Quick, someone tell me what year it is?! That is how I feel coming down from Dragon Quest Builders, the latest game to look at how much money Minecraft has made and said; yeah, that would be nice. I haven’t played any of the previous Dragon Quest games, but I don’t think that made the slightest bit of difference to my enjoyment of this game as they seem to be only tangentially related. This is a role-playing building game, and a wonderful, glorious time sink.
I actually didn’t really want to write this review because I didn’t want to have to think critically about this game, I wanted to be happy just enjoying the heck out of it. Alas, I must criticise Dragon Quest Builders as while it is wonderful, it is definitely not flawless. My biggest problems are pretty easily fixed, though. In particular, the awful sound design. The music itself is beautiful, but endlessly repeated, so this can grate on your last nerve almost immediately. Not to mention, an incessant beeping when your health is low, along with the same repeated *whack* noises every time you collect resources or attack something, which is always. I ended up just turning down the volume low and playing better music or just a better soundtrack – your mileage may vary.
The controls also threw me for a loop, I’m not sure if they were carrying on from previous games, but we all know jump is not circle! There was some slight fiddliness with exact placement of blocks sometimes, and the game isn’t super helpful on spelling out the easiest way to do these things (I advise checking out the controls in the menu). Once you know the tricks, however, building is pretty seamless and simple to execute. Camera position, on the other hand – that’s a little harder. Going inside buildings is pretty difficult for the camera to do, so you need to move it from below and it will snap into position. Similarly, when mining deep underground, the camera zooms right behind your head and navigating becomes ridiculous from there.
These are both pretty minor complaints and do not affect my ability to recommend this game in the slightest. I’ve heard a lot of people say this is a Minecraft clone, and I assumed that on first glance at the art style myself, but this is unfair to say. The actual crafting system is very different – a lot more limited in many aspects, but I think that is an attribute of Dragon Quest Builders. Having the overarching story and quests, blueprints, and a direction to head in makes it feel more worthwhile. You generally know what the next task is that you are striving for and it made me play late, late… late late late into the night.
Dragon Quest Builder’s narrative is interesting, too. I’m not sure if there were any easter eggs peppered in the story from the previous instalments (I’d assume so), but I enjoyed it all the same. It’s your standard, “you’re our only hope!” hero fare, where you are the “Legendary Builder” as all other humans have lost the ability to build. Which includes being able to cook food or collect water, I guess? They sort of address this by one guy eating air, but… just don’t think about it too hard. There were also some genuinely touching moments, though – I don’t want to spoil anything, but when I completed the first chapter, I felt genuine sadness and didn’t want to move forward.
However, move forward you must, because there is so much to do here! That is one of the best parts of Dragon Quest Builders, in my opinion. There are a couple of different games here, depending on how you like to play. There is the Terra Incognita mode, which is free play á la Minecraft that you unlock as you play through the main story. You can create and share with others, as well as tackle additional challenges and even a wave mode. There is the actual main story, and within that you can be a Builder that does the bare minimum construction wise and focus on questing and moving through the story. You can do what I did, though, and spend large amounts of resources on time making the prettiest looking base ever! And even combing through areas and trying to get everything you can out of each chapter. At the end when they tell you the challenges you missed, there is always something that you can go back to. I love the different save files for each island so you can go back to anything you didn’t feel like you completed – fuelling the inner-completionist in me.
Each chapter and island have a different focus. Some emphasise building structures and weapons, some focus on combat, others resource management and gathering, so the game always stays fresh and interesting. I was always surprised when something new was waved in front of me, like a red flag daring me to stay up until 5 am on a work night. I can be absorbed for hours in games like Minecraft and Stardew Valley, and Dragon Quest Builders managed to pull that lever in me spectacularly. Maybe even better than most. I really enjoyed myself, and having an end point just made it feel like an accomplishment and not a time waster.
Dragon Quest Builders won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. If you take one look at the trailer and think it’s not for you, it’s probably not. However, for everyone else, if you think that it looks even a little bit fun – it is. It definitely is, and it’s worth your money. It has the best bits of Minecraft with a lot of the chaff cut out, and quite a cool RPG mix tossed in there as well. None of my issues are deal breakers, so bust out your console’s Spotify, add the Sneaky Zebra playlist, and enjoy. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Fiancé Note: Hi, my name’s Blade – you may remember me from such reviews as Overwatch and Emily is Away. While Dragon Quest Builders definitely made me balk at first glance due to it just not being my jam, I can 100% confirm that there were a number of late nights and late rises for Jayde during this review. So congratulations Square Enix, you managed to take hours of my bride-to-be’s life, and with this glowing recommendation – probably tens of dollars of player’s money!