When Minecraft came out it was a runaway success, it was so successful in fact that many clones popped up hoping to take advantage of its popularity. So it comes as no surprise that many people saw Dragon Quest Builders as Minecraft with a Dragon Quest skin. Thankfully it's more than just a clone, much more.
The biggest thing that sets Dragon Quest Builders apart from Minecraft is its story. The game is set in Alefgard, which was the world in the original Dragon Quest. The player is tasked with rebuilding Alefgard to its former glory after the Dragonlord took over and destroyed the world. Now we won't spoil the story as it is one of the game's strongest points and long-time Dragon Quest fans (especially those who have played the first title) will appreciate it.
The first few hours of the game are effectively a tutorial, teaching you the basic mechanics of the game; like what is needed to build a room, the effects of a kitchen, crafting, and how to defend the city. There is a lot to learn, but the first few hours are great at teaching you the essentials, even if the tutorial does hold your hand a bit too much.
Throughout the story you will visit a number of cities and towns and have to rebuild them. As you rebuild the base (as the game calls it), people will start to arrive and become residents. The residents aren't just useless NPCs, they will give you quests to complete that will help you rebuild and progress through the story. A nice little touch is that some of the residents interact with the rooms, for example some NPCs will use the kitchen and will sometimes cook for you (and place the food in a chest in the room).
You learn how to build new items by simply picking up resources and materials that you find in the world. Building each base is highly addictive and seeing them grow gave us a heavy Dark Cloud feel, and that's no bad thing. As you build up your base you will attract the attention of that area's boss. Monsters will attack a number of times throughout each chapter, and sometimes they will drop a teleportal. The teleportals expand the play area; activate one and you will be transported to another place where there are fresh resources, materials and new enemies. Each location looks different, which keeps the game feeling fresh, as they vary from grassy meadows to deserts, via rivers of lava to icy wastelands.
Once you have rebuilt the town and completed the quests given to you by its residents, you can then take on the boss of the area. The bosses are pretty cool, you can't rush in and attack (that'd be foolhardy). Each boss requires a certain strategy to take them down and these fights are a blast. You will have to fight the boss and defend the base as well, however, you can just repair the damage done to your base after the fight.
Even though the game is clearly inspired by Minecraft, Dragon Quest Builders is an RPG at its core. Your character doesn't level up, the base that you're building does. As it gets stronger so do the residents and certain quests can only be done if it's at a certain level. In order for your character to get stronger you have to craft better armour and weaponry, and to increase your health you have to use a 'Seed of Life'. The seeds are sometimes given by NPCs for completing a quest and they can also sometimes be obtained by exploring a dungeon. There's also a variety of quests, and they range from having you craft something for someone, building from a blueprint given to you by a resident, to killing a certain enemy.
There are four chapters in the game and each one of them is quite lengthy. Upon completion of a chapter a list of challenges will appear as part of an evaluation, thus prompting another playthrough if you're going for 100%. The challenges vary from building your base to max level, defeating a number of particularly powerful enemies, or complete the chapter in a certain number of in-game days.
Aside from the main story there is a mode called Terra Incognita which allows you to build freely. You have to go and get the resources to make things but you haven't got enemies roaming the area where you build, so you don't have to worry about monsters attacking and destroying your creation. Heading out through teleportals will take you to another area where monsters roam and there are more resources. You could spend countless hours in this mode just creating new buildings, but it doesn't stop there and you can make multiple creations and share them online so other players can see what you've built (and see what other players have built using a summoning stone). Terra Incognita is a brilliant and relaxing mode where you can build whatever you want.
All told the amount of content that Dragon Quest Builders offers is staggering. We spent around 50 hours doing the main story, and another five or so hours in Terra Incognita. Even after all that we also had some challenges left, not to mention the fact that building bases in this is incredibly addictive.
There's something that Dragon Quest always does right; audio-visual design. Akira Toriyama's art style is in full force once again and it's as beautiful as ever, and it stands out in generation of games that go for a more realistic style. The soundtrack is wonderful, each base has its own music and so do the areas that you explore. Koichi Sugiyama's iconic audio design again hits all right notes and fits perfectly.
Still, the game isn't perfect (no game is). Dragon Quest Builders does have some niggling flaws, namely the combat and placing the blocks. The combat isn't brilliant as it isn't very in-depth, and for some enemies you can just run at them and attack until they're defeated. Some require you to run in, hit them and then run back out. This normally wouldn't be a complaint but the combat would have benefited from having a lock-on mechanic. There's also no dodge or evade. Elsewhere the placing of the blocks can be rather fiddly at first, although you do get used to it as you play more, but they should be easy to place right from the beginning.
Overall Dragon Quest Builders is an addictive, beautiful, colourful and fun adventure that fans and newcomers alike will enjoy. Whilst the game does have elements of Minecraft, it's an RPG at heart. Its flaws can be overlooked and are easily overshadowed by the amount of enjoyable content that's on offer. We were surprised by how fun and addictive it turned out to be. This is much more than just another Minecraft clone, and to call it so would be to do it a great disservice.