Since I’m fashionably late to most games, it wasn’t until now that I got enthralled by Dragon Quest Builders. This Square Enix’s jovial Minecraft for (Japanese) role-playing fans has been providing constructive entertainment for 30 or so hours, and despite a multitude of problems, it’s absolutely endearing. Especially for us imaginatively challenged, its best feature is a story. It’s not much of a story but it’s still something that counts. The evil Dragonlord rules the world with his army of monsters, and mankind has regressed into nothing but dolts, incapable of constructing anything at all. Thankfully there’s a pure in heart hero (or heroine) who is given a holy task to step up to the powers of darkness. So, it’s time to erect a Banner of Hope at the ruins of a nearby town and build it back to its glory. The first recipes are handed out by a lone girl wandering in, and you pretty much have nothing but dirt, branches and leaves to work with. Still, small feats go a long way and as the population of your new home slowly rises, so does the variety of ingredients at your disposal. After only a few hours, it’s already all about cooking stations, rock walls, watchtowers, ramparts, steel broadswords, and more!
The simplest of recipes is a room, which is essentially just a space surrounded by walls two cubes high, a door, and a source of light. With suitable interior design these rooms turn into, say, an inn, a restaurant, or a workshop. Unfortunately the Banner of Hope only provides enough radiance for an area that is barely big enough to house maybe half a dozen structures, or so. Still, time sure flies by when fine-tuning even those. There’s never a dull moment, given that new residents always provide something new to investigate or construct. Every now and then you also have to defend your base from the Dragonlord’s minions.
Just when the whole town building and material gathering trips are at their finest, Dragon Quest Builders suffers its first strike. A big and awfully mean boss appears, likely laying waste to most of your accomplishments. After it has been bested and the damages perhaps repaired, a teleport appears in the horizon. It whisks you off to the next chapter, and while the scenery changes and there are plenty of new materials to gather, you’re effectively bumped back to square one. Not fun. Granted, completing the first chapter also unlocks Terra Incognita, a vast free area dedicated to nothing but constructing, but sadly it lacks the story aspect. As much as starting from the scratch can be vexing, it doesn’t take long for things to get obsessive again, and so the last moments of every chapter are just as rewarding as in the first one. The game has four such scenarios, and I’m now done with the first three. Then again, they all come with five optional challenges that aren’t revealed until the chapter has been completed, so replay value is high. This even more so, as completing those challenges will add content to the Terra Incognita mode.
The second strike comes from said challenges. One of them is always a speedrun, which requires you to complete the chapter swiftly. If it was already a bummer that you have to leave everything behind, it’s even more stressful to do it all over again within a rather strict time limit. I haven’t played Minecraft but it’s (supposedly) relaxed building of stuff that can eventually reach epic proportions. The story mode of Dragon Quest Builders seems like an antithesis of sorts; limited, fleeting, and even something to be optimized in a hurry. It’s almost like a tutorial that lasts for dozens of hours until Terra Incognita can be enjoyed to its fullest. Do I have the energy to appreciate that after a lengthy playthrough? Well, the game is still addictive as hell, so onward to the final chapter!