Dragon Quest Builders is a ridiculous amount of fun.
Conceptually, its existence feels a bit confusing. Why would one of Japan’s most dyed-in-the-wool RPGs try a mashup with the tear-down, brick-up, non-linear world-building of Minecraft? The two share very little overlap in design or ideology. Not that Dragon Quest hasn’t had its fair share of odd spin-offs, but Builders seemed about as incongruous a pairing as Chex Quest was to first-person shooters. That Builders is coming West at all is even more surprising.
Then I decided to check out a close-to-final version of the game for myself during PAX West and didn’t stop playing for almost three hours. Whatever confusion there was over Builders’s strange premise was almost immediately thrown out the window because, faithful to a world that boasts cuddly slime monsters as poster creatures, there’s an immediate abundance of charm to be had.
If you’re interested in Builders, that probably goes without saying — Dragon Quest’s stock and trade is largely in its infectious personality. By adapting the immediate dopamine drip of building — as quick and painless here as it is in Minecraft — what emerges is something that’s damn hard to put down.
By its very nature, creating things is fun, but you need a purpose. So, when you approach the ramshackle ruins of what used to be a town, you want to clean it up. This will attract more NPCs who in turn will give you more quests (which inevitably involve more building). As your town goes from a few simple rooms to more complex constructions with a wider range of tools and equipment you can create, you just want to keep building.
Builders also manages to keep its own identity, because it’s still an RPG. Rather than gaining levels yourself, your town does, which is controlled by building. Again, this seems like a matter of conversion — instead of going through the traditional random battles and leveling systems, the design here adapts Minecraft’s tenets into a palatable RPG formula. Also, it looks the part. Minor, but I can’t say I’d necessarily be as into Builders if the entire aesthetic replaced Toriyama’s characters with 3D pixel art.
Still, can’t you do all this, or most of it, in Minecraft? To an extent. Builders just gives that sandbox feel some much-needed context. Maybe for those that Mojang never could grab, that’s exactly what was missing. In any case, there’s a demo out now on PSN you should definitely try before the game’s release.