Dragon Quest Builders was a sleeper hit when it launched on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita back in 2016, blending ideas seen in open-world builder games like Minecraft with traditional quest devices seen in the mainline Dragon Quest games. It was a stroke of genius for the most part, excellently combining two different types of games into something unique and satisfying for fans of the series, as well as newcomers alike. This all continues on with the Nintendo Switch version of Dragon Quest Builders, culminating in the best portable Builders experience you can get – though it’s not without its issues.
Taking control of the Builder, the only one in the realm of Alefgard that can build, you awake from your slumber to discover the world has been taken over by the Dragonlord, and that creation has been wiped from the memories of the humans that inhabit it. Reawakened by the goddess Rubiss, you’re given the task of returning Alefgard to its former glories by rebuilding cities back to what they once were, as well as extinguishing the evil that inhabits the realm.
While simple, the premise of Dragon Quest Builders acts as a good way of bringing in both newcomers and series veterans alike. It gives you a general idea of what’s happening, thrusting you into the world of Alefgard and its inhabitants, all the while ensuring you aren’t feeling overwhelmed with meaty story content or anything of that nature. Further, the game smartly hands you a slew of fun tools to make use of in the opening hours in order to get a grip of the basics, as well as slowly introducing characters to accompany you on your journey. These characters give you quests to partake in throughout the world, and the exchanges with them are wonderfully lighthearted and fit well with the tone of the game.
In the opening hours, you’ll rebuild the game’s first city and learn the core basics of Dragon Quest Builders. This consists of doing quests for your residents, rebuilding a city (in turn levelling both the city and your residents up), and fending off the Dragonlord’s slew of monsters. As you level up your city — which happens by building new homes for your guests, as well as building new kitchens, inns, and the like — it’ll get stronger and attract more people. Subsequently, the Dragonlord will notice this change and send monsters to attack the city, culminating in a fun set of tower defence-like battles. This loop is unique enough to feel fresh as you adventure through Alefgard, and the monster defence sequences are without a doubt some of my favourite moments in the game.
Building up cities usually consists of getting material from the outer world, bringing it back and crafting it into something useful. You can craft a lot of stuff in Dragon Quest Builders, though you’ll need to know the crafting recipe. As the Builder, you’ll learn recipes as you pick up new materials in the world, in turn learning new ways of building a slew of different doors, torches, building equipment, and weaponry. This system is a nice way of keeping the gameplay interesting as you progress, with new recipes normally culminating in better gear and stronger building objects as you make your way through the 40-hour story.
Though at first glance Dragon Quest Builders may resemble something like Minecraft, the game expertly weaves in a fun story that pushes you along throughout. By having goals and objectives, the building and crafting element of the game didn’t at feel like it lacked meaning or purpose, which is what I’d constantly experience when playing Minecraft. There was always something to do, a monster to take out, or a material to find, and the experience is such a blast because of the way it’s all been mixed in together. Comparing this to Minecraft and builder types just doesn’t do Dragon Quest Builders justice, as it’s is a different kind of beast — one that exudes character as much as it does depth.
The Switch version of Dragon Quest Builders also has some exclusive content in the Terra Incognita region, allowing you to ride a Great Sabrecub and build a Dragon Quest Game Pak, which gives you more items for building. It’s not all that exciting in terms of exclusive content, though it’s a nice little inclusion nonetheless.
As for performance, I did notice some issues when I was playing the game in handheld mode. This would often happen when panning the camera over an area that had a lot of things happening in it, causing the framerate to chug. This didn’t happen while I was playing in docked mode, though the game doesn’t look as pretty as it does on the Switch’s screen compared to a 50” TV, making for a bit of a tradeoff of what you’d prefer to deal with.
Another thing that bothered me about the game was the noticeably small font size while playing in handheld mode, which became more annoying as time went on. Some text forced me to hold the Switch’s screen really close to my face to make out what was being said, and it was frustrating to deal with. Hopefully this gets sorted out soon, though.
That said, the biggest issue I have with Dragon Quest Builders on Switch right now is that the price is way too high for a game that’s already been out for two years on other systems. It’s an amazing game, but is one that doesn’t warrant such a high price point.
Be that as it may, what you get with Dragon Quest Builders is a game that has an enjoyable story, excellent gameplay mechanics, and a great selection of music to build to. It may not be for everyone, of course, but for those of you that like builder types or RPGs, Dragon Quest Builders is worth a shot. It’s a game that works so well as a portable experience, but it’s also excellent to play docked. Playing through this one has made me excited for the future of the series, and I’m keen to see what the sequel can come up with when it launches later down the track.
The Nintendo Switch version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. Digital code was provided by the publisher.
Dragon Quest Builders is fantastic, marred only by a high price point and some performance issues in handheld mode. Mixing in a great story and RPG elements seen from the mainline series with fun building mechanics makes for an enthralling experience, whether you’re playing handheld or docked.