Dragon Quest Builders (Nintendo Switch) Preview

By Rudy Lavaux 11.01.2018

Review for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

Dragon Quest Builders is set to be Square Enix's first major release for the Nintendo Switch at the tail end of its first year on the market and two years after its initial Japanese release on PS3, PS4 and PS Vita. The company, showing major interest in the platform that has already set some records for itself in its first 10 months on the market, could not ignore it any longer so, ahead of the release of the sequel later in the year, it decided to fill the holes in the release schedule by making the original available for Nintendo's hot new console. Comparisons with Minecraft are going to be extremely hard to avoid, considering the former practically invented a genre of its own and was never quite surpassed since it has been constantly evolving for the last decade. Dragon Quest Builders falls mostly into the same genre… or does it? Cubed3 got a chance to sample the Switch version early and so get ready for the first impressions, ahead of its release next month.

The first thing to understand is that it is not a Minecraft clone, although it does borrow a lot of its basic concepts from Mojang's multimillion seller. For one thing, whereas Minecraft is an entirely open experience, where the player may attempt anything they wish right from the start with no clear definite goal but to get out there and have fun building and/or surviving, Dragon Quest Builders is not quite like that. The player incarnates a character called the Builder in the world of Alefgard, the very same world seen in the original Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior trilogy for the NES, so nods to places and events from these games will be found herein. Therefore, right off the bat, there's a plot to this game where Minecraft doesn't have any.

In that sense, Dragon Quest Builders still relies heavily on the building aspect of things, and plays very much like an action RPG. Long ago, the Dragonlord plunged the world in darkness and the only way to bring the world back to how it was before is to secure the three sacred artefacts that will open the way to the evil monster's castle where the hero of legend will someday slay it once and for all. It is worth noting for those that like these sort of things that the player's avatar may be customised with different hair, skin, and eye colours, and some preset expressions on their faces, in addition to picking the gender as these sort of games have proven to be very gender neutral in the past in terms of their typical fan audience.

The main game mode, playing through the story, is thus divided up into four distinct chapters and the player will not be able to carry over anything from one chapter to the next, so each chapter plays completely independently from the others. Each of the four chapters sees the player having to rebuild a town of Alefgard, practically from scratch, as everything lies in ruins.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

Each chapter's town is located in a different type of environment, usually harder than the previous one to find useful resources in as they range from the easy green plain, to a poisonous swamp, to deserted mountains to a completely barren wasteland where barely a plant survives. Therefore, those in control are tasked with very specific objectives, whereas Minecraft offers no specific tasks, or at the very least, none that are spoken out loud in the game since there's no dialogue. Rebuilding the town wouldn't be much different than building one in Minecraft if it wasn't for directions given by non-playable characters who, themselves, have as much personality as classic figures of Dragon Quest lore. A nun, for example, will request the building of a hospital to house sick people or a safety conscious man will request the Builder make a blockade to keep monsters under the Dragonlord's influence at bay, who would otherwise try to prevent the reconstruction of towns destroying all that the player has spent so much time building.

There is a clear sense of direction in those quests handed out by NPCs, whether it be to build something meeting some requirements or based on a blueprint, or to destroy a certain enemy boss or even the old fetch quests. Minecraft lacks that aspect, but offers more in other aspects, such as, for example, allowing people to build their town wherever they like. In Dragon Quest Builders, there are more limitations in what they can do. Some basic mechanisms can be constructed but only in the one chapter where the Builder will know how to build them, whereas Minecraft has redstone and pistons ahoy to construct the most crazy contraptions possible, whenever and wherever. Likewise, the area in which the town must be built is limited, for "rooms" to be detected to meet the requirements for quests. Anything built outside those boundaries will remain there for sure, but only the power of the banner of hope at the centre of each town, which acts as a save point at the same time, can prevent enemies from spawning inside the buildings themselves and wrecking havoc. Still in that same spirit, it's impossible to grow new trees outside the area of effect of the banner of hope.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

Dragon Quest Builders is, therefore, more of an adventure where building is at the centre of the experience. It's a game that trades much of the freedom of Minecraft for a more hand-holding story with some touching moments and some really written lines of dialogue that the series has become known for. In that sense, it may appeal to some whom felt Minecraft would appear unappealing and vice versa, but also has the potential to conquer the hearts of those who enjoy both Minecraft for concept, along with its freedom, but also action RPGs as a whole. Moreover, each chapter has a series of challenges to complete, akin to hidden side-quests found while exploring the vast open world mixed with achievements. Sadly, these can only become visible once a chapter is played through to its conclusion, but after that it is possible to reload that save and go back to finish off the rest of the objectives. Although it can be hard to find yourself in such a situation, some objectives "could" potentially become impossible to complete if a certain type of resource is required to complete it and that resource has been completely spent already. It is, however, possible to replay an individual chapter even in the middle of the story, without having to re-unlock them, so there's that at least.

