Dragon Quest Builders (PlayStation 4) Preview

By Michael Whittaker 15.10.2016

Review for Dragon Quest Builders on PlayStation 4

Square Enix's Dragon Quest series has been somewhat in the shadows over in the West, despite the mammoth reputation it has over in its homeland of Japan, but the company is working hard to raise the profile more and more. Along with the recent push for Dragon Quest Heroes and the release of the phenomenal Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on Nintendo 3DS, now comes something rather different - Dragon Quest Builders - and Cubed3 was lucky enough to get some pre-release time with the PlayStation 4 version.

The first thing to say about Dragon Quest Builders is that it's not a game simply lifting conventions from Minecraft. To assume as such would pay a great disservice to what Square Enix has constructed here. Conceptually, it is a brave approach into a different direction from the ever expanding freedoms catered by Minecraft and the likes of Super Mario Maker and Little Big Planet before it. That's not to say Builders doesn't afford players many of the same freedoms to construct the world around them. In fact, the customisable protagonist soon acquires the necessary - and evolving - skill sets to accomplish the task of transforming the ruins of Alefgard into a bustling town, populated with fully equipped houses and castles.

However, Square Enix has layered this facet of the game, along with subsequent collecting and upgrading of tools, armour, weapons and such, under the familiar structure of a narrative expected of an RPG title. In this case, it entails the emergence of the protagonist as The Chosen One who has bestowed upon him the unenviable mission of defeating the one responsible for the destruction of Alefgard: Dragonlord. Long-time fans will, of course, trace the antagonist back to the earliest of Dragon Quest titles. In his wake, civilisation in Alefgard has come to a standstill and seemingly the few folk remaining have forgotten how to build and construct tools, essentially stagnating their progression. That is, of course, until Mr. Chosen One is declared so.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on PlayStation 4

Surprisingly however, "Chosen One" does not signify hero, as is immediately told. It's an instant wink by Square Enix, signalling the first of many slight alterations to a familiar genre. As the builder - not hero - the protagonist lacks the ability to power up from defeating enemies; that comes from collecting enough varying types of materials to create different types of armour to make yourself stronger and better equipped to face foes during the quest.

Square has done a really nice job of keeping this as approachable as possible; it's extremely easy to start breaking up surroundings in order to build what the imagination allows. In fact, the builder is taught the basics in what is a refreshingly short tutorial, just moments before being led to make the acquaintance of the first villager: Pippa. It's at this juncture, however, that the layers unravel, revealing a satisfying level of depth to the gameplay. The lead is handed mini-quests, or side missions, and it's these that give a sense of direction and structure and, more importantly, a real feeling of gratification as the missions are completed.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on PlayStation 4

Soon, The Chosen One is asked to complete simple tasks, such as collecting materials to make objects from - housing exteriors, to straw beds, doors and varying types of interior decorations. In this regard, the game moves further away from Minecraft and closer to Animal Crossing territory. The player is really given great freedom in designing the homes for the villagers and the ability to give each one their own personality and sense of style, which only becomes more elaborate and eccentric as the ability to craft more items rise. The level of fun to be had with this aspect is such that it's easy to get carried away and forget the wider objective at hand - one of which is to find more people to populate the village with. Each and every one also comes with its own set of missions for the builder to complete.

Much like Animal Crossing, the villagers who come to populate Alefgard are delightfully charming and funny, really adding an increasing sense of life to the town as the population grows. It becomes very easy to care for them, which makes it all the more exciting when another one decides to move in. The writing also deserves a mention; it is genuinely funny and witty and isn't afraid to break the fourth wall sometimes, to brilliant effect; "You want to look at my tool? We only just met!"

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on PlayStation 4

Of course, the art style does lend itself beautifully to creating joylessly charismatic characters. There's a great vibrancy of colour instilled, not just in the characters, but the world over. It's also not long until the villagers must be protected from the random onslaught of enemies, which attempt to attack the town, presenting the first opportunity to examine the combat system implemented. The more traditional turn-based combat has been replaced with real-time combat, which works wonderfully here and further complements the flow and pace.

The enemies initially confronted are manageable and arrive in the form of menacing skeletons and similarly sized goblins, but, soon after, the protagonist will run into beasts such as gigantic scorpions and monsters capable of wiping you out in seconds. It's a constant reminder of the threat at hand, whilst adding a real sense of danger at every turn. The overall tone is wonderfully realised through its appropriately atmospheric music. It's suitably jolly during the day, lifting the sense of adventure before accompanying the night cycle with a hauntingly melodic soundtrack.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on PlayStation 4

Final Thoughts

Dragon Quest Builders is a real pleasure to play. It understands exactly what players enjoy most about the genre and executes it expertly and confidently. It's an incredibly approachable game, with a control scheme and UI easy to get to grips with and suitably intuitive. Not only does Builders offer a package with the best elements of Animal Crossing and Minecraft but it structures it with a fun filled narrative, crucially giving players a real sense of purpose and satisfaction. Rather than building aimlessly and without reason, Square Enix has created something where the player's imagination really matters and is rewarded. The set of characters accompanying the protagonist are a real joy to have around and the world encapsulating them is one of real life and activity, with thrilling underlying dangers. In short, Dragon Quest Builders is really quite an exceptional game and the most fun you will have had on the PS4 in a long, long time.

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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