Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dragon Quest Builders (NSW, PS4, Vita) Review

We had a Clustertruck and then a ClusterPuck, and now we have a Dragon Ball FighterZ and a Dragon Quest Builders! The latter is the focus of this next review, a game available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita.

If you build it, they will come.


Dragon Quest is a series that has dabbled in more genres than just its traditional RPG background. Dragon Quest Monsters took the series in a Pokemon-like direction, whereas something more recent like Dragon Quest Heroes brought the series forward into a Musou experience. Now, Dragon Quest as a series gets yet another spin-off, this time tinkering around in a world similar to Minecraft. While the ability to create what you desire with blocks is very much similar to Notch's creation, Dragon Quest's take on Minecraft, Dragon Quest Builders, brings with it a story, RPG elements, and a structure to help players who need motivation to push on. Does Dragon Quest Builders create an architectural triumph, or does it create a condemned building instead?

Dragon Quest Builders begins with your builder--able to be slightly customized by gender, hair, and color options--waking up from a deep slumber inside a crypt. A voice calls out to the builder, telling him or her (for convenience's sake we'll just refer to the builder as a "he" from now on) of how the Dragonlord has corrupted the kingdom of Alefgard, blanketing it in darkness. Telling the builder how to escape from the crypt, this omnipresent voice summons a banner for the builder, asking him to plant it in the middle of what was the former grounds of a town. Through Dragon Quest Builders's four chapters, this is pretty much always how each begins. You take a banner and plant it in a new town. You also lose all of your items, materials, equipment, and health boosts after each chapter, but the game is designed in a way where that limitation not only doesn't harm the overall game but it makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

As soon as the feat of planting the banner in what is left of the first town of Dragon Quest Builders is accomplished, a nearby visitor sees the light shining from the banner and arrives at the encampment. As you play along through a given chapter, more and more visitors will show up, and they will make their home at your base. All of these characters have requests that need completing in order to progress in the adventure. Some task you with building rooms for them, some want you to collect a specific item for them, while others might want you to take down a certain enemy in the surrounding lands. You earn rewards for completing quests, and many of these are quite helpful, whether as health-restoring items, health-increasing items, or materials to assist in building various creations.

From small beginnings comes the little town that could.
Building things in Dragon Quest Builders requires materials. Some are as simple as striking the earth around you to acquire blocks to make buildings and rooms in your town. Others are more involved, requiring a combination of materials to create one item, whether a completely new material, a piece of furniture, or what have you. Creations are made on special pieces of equipment like workstations, forges, cookfires, among others. Without one of these, you can't create anything from materials. You start off with the most basic of equipment to build creations with, and as you progress in chapters, you learn new recipes to build new inventions. 

These three doodads here are used to create specific material and furniture types.
You most likely won't always have the proper amount of materials for a given creation. This is where the grind rears its head in with Dragon Quest Builders. Sometimes you'll have to search, seek out, and find locations of a particular material and acquire as many as you can hold. Other times you won't even know where to find a particular material, so this means constantly moving from area to area searching high and low for your desired material, wherever it may be hiding. Early on, you can only hold so many materials and items at once. If you run out of space, you can't pick anything new up, and you'll have to "clean out your fridge"--cycle in and out items and materials from your on-hand inventory. Thankfully, in most chapters, you do get to build early on a chest that enables you to magically and automatically send excess items and materials inside it if your inventory is full. This is especially nice and convenient because you don't even have to go back to town to grab goods out of the chest. Instead, you can just select what you want from a menu while you travel.

The act of building itself isn't too complicated. When you get ready to place something down, such as blocks or a piece of furniture, a yellow cube will appear in front of your builder, showing where it will be placed upon hitting the build button. You can also press the shoulder buttons to set things a block higher or lower than where your builder is currently positioned. Another button keeps you looking forward, making it easy to place multiple things one after another in a row or column. While this is all well and good, when it comes down to tearing something down, it gets rather tedious--especially if you placed a room in a less-than-optimal location. This means if you don't like where you placed this giant room with loads of furniture in it, you'll have to take your sword, ax, or hammer and destroy it all and rebuilding it. At least that's how it works in the Story mode.

Placing blocks and objects in Dragon Quest Builders is mostly a pain-free experience.
Like the act of building, the act of fighting in Dragon Quest Builders is also uncomplicated, but in this case, it's to the game's detriment. All battles involve is running up to an enemy, striking them, and moving away in order to evade their own offensive. The problem with this is that most of the time I wouldn't take HP damage from an actual attack; I'd take damage from accidentally getting too close to the enemy and touching them, causing my builder to get hit. The hit boxes and collision detection in Dragon Quest Builders leave something to be desired. It makes for clunky, unsatisfying, occasionally frustrating combat. 

My, aren't YOU the looker!
And, combat is a focus apart from building things in Dragon Quest Builders. You need to fight enemies to gain exclusive materials that only they hold, you need to defend your town against enemies when they show up, and you need to take down foes to simply progress in the game. Thus, the faults of Dragon Quest Builders's simplistic and imprecise combat shine prevalent throughout the duration of the game since it's so frequent.

Taking more damage from running into enemies than them actually attacking
you isn't that uncommon an occurrence, unfortunately.
Outside of following along with the story and doing mandatory quests for the various visitors that arrive at your base in each chapter, there are also side quests and specific challenges to take on in an optional amount. Side quests are given from NPCs found in the wild, and the rewards are generally worth seeking them out and completing their tasks. As for challenges, there are five in each of the four chapters in Dragon Quest Builders. These have you doing the most with each chapter's areas--fully exploring them for secrets, venturing into optional areas of the game, and even one for each chapter where you must do a speed run to satisfying conditions. These chapter challenges award content within the much welcomed free-build mode of Dragon Quest Builders, named Terra Incognita, where there are limited rules, but the possibilities are limitless.

I'm going to grow me a radish as big as ye' head!
Dragon Quest Builders has a satisfying presentation with its world devised up voxels, lending to an old school, nostalgic, retro appearance. Characters are detailed well enough, though animations weren't too appealing to me. They were rather too basic. The third-person perspective used in the game works wonders when needing to survey the land outside, but when you enter into caverns or insanely cramped spaces, the camera does get a bit on the troublesome side. What isn't troublesome, however, is the multitude of musical remixes from past Dragon Quest games that will make any fan of the franchise smile. 

If you like the idea of Minecraft in theory, but need a little more direction in your games, then Dragon Quest Builders is more than a suitable alternative. In some regards, it's a bit more like ActRaiser than Minecraft. Regardless of which of these two games it's most similar to (and those two games are terrific company to be in), Dragon Quest Builders carves out its own niche, creating a highly enjoyable take on the franchise and another stellar spin-off for the series.

[SPC Says: B]

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