Dragon Quest Builders (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 07.02.2018

Review for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch's roaring success all around the world, and in Japan perhaps more than anywhere else, means that Japanese developers found out a bit late perhaps that they should probably do better to support the system as much as they can since not only Nintendo is shifting a lot of units, but games released on it do seem to sell well, when they are well made! It was a given then that Square Enix, keen on not missing out on an opportunity to sell its flagship franchises on the new platform, would port over some of its back catalogue and with Dragon Quest XI still planned, as far as known anyway, to come to the Switch at some point, what other better game than the still rather recent Dragon Quest Builders to put on the Switch ahead of the already announced sequel that should come out on it this year on Switch and PS4? Cubed3's preview already pointed out how similar yet different this title is to Minecraft, as well as how well suited to portable play it is, but it is now time to deliver the final judgement on this title, coming out this week on Nintendo's hot system.

The adventure opens on the character of the legendary builder being awoken by the goddess Rubiss, which can be mildly customised in appearance by the player, from its gender to hair colour and other small details, and then named by the player as well, as he or she is otherwise nameless. It is the Builder's duty to aid in the reconstruction of multiple towns, four with one in each chapter, in fact, to bring the light back in Alefgard, which can only be brought back by defeating the Dragonlord for good who plunged the world in darkness in the first place. The plot is interesting and sets the tone in an efficient way to get the player started and hooked for the rest of the adventure, although the focus will definitely be more, for most of the adventure through each of the first three chapters, on local, less important events. These usually involve the locals who will progressively come to inhabit the towns the hero helps rebuilding and who will hand over tasks to the player in the form of side-quests.

Although the Builder is mostly free to use whatever materials he or she sees fit, and decoration is mostly left up to the player's taste amongst what is available at that point in the story, the game offers some guidelines and limitations. Some NPCs, for example, will request that the player builds something very specific, either by giving vague instructions to build a room with a certain amount of specific objects inside, or by giving out detailed blueprints outlining the room to be built down to every single little detail. Indeed, an important element that is characteristic of Dragon Quest Builders, which is not part of the Minecraft series, for example, is that the game engine detects rooms when a certain space has walls two blocks high enclosing a flat surface, which itself has a door, and one light source placed in it, and from there, the room will be detected as a kitchen if it has a cooking fire and a chest placed in it, or a bedroom if it has mattresses, and so on. The importance of rooms cannot be overstated, since not only does the hero never gain any levels in a complete breaking of the old Dragon Quest tradition, but the town does.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

Each room increases the level of the town, which must be raised in order to progress to compulsory quests, which themselves will lead the plot forward. Moreover, certain types of rooms through the magic of the hero being the legendary Builder, will grant certain bonuses that can aid in combat, such as granting the NPCs better weapons when it comes to building an armoury or some rooms increasing the amount of HP that the hero automatically regenerates over time and these sorts of things.

Building specific things that the game engine is capable to detect and identify is at the centre of the experience and, beyond that, it is possible to make things that are also rather quite aesthetically pleasing, too. Although a lot of the building elements are plain cubic blocks, a lot of items are also modelled with a decent level of detail to make a quaint looking little town look nice to the eye, especially furniture and decorations, yet, it has to be said, putting a roof on the rooms and enclosing them completely makes looking inside rather difficult as the camera will struggle to find a space to place itself in there, so it's not always advised to try to make a town look too much like one as it can hamper playability and, besides, putting a roof on a building does not count towards the total amount of points scored. Nevertheless, seeing the NPCs going about their daily lives, cooking for the player if he or she has made a kitchen, or even sometimes crafting themselves elements that he or she can use, such as windows for the rooms, is something that truly makes this title shine, as it offers moments that the likes of Minecraft can't offer, setting Dragon Quest Builders apart. Then, of course, not everything is about building or collecting resources by mining or cutting down stuff. The action RPG side is truly well done well and, despite this seeming at first like a Minecraft-inspired affair, it actually proves to be a very solid action RPG, but simply one where building takes a very important place. It controls very well, save maybe for some mild hit box detection issues when fighting particularly large foes.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

While reviewing it, a few instances arose where the hero's weapon was clearly making contact with part of the body of the enemy, although admittedly not by much, and yet the hit was not detected. The third-person view can sometimes make it hard to place hits with high accuracy, but those occasions are few and far between and, by and large, combat feels a heck of a lot more satisfying than in Minecraft, if not necessarily by the controls at the very least by the large array of creatures encountered along the way, a lot of which are classic Dragon Quest monsters that fans will recognise at a glance.

