Last month, my son got an early birthday present from his grandfather. They went out shopping, and I was 90% sure he was going to come back with the new Yokai Watch: Romance of the Three Kingdoms game that just came out, but instead, he ended up choosing Dragon Quest Builders for the PS3. I really must applaud his choice, because I’m the one who’s ended up playing the shit out of it when he refused to abandon the people of Termina in his current game of Majora’s Mask.
The game is really fucking fun. I typically mistrust spin-off games because they typically suck whale sperm. Not the case with DQ Builders. It reminded me of one of the only other spinoffs that managed to accomplish this rare feat, which was also a Dragon Quest game centered around the character Toruneko and his Mysterious Dungeon. In that one, you controlled the merchant Toruneko and fought in real-time or what I called, “Zelda-style” combat through randomly generated dungeon floors, collecting treasure and gradually building up your castle town with the riches. In Builders, you are a humble builder who fights monsters (in the same “Zelda style” albeit isometrically), collects resources, and learns to craft those things required by your fledgling towns which are just barely weathering the scourge of the Dragonlord.
Wait, you thought the Dragonlord was dead? Slain at the end of DQI? Aha, you see because he wasn’t – not in this universe, anyway. In this history, the “hero” of DQI fails in his quest by taking the Dragonlord up on his offer before the final battle: “Join me and I’ll give you half of the world,” resulting in the utter ruin of Alefgard and 200 years of oppression which has literally sent human civilization back to the stone age – and maybe even further. The people in this world cannot even conceive of ideas like construction, crafting, cooking, or medicine, and it is up to your character, touched by divine inspiration to teach them all this shit again. And so we rebuild.
The borrowing of the Minecraft concept in Builders is unabashed, and it’s a little sad that Square Enix didn’t reach a deal with Mojang to make a true cross breed of the two games, but at least nobody got sued and neither brand needs suffer a tarnished reputation for it. I was worried that Builders was going to be a shitty Minecraft clone, but was delighted to discover that it’s actually an exquisite one, and offers most of the joy that both Minecraft and the Dragon Quest series has offered since its conception, simultaneously being both and neither game.
One key difference between this and other Dragon Quests is that in Builders, you are are told explicitly at the beginning of the game by the guiding light: You are not a hero, bitch. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t be heroic, but as a technical matter, not being of the hero genome means that you do not have the innate ability to collect experience points from terminated monsters, and that means that “leveling up” does not occur through victory in battle. Instead, your experience comes from completing various structures in the town, and exp can be gained by adding furniture and ecoutrements to its various dwellings and workshops. The only “level” belongs to the town itself. Your character may become stronger, but this strength comes strictly from items such as the seeds that increase your max HP, and of course, stronger weapons and armor that you yourself must find a way to construct.
The main difference between this game and Minecraft is that in Builders, the narrative is set out and you are given missions to accomplish before you can go out and build the world as you see fit. You could argue that Minecraft’s beauty comes from not being explicit in its directives (I also hear that the multiplayer is fun as fuck), but should you get bored with its boundless pixellated freedom, Builders offers not only a colorful aesthetic to enjoy, but some devious challenges to set your mind to. The first three “chapters” are extended tutorials that are so damn enjoyable that I already want to do them again and try to beat all the bonus challenges such as finishing the chapter within 20 game days, slaying the optional dragons, and building a cemetery.
Essentially it’s like playing Minecraft and Dragon Quest at the same time, and I’m just loving the hell out of it. Once I’ve beaten the Restoration of Alefgard storyline, get ready for some original EpicuziplayiT narratives. This world is sure to see some major changes once I’m sitting pretty atop the Dragonlord’s throne. Half of the world – ha! I’m fixing to take no less than the whole damn thing.