Although I would not call myself a fan of the franchise, I did enjoy Dragon Quest, Dragon Quest II, and the newest mainline entry in the franchise, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age. These games detail how an unlikely hero, often a young kid destined for greatness, goes on an epic journey to rid the world of evil. Dragon Quest Builders, however, takes the age old Dragon Quest premise and spins it on its head.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 released in Japan at the end of 2018 to much fanfare. Japanese critics loved the game. Alas, international folk like me could neither understand, nor get our hands on, the game. That is, until now. The English version of the game has finally landed in the Vamers inbox, and I was fortunate enough to go through the game in quick succession. Simply said, I loved every second of it. In this Vamers Dragon Quest Builders 2 Review, I go over exactly why you should give this game a chance.
A strong feeling of déjà vu
Much like Dragon Quest Builders, which takes place in an alternate Dragon Quest world, the second game in the series follows an alternate timeline to that of Dragon Quest II. It canonically takes place after the events of Dragon Quest II, in which the heroes ended the game of the “fallen”. Following those events, a group called the Children of Hargon are seeking revenge for the defeat of Hargon and Malroth by the descendants of Edrick. In doing so, all builders are removed from existence, and the few that do remain are either in prison or well on their way there.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 opens up on a ship, where the player character is being held captive in a prison cell. This opening bit acts as a tutorial for basics such as movement and curative items. Not long after the player gets to grips with the game, however, shenanigans ensue and the player manages to escape the clutches of their captors. Unfortunately, they wash up on an island called the Isle of Awakening, where they meet a dude called Malroth. Yes, the very same Malroth from Dragon Quest II, and the previous Builders title. Malroth, however, has no memory of his past and opts to aid the player in their quest to rebuild life.
As you might expect, the game’s narrative ends up going on a very similar route to that of the game that it is based on. In fact, the game follows the events of Dragon Quest II so similarly, that it feels like a kind of a remake! It is a strange affair, given how the game feels nothing like a Dragon Quest game. In one way it serves as a direct sequel to Dragon Quest II, while simultaneously acting as a standalone title with its own wonderful new additions, and, lastly, it serves as a weird reboot to the very game it is meant to succeed. I suppose the best way to approach this game is with no prior knowledge of the mainline entry it is based on – which is a let down for me.
Much like how Dragon Quest II introduced the party setup to the role-playing game (RPG) genre as a whole, Dragon Quest Builders 2 introduces a brand-new party member: Malroth. This party member follows you around and helps you build, just like any good party member would. He is also integral to the plot of the campaign – which is a carbon copy of the one found in Dragon Quest II. I found this to be rather frustrating, because it takes away from the uniqueness of Dragon Quest Builders 2. By rehashing too many plot points from Dragon Quest II, it lessens the impact that the narrative could have. Anyone who has played Dragon Quest II at all, will know exactly what twists and turns to expect in the game.
My qualms with the reused narrative aside, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is an exceptional little tale. I suppose if you really want to enjoy this game, and everything it has to offer, it would be best not to read about or play Dragon Quest II, and if you already have, considered it as a fun recap. Fortunately, while the narrative is strikingly familiar to that of Quest II, Dragon Quest Builders 2 features a vastly different take on the gameplay side of things.
Slimey Villagers for the win
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is not what you would expect from Square Enix, let alone any other triple-A franchise. Much like its predecessor, and as you can undoubtedly tell from the name, Builders 2 is a game where you build things!
From the onset, you will notice one thing immediately: the geography is based entirely off of blocks. In fact, it is so blocky that it will remind you of another building game developed by the folks over at Mojang – it is heavily reminiscent of Minecraft. So much so, that you might accuse it of being a Minecraft clone! While the game shares similarities with the award-winning video game, you will come to see that it really only looks similar and plays similarly at the most basic level. What sets the game apart is this: Dragon Quest Builders II is, at its very core, a true Dragon Quest game.
In Dragon Quest Builders, the game followed a very tight chapter-based structure. While not entirely bad, this resulted in lost progress at the end of every chapter (because you had to start from scratch every single time), and a very tiny scope. Builders 2, however, is vast and open, and without a single chapter transition in sight. In a way, Builders 2 is super spread out compared to the first. There is also a new progression system that ties into factors such as stamina, and strength.
In Dragon Quest Builders 2, armour and weapons do not break, which makes collecting resources very easy. Players do this by running up to blocks of all kinds, and then smashing them with weapons. At first, this is limited to sand blocks, kelp, and a few other basic blocks that give basic materials when broken. Later on, however, you will be able to break all kinds of blocks down to the materials that they drop, and rebuild them into huge structures.
