New Game Review

Review – Dragon Quest Builders (Switch)

Can we fix it?

Dragon Quest Builders is a weird concept and seems like something bound to fail. How can you mix one of the most tradition turn-based JRPGs with the sandbox survival gameplay reminiscent of Minecraft? Well, turns out Square Enix managed to deliver a game I personally think it’s even better than Minecraft, as it gives you a purpose and teaches you how to constantly improve your building skills, all while also managing to implement subtle but functional action RPG mechanics in order to differ itself from its sources of inspiration. Dragon Quest Builders is actually a must-have for the Switch.

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Yo MTV, check out my crib.

First things first: yes, the gameplay is very reminiscent of Minecraft. The entire environment is comprised of voxel-esque cube assets, you need to gather resources from your surroundings in order to craft tools and build structures, day-night cycle, and small but significant survival mechanics (food, health, etc). Some elements not borrowed from Minecraft include the fact the game isn’t procedurally generated, action RPG elements that reminded me a lot of Dark Cloud and Secret of Mana, the characters not being reminiscent of the earliest days of polygonal graphics, and the fact there is an actual plot.

In fact, surprisingly enough, Dragon Quest Builder‘s plot is directly related to the original Dragon Quest released in 1986. The game’s plot revolves around restoring that game’s land of Alefgard back to glory by rebuilding everything from scratch as you are, for some reason, the only person in the world with the power to build things. While the plot is simple, it works for the most part. It also features some interesting twists, though you know I wouldn’t dare to spoil them for you!

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I got mercilessly punched two seconds later.

The fact the game isn’t an endless sandbox is actually a big plus. People will constantly ask for you to build specific types of houses and rooms, giving you a sense of purpose and achievement once you finish building them up. This is one of the reasons I loved Subnautica, for instance: it gives you objectives, but it also gives you enough freedom to tackle them the way you want to. Not only does the game feature building mechanics, but it also features a lot of action RPG tropes. The combat is reminiscent of a simplified Zelda / Secret of Mana. There are lots of hidden dungeons and sidequests. There are boss battles which feature actual strategies in order for you to proceed. It’s a great mixture between what people like from RPGs and what people like from sandboxes. This is no Metal Gear Survive: the survival and building mechanics actually make sense. There is also a sandbox mode in case you’re here just for the senseless building, by the way.

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Walking through the Wicked Woods of the West.

The game’s artistic department is slightly simplistic but I can’t deny its charm. The environment looks like an improved Minecraft but characters and enemies look like actual characters and enemies. It retains a certain Playstation 2-esque charm. The sound design is also pretty good. The soundtrack is pure fanservice: from the title screen to all the songs being played throughout the levels, it’s all a huge collection of memorable Dragon Quest tunes that’ll hit you like a nostalgic meteorite. There is no voice acting at all, though.

While the game is, without a doubt, very good, I won’t deny the fact that there are some issues, mostly centered around the gameplay. The lack of a first-person view is my main gripe with this game, as trying to center the camera around your character while inside a building or a cave is a bigger chore than it should ever be. Another slight nuisance is something I’ve also noticed on the Switch port of Skyrim: the game is blind-inducing dark when playing on handheld mode, especially when you’re inside a cave or trying to venture at night. I ended up forcing my character to go to bed at sunset and basically play throughout the entire game during daytime.

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A good architect, I am not.

Dragon Quest Builders is a fine balance between freedom of exploration and an actually decent plot you need to follow. Building entire cities with a very legitimate coat of paint is incredibly entertaining, exploring every single cave and secret area in order to find valuable items and recipes feels very rewarding, and the story itself isn’t bad at all, especially given how it ties directly to the original Dragon Quest game. Fear not, my fellow readers: this is no opportunistic cash grab, this is a very good sandbox game that will please both Dragon Quest and Minecraft fans.

Graphics: 6.5

It performs nicely, and the super deformed visuals are quite cute, but the game does end up having a somewhat simplistic art style.

Gameplay: 8.0

The best control scheme and building mechanics you could ever have without a mouse and keyboard. The camera is quite wonky and the lack of a first-person perspective is a nuisance.

Sound: 8.0

A fine collection of classic Dragon Quest tunes, some chiptune sound effects, and no voice acting whatsoever.

Fun Factor: 9.0

A perfect balance between free building, rewarding exploration, and an actual plot you need to follow. The creative mode is equally entertaining.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Also available on: PS4, PS Vita

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About Leo Faria

Founder and mastermind behind Way Too Many Games, hailing from the southern swag that is São Paulo, a Sega widower who considers the Dreamcast to be the greatest console ever released, the greatest Guitar Hero and Tetris player you’ll ever meet. My favorite games include Perfect Dark, Banjo-Tooie, the Guitar Hero series, Bioshock Infinite and Star Wars Rogue Squadron II. I also own an Ouya. Never turned it on.

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