That is not to say that everything is necessarily better than Minecraft, though, since a few things are still found to not have been focused on nearly as much. It seems clear that the more advanced graphics engine came, for instance, at the expense of the physics since it is not possible to build each town any further than clearly defined boundaries. It not possible, either, to build it anywhere the player wants and it's important to note that the world of Alefgard is not procedurally-generated by is the same on every play-through. It has a story and a universe of its own that is given far more life and credibility than any world Minecraft can produce, but on the flip side the player is not given the freedom to make absolutely anything they want with it, so it is important to note that both games have their own different merits and offer experiences that do feel radically different despite relying on otherwise very similar building mechanics. Likewise, Dragon Quest Builders, as was pointed out in the preview, is an entirely single-player experience where Minecraft puts a high emphasis on multiplayer, and the possibilities to share content and worlds with other players are fairly limited. This may sound like a very negative statement to make but it must be understood simply that both franchises simply decided to not put the focus on the same elements and that both work very well in their own right at doing what they do and both find their balance in their own recipes and for the sake of this review, let it simply be told that Dragon Quest Builders stands on its own perfectly without needing to be compared to any other title. It is well balanced to offer a perfectly likeable experience.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

The art direction, and the overall visual impact, could be likened to that of a modern remake of an older title in the franchise. In fact, the small models of furniture could be compared to those used in the DS remakes, also ported to modern smart devices, while the character models are similar to those of the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII or the PS2 remake of Dragon Quest V in looks, except all of this is rendered using more modern techniques, a higher polygon count, filtered textures as opposed to Minecraft and a real-time lighting system casting shadows for every object on-screen, all rendered in HD, of course. On that topic, after more time spent with the game, the initial assumption that the game was running at 720p both docked and undocked with only the frame-rate switching between a 60 and 30FPS target when undocking still seems to hold water, giving the game a slightly rough looking appearance on larger panels in the absence of any kind of anti-aliasing. The focus, however, is not on photorealism here, this is not an issue at all and, outside of more crowded scenes in docked mode, the frame-rate is rather solid. Funnily enough, the game is built on PhyreEngine, which is actually made by Sony Computer Entertainment, but coming in versions for non-Sony machines, so the Nintendo Switch is just yet another kind of device that supports it now.

It being an action RPG, but not quite in the most literal sense of the term, may lead some to think that it's not as lengthy an adventure as otherwise but that could not be further from the truth. Although freedom to build may be a bit more restricted as in the likes of Minecraft as previously pointed out in the preview, the quest itself and its side-quests, hidden or not, could well lead up to about 80 hours of gameplay, without counting going back for more challenges after completing the main game itself… and then those who feel the desire to show the world their house designing skills will, of course, want to pour even more hours into Terra Incognita, so no worries there.

Screenshot for Dragon Quest Builders on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The gravest mistake that could be made regarding Dragon Quest Builders would be to liken it to "yet-another-Minecraft-clone." That could not be farther from the truth as, while of course the similarities are undeniable, this game is its own thing altogether and does some things better than Minecraft, and vice versa. Both may well appeal to the same kind of audience when it comes to broad-minded players, while maybe both being so different will make Minecraft purists detest it and Minecraft detractors absolutely love it. At any rate, it is a solid experience faithful to the Dragon Quest franchise that suffers only from very minor gripes with the gameplay and comes highly recommended for anyone who sees in there something that tickles their fancy.


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   


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