One final element that is important to note is the absence of online multiplayer. There is no way for multiple people to share their experience within the same world. It is possible to share some small constructions online in the sort of free-play mode, called Terra Incognita, which is not quite the equivalent of the creative mode of Minecraft since materials still have to be farmed before they can be used, but these constructions have to fit within rather small boundaries before they can be uploaded and shared with others using a code. It is also possible to summon other players' creations at random for some surprises, although as the game isn't released yet, not many players seem to have already shared anything of interest on it.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

Square Enix has realised that multiplayer would be a missed feature, so it will be part of the sequel announced back in August 2017, for up to four simultaneous players. Otherwise, in this Nintendo Swicth incarnation, Dragon Quest Builders seems to compare very favourably to other already available versions. It has all of the same features and has a rather similar look to the PS4 version, with at first glance a comparable draw distance but, as expected, some sacrifices have been made, and it does seem to render at 720p both docked and undocked, targeting 60FPS on the bigger screen and 30FPS on the smaller screen, although as is often the case with games where the complexity of what is rendered can be modified at will by the player's inputs, that frame-rate does tend to drop a little bit in the most crowded scenes and more so in docked mode than in handheld mode. Other than a difference in frame-rate, then, it does appear to look exactly the same whether the console is docked or not. It does look rather good indeed.

As a matter of fact, with its less overall blocky appearance, most models not relying on pure blocks per se, as well as filtered textures and a real-time lighting system casting pleasant looking shadows from every object and character in the environment, it looks better than Minecraft on the same system, regardless of a difference in resolution... although the Super Duper Graphics Pack announced at last E3 was supposed to improve that even on the Switch version but that has yet to even appear on any of the platforms for which it was promised.

This is all very rhetorical, though, as, at the end of the day, it is still not a game about massively impressive graphics but more about the freedom it offers the player to reshape things to their liking and that kind of freedom will always require a lot of processing power that can't be put towards more realistic looking visuals.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

Final Thoughts

Dragon Quest Builders, despite now starting to be an older release on other platforms where it could potentially already be picked cheaper by now, is still a very solid experience and this Switch version proves ideal to sample it for the first time since the game lends itself well to short bursts of building gameplay on the go. Lack of multiplayer is somewhat regrettable, although nobody likely expected a surprise inclusion in this Switch port, but it does not remove anything from the fantastic single-player experience and, besides, multiplayer is something that Square Enix is working on for the upcoming sequel, coming to both Nintendo Switch and PS4. In the meantime, though, for the solo experience alone, Dragon Quest Builders is one to look forward to early this year on the platform. Lastly, it is neither better, nor worse than Minecraft, it is simply a different-yet-similar experience, putting emphasis on different elements, in this case the RPG aspects dear to Dragon Quest fans' hearts.


Square Enix


Square Enix





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   


See...Minecraft doesn't interest me at all, but this really does! Clever way to hook people, based on their love of DQ Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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Adam Riley said:
See...Minecraft doesn't interest me at all, but this really does! Clever way to hook people, based on their love of DQ Smilie

I'd say if any of those Minecraft look-alikes out there, or the real deal itself, was to appeal to someone who could never get into the real deal, then it would be Dragon Quest Builders simply because because it has objectives and a clear path to follow. I know that to some, the total freedom and open-ended nature of Minecraft can be too overwhelming. I still love both though, personally, and I can see the merits of both ends of the spectrum.

I put hundreds of hours into Minecraft, working on an adventure map where whoever would play it would have one hour to escape a gigantic maze like structure with riddles to solve. Failing to escape before the big giant digital clock I constructed (a real working one too!) reaches zero, that same clock will trigger the TNT in all of the walls of the structures to blow up, killing the player wherever he or she is within the structure. That kind of freedom to create does not exist in Dragon Quest Builders, I love being able to come up with ideas for devices, automated systems and that sort of thing which Minecraft allows the player to come up with (some people even recreated working old school CPUs in Minecraft, using just circuits of redstone, it's insane what can be done with that game). But, again, to the wrong audience, this does not matter, and Dragon Quest Builders has the potential to seduce those who just can't get into Minecraft... There will be those who can't love Dragon Quest Builders because it's not enough like Minecraft, and those who will love it specically for that. I fit in the middle, I love both equally Smilie.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

Exactly what you said - it's the openness of Minecraft that puts me off. Maybe when I was younger and had more time, I could have loved it. Now, though, I need some goal and real structure as time is limited...and I'm far lazier Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses


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