Once it hit me that Dragon Quest Builders was essentially a 3D remake of the first game (and technically a sequel at the same time), it blew me away. I mean, you get a sense of that from the initial 30 minutes so it’s not really a secret, but going to each classic zone bit by bit and literally watching it crescendo was something else entirely.
Square Enix truly committed to this idea, and it paid off.
Dragon Quest Builders (PS4, [reviewed], Vita [Digital-only])
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: January 28, 2016 (JP), October 11, 2016 (US)
MSRP: $39.99 (Vita) $59.99 (PS4)
The more I dived into Builders‘ story, the more I wanted to continue. I haven’t been this addicted to something in months. Square Enix managed to balance that innate sense of pride in building your own creations with the traditional thrill of JRPG exploration. If you’re up for it, you can create a utopia worthy of an official screenshot reel, or you can literally just craft a shanty town that’s good enough to get by and pass the quest requirements at their most minimal levels. You can’t screw with your inhabitants à la Sims, but they will interact with you more than the average NPC, and defend their town when needed.
And that’s a really understated aspect of Dragon Quest. Some of the options for builds include spike floors, flamethrower towers, steel gates, and other hardy materials. Rather than, say, creating tools of war by proxy with items like Redstone, Builders lets you manufacture arms to your heart’s content to decimate everyone in your path, including boss NPCs like dragons.
Because of the open-ended nature of the game, I found myself coming up with multiple ways to approach a problem. If there was a particularly rich mine, I would set up an operation right outside of it, then pack it up and move on to the next site. For the aforementioned run-ins with dragons, I’d carefully construct a miniature fortress while they were sleeping, then unleash havoc on them while taking them on directly with a newly-crafted sword.
Once you finish up the first chapter, Terra Incognita mode is unlocked, which is more akin to the free build or creation gametypes you’re probably familiar with. There’s no goal here, you’re just building to your heart’s content and occasionally venturing out into the wilderness.
Like other similar games, it’s more relaxing than anything, but I typically found myself jumping back into each chapter to build up the fortresses and communities I had already fostered (and tackling the challenges, which only make themselves known after finishing up each level). Terra Incognita has one really nice bonus though — like Animal Crossing, new citizens will occasionally come and settle down randomly.
If there’s one thing that’s really on my wishlist for the (inevitable) sequel, it’s true multiplayer. Split-screen would be hard to pull off but most definitely possible, and exploring the open world in a creation-centric game is one of my favorite pastimes with my wife. For now, you’ll have to deal with online-only leaderboard-type features, where you can share creations with each other in a limited play space. It’s a bummer, and although there is some sort of excuse for it (this entire project is kind of a gamble), the attempt to salvage this lack of a feature is halfhearted at best.
As long as that’s not solely what you’re looking for though, you can breathe easy knowing that Builders is more Dragon Quest than Minecraft. There’s a clear campaign and a sense of progression that doesn’t let up for hours on end. This is no clone.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]