Game Title: Dragon Quest Builders
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 256 MB
Asia Availability: Retail (English Subtitles)
NA Availability: Digital Download
EU Availability: Digital Download
Dragon Quest has been doing a bit of experimentation, lately. The Nintendo side of things, Square Enix is releasing remakes of the main Dragon Quest series, such as the recently-reviewed Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten past. On the PlayStation side, the series is experimenting with new types of genres with a number of other developers being pulled in and working on new games.
This started by coming in with Koei Tecmo with Dragon Quest Heroes and Heroes 2. These were a mashup of Dragon Quest and the Musou genre, bringing inspiration from Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. The series really translated well, from what I played of the Heroes 2 demo on my PSTV, so it makes sense they’d try to experiment further.
That brings us to today’s review. Recently released on both the PS Vita and PS4, Square Enix has released a game that melds Dragon Quest with Minecraft. A surprising meld of games, here is my review of Dragon Quest Builders!
Builders takes place after the events of the first Dragon Quest. The Dragonlord brought ruin and darkness to the world, spreading sickness, armies of monsters, and removed mankind’s ability to build. Without being able to build new things, the species quickly sunk down and became one constantly fighting for survival.
The Goddess of the Land responds to this by awakening the Builder, a magical being told in Legend that is meant to restore mankind’s ability to build and purge the darkness from the world. As the Builder, you explore all corners of the world, befriending humans, teaching them how to build, and restoring the light that once shined upon the realm.
The story of Builders is pretty nice in that it’s part of the series canon, but it also doesn’t require you to have knowledge of the previous games to play. Yes, the opening scenes are remade versions of the ending of the first Dragon Quest, but they don’t have an immense impact on how well you understand what’s going on.
The other aspect I enjoy is that the story constantly changes between chapters. You go through 4 chapters and 4 different areas of the world, and each one’s focus is different. You go from learning about a city’s destruction and building up the city anew in Chapter 1, while in Chapter 2, you focus less on rebuilding cities and more on rescuing victims of a plague and cure them of it in an effort to get rid of the sickness in that part of the world.
Dragon Quest Builders is a 3D Platformer Survival game with RPG elements thrown into the mix. Like Minecraft, you will be collecting materials and building all manner of objects, cooking food to keep you from starving, as well as a manner of RPG elements, which I’ll explain in just a moment.
Main progression is done through Quests. The point of each Chapter of the game is to build your base/town up to attract people to live in your town. Once you get people there, they’ll give you requests for a manner of items based on materials you can collect. It may be a new building, food for them to eat, or new weapon types. Doing quests will unlock more quests and lead you towards upgrading your base.
Collecting materials is similar to how it works in Minecraft. You craft tools that let you mine materials, from dirt and stone to iron, silver, and even water itself. The better your tools, the more types of materials you can mine. However, you can also craft weapons. Unlike Minecraft, there are monsters literally everywhere in Builders. Fighting and defeating monsters doesn’t give you experience to leveling up, but monsters do drop needed materials.
The biggest thing (outside of Quests) that is unique are Blueprints. For many Story Quests, you’ll receive Blueprints of a certain object or building an NPC wants you to make for them, be it a sickroom, house, or a kitchen. You basically plant the blueprints on the ground and you follow its instructions for what materials are needed and where to put them in order to create said structure and complete the quest.
This all goes towards leveling up your base. Your base/town is set in a certain space, and you gain Base EXP whenever you build something within it. Whether it’s a teleporter to visit a new island or a new sickroom, the EXP gauge goes up when new things are made. Leveling up will take you to the next phase of the chapter, which shows a “Boss Fight” in the form of monsters raiding your camp. In these battles, you have to fight off monsters and defend your base. Upon winning, you’re rewarded with teleporters that lead to new islands and, thus, new materials.
You do this all the way to the end of a chapter, where you do a proper boss fight to rid that land of evil and unlock a gateway to the next area of the world and the next chapter. When you clear a chapter, you unlock that chapter’s area in Free Mode, a game mode where you can build to your heart’s content as well as download and share creations with others over the PlayStation Network.
That opens up the last two things I want to talk about. First of all, when you go to a new chapter, you start with a clean slate. You lose your items, equipment, Max HP upgrades, everything. You are in a completely new area and it’s like starting a brand new game. To help this not feel like it’s making you do the same thing all over again, each island has a completely different focus. As I said in the Story section, Chapter 1 has you focusing on learning about the history of a ruined city while rebuilding it, while Chapter 2 has a focus on building a hospital and rescuing victims of a plague.
The other thing, and my main gripe, is the fact that there are no multiplayer functions like Minecraft has. Free Mode lets you download others’ creations, but has no sense of Co-Op like Minecraft does on the Vita. It’s solely a single player experience and that’s really a letdown, considering this is probably the biggest and most in-depth Minecraft competition to come to consoles.
Over the course of the game, though, and the fact that this is like an RPG extends this, you should spend at least a couple dozen hours on the game. Each chapter will take you several hours to get through just the main quests, so I would say 25 hours is bare minimum for finishing all 4 chapters.
First of all, Builders is not compatible with the PlayStation TV. Square Enix came out publicly and said they weren’t going to make it compatible, and that is a real shame. There are petitions out across the net to get them to change their mind (especially since making a game compatible is just a matter of hitting a checkbox in the Vita dev kit), but as of right now, you can’t play it on the Vita TV.
The control scheme itself feels a little awkward, but works well, regardless. The Left Analog Stick is used to move and the Right Analog Stick is used to move the camera. The D-Pad, like in Minecraft, is used to cycle through your inventory items and is also used for changing equipment, like weapons and shovels and hammers. Then you have the L and R triggers that lets you look up or down when placing blocks.
Now let’s get to the face buttons. X is used to open the menu and Triangle is used to attack with your current weapon/tool. Square is used to place blocks and Circle can be used to jump. It’s a very uncommon control scheme, but it doesn’t take long to adjust to.
As much as I would like to leave it at that and give the game a stellar score of 9/10, I have to mention my frustrations with the camera. This is especially present when you’re inside caves and houses, but the camera does not like going where you want it to. Go into a closed building and the camera stays outside, then you have to zoom it in and then you can barely see to move around. It’s quite frustrating.
Visually, the game doesn’t look perfect, but it looks nice. The game is much more graphically polished than Minecraft is. When you zoom in on the characters really far, you can see some slight blurring on the details, but you’ll never need to do that. Overall, the game works really well, both with how polished everything looks and with how well the lighting effects are used during night phases.
Performance is about the same as Minecraft is. Occasionally, you’ll see a few frame rate hiccups, but it’s more or less 30fps occasionally dropping down to maybe 22 fps and then back up. Nothing major. It runs quite nicely.