This latest Dragon Quest spin-off is heavily inspired by the popularity of Minecraft. However, does it do enough to entice players who aren't as interested in the open-world block-building genre?
As soon as I saw the opening video, I felt nostalgic again and was happy to be back in the Dragon Quest universe, especially in the PlayStation 4 era that boasts such colourful and imaginative graphical detail. Once you pick the only chapter available, Cantlin, you wake up in an underground hole and are greeted by the narrator who helps you get your bearings and make some rudimentary tools to get you on your way. Once you escape, you're drawn to a white shining light that emanates from a dilapidated town looking for its saviour.
From there, you slowly meet new villagers who are looking for somewhere to call home after a traumatic event happened in the area which caused the townsfolk to flee. They continually give you tasks to complete that will aid you in making the village something to be proud of. This same recipe is used for each of the following chapters, too. You know you're nearing the end of a given chapter when you're tasked with facing a boss of some kind and it's up to you to defend your town with everything you've got (even if it almost becomes rubble in the process because you didn't provide enough defense on all angles).
The tasks provided to you by the townsfolk vary a lot and stay away from just being fetch quests (which I was afraid of when I first picked up Dragon Quest Builders). It also doesn't leave things too loose like games such as Minecraft are known for. Simply put, it manages to hit just the right level of structure and free exploration which is a tough feat for a game with a completely customizable environment. Anyway, some tasks include finding items to build something new, levelling up your town and defending it from hordes of enemies, finding villagers in faraway lands, and curing sick villagers. Whenever you feel like you've found one of everything in your current area, you'll find a Teleportal that'll take you to a distant island where you'll find even more materials for building even better items.
Each island has its own unique flavour with different building blocks, enemies and quests to explore. You'll romp across grassy hills filled with Slimes, deserts covered in Scorpions and snowy mountains with cute Powie Yowies (with fur that can be used to make an adorable rug). Everything can be collected from the land you're standing on to items dropped from enemies, fish out of the sea, and special valuables in treasure chests. As you play, you unlock new stations that allow you to forge more items and specialize in making very unique ones such as a piston that'll push an enemy who stands on an activation switch. At the beginning, you'll only have some building blocks and a stick to defend your city so you can see how much the gameplay progresses the involving building process as you play.
If you played Dragon Quest Heroes, you'll find that this spin-off looks very much the same. It's vibrant and meticulously good at bringing the Dragon Quest universe to a modern console. All of your favourite monsters are here for you to battle (and sometimes befriend): Bunicorns will charge at you if you stand too close, Chimeras hound you with fireballs, Golems chase you at their leisurely but threatening pace, and giant Trolls break the ground around them as they slam their clubs down. The classic orchestral soundtrack is back, setting the tone perfectly as you hang around in the town or go exploring dangerous volcanic caves then fight a giant lava hand.
I must admit, I was initially put off by the notion of a Dragon Quest game set in a Minecraft-like universe because I like structure in my games but then again, I'm also a creative person. After playing it, I am happy that I decided to take the plunge. However, there are a couple of things that disappointed me. Sometimes, I felt like better explanations of how to finish quests were needed. For example, if you build a room but one wall of it is outside the slightly lit up area of your town then that room doesn't count towards the next level. The same can be said for growing trees as they won't grow unless they're within the confines of your town. Seeing the boundaries is a little tough unless you play with the sound on all the time and wait for the music to change as you take a wrong step. Therefore, it should warn you if you show the intention of building something but it obviously won't count. An icon over a tree telling you that it's dormant or highlighting blocks you've placed outside of the town walls would go a long way to prevent frustration.
The other missed opportunity is the option to keep expanding your town after the chapter is done. When I finished the first chapter, I was almost expecting the town walls to expand out and allow me to keep playing with my town if I wished to but that never happens. However, there is the separate Terra Incognita mode where you can build to your heart's content without boundaries.
It's great that yet another awesome Dragon Quest spin-off is now available for PlayStation 4. I'm still waiting for a traditional Dragon Quest RPG and I hope it won't be too long down the road but for now, I'll continue to sink hours into this masterpiece!
- + Gorgeous graphics depict the familiar Dragon Quest universe in a fun way
- + Perfect balance of structure and creativity
- + Keeps things interesting right to the end
- - You don't have the ability to expand your town beyond its small boundaries
- - Some aspects need more explanation