until then, only 99% of the game is better. #Fuckthe1%
All in all, Dragon Quest Builders is a great game. The storyline, while nothing you won't be able to piece together from the first five minutes, gives the game a purpose, and the options and relative freedom to build let you make this Dragon Quest really feel personalized. Having each room and its decorations add to your base's points and overall level gives you an incentive to expand and spruce up instead of just "LET'S MAKE A SLAVE SHIP WITH 30 BEDS SO WE CAN ALL SLEEP AND CATCH PLAGUE." The combat is definitely not the game's strong point, but once you get a feel for the timing of enemy attack and get used to the necessary hit-and-run tactics, it's totally doable and not a pain or anything. It does, admittedly, get REALLY old having to restart from nothing every chapter, and that was such a detriment in my eyes that I really struggled with what rating to give this game. I don't do half points, but I was really torn between a 3 and a 4, but in the end, I decided to err on the side of a higher score because the Terra Incognita does do something to make up for that aspect. If you're into "creation" games, I definitely recommend this, but if you don't like those games, pass on this even unless you're Dragon Quest superfan #1 or something.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.