Dragon Quest Builders is sort of made for the Switch. It’s blocky, pixellated aesthetic perfectly suits the Switch’s visual power and helps to impress even when in handheld mode.
The bright and colourful visuals, jaunty music and simple yet deep gameplay could have even come from Nintendo itself.
Instead, Dragon Quest Builders comes to us courtesy of Square Enix. The veteran developer has taken elements from classic JRPGs, roguelikes and Minecraft and created one of the best, most relaxing and rewarding games in ages.
Where Minecraft rewards and encourages broad creativity, it lacks direction. There’s no hook for many players in Minecraft, but Dragon Quest Builders has no such quandary.
Roguelikes tend to be punishing experiences, better suited to the masochistic. Dragon Quest Builders can be challenging, but nothing is permanent. No roadblock will stump you for too long, nor will any death or mistake punish you too greatly.
It pares back the more brutally unforgiving elements of both roguelikes and Minecraft and instead creates a welcoming experience. I felt myself wanting to experiment, craft and try to find new recipes and buildings.
Thankfully, Dragon Quest Builders has a robust and perfectly calibrated learning curve and tutorial system. It helps you create, play and explore at just the right pace.
Chop Chop, Dig Dig
At its core, Dragon Quest Builders tasks players with collecting materials and ingredients and turning them into items and objects used for creating and building. The more you create and build the further you can explore. The further you explore the more materials you’ll find and the more you’ll be able to build and create. And on and on it goes.
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The basics involve collecting branches, grass, clay and wood but as you progress you’ll find more exotic materials like gold, rubies, iron and silver. Each and everything you find can and will be used throughout each of the chapters in Dragon Quest Builders. These chapters take place in different regions of the world that have all been afflicted by different problems caused by monsters.
As the prophecised Builder, your player character needs to create a village, solve the region’s problems and learn more and more recipes. Interestingly, the same or similar items will require different ingredients depending which region you’re in. This is likely due to there being different materials in each region and no two regions are exactly alike.
What Can you Build?
Construction starts off simply enough in Dragon Quest Builders. You’ll learn how to build a bedroom, a kitchen, workshop and the like. As the item you can create become more complex, so to do the rooms. You may only be able to build a small, grubby bedroom at first, eventually, you’ll be able to build a glorious room with ensuite.
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The rooms aren’t just for show either. Special rooms will grant status changes such as additional HP, better-crafted items and access to new and improved items.
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One issue I did have with Dragon Quest Builders was that no matter how much effort I put into my town, I knew I’d be saying goodbye, come the end of the chapter. That and the bosses would always manage to destroy most of my hard work. That being said, it never diminished my excitement at starting all over again at the beginning of each chapter.
Each time you start a new chapter you lose all of your created items and the harshest loss of all is the Colossal Coffer. This magic chest allows you to store a huge number of items that you can access anywhere, anytime. It was almost my first goal regardless of the quests I had in front of me.
Questing for Construction
The many NPCs found throughout the game’s story mode will give you a litany of quests. For the most part, they’re standard fetch quests, but they work because on your way, you’ll explore a new area, find new items and ingredients and generally keep progressing. Quests lend an air of purpose to everything that’s happening.
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Instead of aimlessly wandering, acquiring items and creating with no set goals, Dragon Quest Builders puts you on a path. It tells you what you need to do and it gives you the tools to do it. There’s still an enormous amount of freedom to be had. You can build your towns however you like and you can fill them with whatever rooms, items and decorations you like.
Really, Dragon Quest Builders is an open toolbox that you’ll never want to close. There’s a certain rewarding joy to be had in crafting your own perfect little town filled with chibi folk, all ready and willing to help you complete your quests. There’s not really anything like Dragon Quest Builders on Switch. Sure, you can play Minecraft, but it doesn’t come close to Dragon Quest Builders rewarding gameplay loop, creative hooks and sometimes hilarious NPC dialogue.
Dragon Quest Builders is truly unique and is definitely a worthwhile experience. Despite being available for PlayStation for over a year it’s still hugely playable on Switch, especially if you’ve not played it before. Dragon Quest Builders is highly recommended, so do yourself a favour and get building.
Dragon Quest Builders was reviewed using a digital code provided to Powerup! by Nintendo Australia.
Game Title: Dragon Quest Builders
Game Description: Dragon Quest Builders is a sandbox action role-playing game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo Switch
Minecraft with a story - 8/10
Fun experimenting with crafting and building - 7/10
Does get a bit repetitive - 6/10