Traversing the world is equally as much fun. Builders 2 features a new stamina bar that levels up along with the player, as well as a new gliding ability thanks to a special cape. This will allow you to run around and collect materials in a very short manner. It especially helps a lot when you need to collect a certain number of resources in order to get your building tree started. The building tree itself is a very simple affair in Builders 2. It is easy to understand, and even easier to make use of.
As you grow your pool of resources, and the building tree becomes fleshed out, you will unlock buildings and structures that will end up as long-term investments. Farms, for instance, will let you sow seeds in order to get food in return. Many of these unique elements tie into a lot of the quests that you will come across throughout the game.
Quests are split into a few different types. There are many side missions that require you to build certain structures, such as rooms, start huge fires for entire villages, or even fill empty rooms with pieces of furniture. Doing any of these requires resources that are usually not too difficult to find. Take note that when you do find them, however, it is best to collect as much as you can, in case you explore too far in another direction and need them for later.
There are also overarching missions that take precedent over the side missions. These are normally based around huge objectives that take a lot of time to complete, or even a string of missions that you must do in a particular order. These usually involve getting more villagers, making villagers happy, or just having villagers build things for you.
Villagers are a neat little addition to the game. As you progress, you will collect more and more villagers for your, well, village. This is where the majority of your tasks will come from. If you do venture out into the world, however, your villagers will also continue on the structures that you started. This cuts down on building time considerably, while it also acts as a kind of a mobile game, where you start something and return later to see it completed. I like this aspect a lot. However, I have to say that it kind of removes from the immediacy. Knowing that I have villagers who task away at my creations, means that I hardly ever want to return to the village unless I want to turn in a mission, build a few more rooms for more villagers, or start a new project.
With that said, having villagers to help you does not mean the game is a walk in the park. It is an RPG, after all. Just like in the previous game, combat is lively and a pretty simple affair. You bash slimes and all kinds of baddies over the head until they poof out of existence. I have to admit that you are first and foremost a builder, not some warrior out to save the day. This means that your player-character is rather weak. Thankfully, your companions, and in some cases, villagers, are there to help you out, but you really need to play smart in order to come out on top in later scenarios. This is especially the case when you unlock one of the later islands, and have to contend with nonstop battles for a good while.
Combat and exploration aside, I have to commend the game for its adorable and true-to-source user interface. The minimap, in particular, screams classic Dragon Quest, while all blocks, regardless of how square they are, look as you would expect them to from other Dragon Quest titles.
The game also has a pretty nice aesthetic to it. If you spotted any screenshot or video from Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, you would know exactly what to expect aesthetically. It is a cutesy 3D world where colours pop and characters are drawn in cartoony ways. It is like a much simpler drawn anime! Builders 2, however, takes this one step further and goes the “chibi” route. While not exactly that, characters feature FunkoPOP-style bodies, with small limbs and cute scaling, while heads take centre stage and make up the majority of the character’s features. I adore this kind of design only when it fits the universe it is set in, and Dragon Quest Builders 2 definitely hits the nail on the head in that regard.
Considering how I keep calling everything blocky, and how I stated that it looks like it could be a Minecraft clone, there is no reason to think that the game has no curves to it at all. Yet it does! Plants, for instance, are still plants, and the characters themselves are designed like chibi versions of normal Dragon Quest characters. Water, especially, looks incredible in the game, even though it is static like 90% of the time.
The game also runs like a dream. You might attribute its fast loading times and incredibly smooth gameplay to its downright bafflingly small 3 GB installation size, but it is honestly a breeze to play. I think this fact alone played a huge role in how many times I just wanted to start the game up and get the ball rolling, even during times when I had other stuff to do. Regardless, it is great.
A neat little game
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a neat little game. It is one of the smallest games that I have downloaded in the last seven months, and will likely be one of the tiniest games all year. Knowing that, however, it shocks me that I have spent more than twenty hours in the game already – and that is just following the main story and doing a bit of additional building on the side.
The game looks great, and runs like a dream. I particularly appreciate how well optimised it is, considering I have been playing on a pre-release version for the better part of the last week. This is way more than what I can say for many other triple A games.
I knocked the fact that Builders 2 follows Dragon Quest II too closely, but you know what: at the end of the day, I enjoyed every aspect of it and I know that any other RPG fan will too. This is perhaps the best Minecraft-style game that I have ever played, including Minecraft.
|Time Played||25+ Hours|
|Acquisition||Review code courtesy of Square Enix|