Dragon Quest Builders review, PS4, PS Vita: 'RPG meets Minecraft'

£49.99 - Square Enix

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The Independent Tech

 

It’s hard for a game to be truly original these days. The myriad of genres and styles over the last few decades in gaming mean that almost every game draws influence from somewhere. While some cherry pick small ideas here and there, others lift entire concepts wholesale. Welcome to Dragon Quest Builders, a traditional Japanese RPG with a great big dollop of Minecraft thrown in.

The game does little to hide its inspiration. A cursory look at any screenshot gives it away straight away - from the landscape made of familiar looking cubes to the interface and crafting menus - it’s pretty shameless. Yet, despite this, it works. Square Enix has taken the Minecraft concept and refined it, making it work within the world of its own well-established franchise. 

The Dragon Quest series has been going for thirty years now, and while there have been spin-off titles outside the main series, Dragon Quest Builders is certainly unique. With the basis of the game in traditional RPG territory (exploration, quests & monsters), the crafting aspect makes it a whole different experience. Core to the game is building up your own town, using the various materials you have mined and collected along the way. It serves as a base for your adventures, and the bigger your town becomes, the more characters will come and join you, giving you quests and filling out the story.

As you build your town, you’ll need to defend it from monsters, until the point when all quests have been completed and a showdown with the chapter’s boss is triggered. After this you’re whipped away to another map, leaving behind your town, inventory, characters and pretty much everything else, all gone for good. In this way, the game feels almost episodic, given the clean break between chapters. Having to gather your resources again and learn skills anew for each of the four episodes is a slightly strange choice, especially as you’ll have invested hours in the previous chapter.

The game may only be four episodes, but it is long. You can expect a playthrough to last around 50 - 60 hours, more if you’re intent on seeing absolutely everything. While each new land introduces new enemies, quests and skills, there is still a lot of repetition (this is a crafting game after all), which might put some players off. However, it is the quintessential ‘just another 5 minutes’ game, with each quest being fairly short meaning you’re always trying to squeeze one more in before you go to bed, and the next thing you know the sun is coming up and you have to be at work in half an hour.

The story is by the numbers, ripped straight from the Japanese RPG rule book. Here’s the cliff notes version: Bad guys, world on the brink, light turning to darkness, last hope is a cherub faced child. Done. All this simply serves as the MacGuffin to get you to the next point of the game.

Minecraft may have been the big influence for Dragon Quest Builders, but the game does plenty of things to differentiate itself, some good, some not so good. To begin with, the game is viewed from a third person perspective, rather than Minecraft’s first person. This makes building slightly trickier, and there are moments where you’ll have to awkwardly adjust your character to place a block where you want it. Secondly, the game world isn’t randomly generated like Minecraft. Your world will be exactly the same as everyone else's its map heavily influenced by the original 1986 game’s overworld. This gives the game much more of a focus, and allows for a more linear story to be told. Some might argue that this is one of the issues with Minecraft - its lack of direction and story gives the player a bit too much freedom for a truly satisfying experience. If you just want to build and share your creations with friends, Dragon Quest Builders offers a separate sandbox mode.

There’s a justified cynicism that could be levelled at Square Enix for ‘borrowing’ huge chunks of a game that happens to be a global phenomenon. However, while on paper the mix of the two genres might seem an odd choice, in practice it’s the perfect marriage. Building your own town means you’re much more invested in the world and the crafting aspect it a natural fit for a game based around exploration. Dragon’s Quest Builders feels very much like the direction RPGs should be heading in, rather than a weird off-shoot anomaly. 

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