I love stories. I really do…I love beginnings, middles and ends and feel satisfied at the notion that I’ve grown to know a group of persons and see them progress in their lives…or more specifically, gotten to know a group of persons who don’t exist, but could if they’re inspired and written well enough. With this in mind, I can tell you that during its prime, and even now, despite owning a copy of the game – I never got into Minecraft. I grew up on LEGO, but Minecraft, and even Roblox…I didn’t really have time for it. But I will tell you what I do have time for: RPGs. Yes, that’s right, I’m happy to sink a minimum of 25 hours into those bad-boys and feel like I had an adventure by the end of them. Which is why it’s to my pleasure when I saw that Square Enix effectively created a version of Minecraft that’s catered towards me. In the aesthetic, flow and character of the Dragon Quest series, we have Dragon Quest Builders and its sequel.
Set in what is the Dragon Quest Universe, our 2 stories revolve around our main character – a silent protagonist simply known as The Builder, who ‘speaks’ when other people repeat what he (or she) says. The Builder is a unique being in these 2 worlds, as he/she has the ability to…create. Each game has a different reason as to why the people of these worlds can’t build. In Game 1, it’s because they have forgotten. But in Game 2, it is because a Cult has forbidden them to do so, and any efforts to build is destroyed. The goal in both games is to help the people of the land rebuild their lives and their homes, and then rescue them from the Villains that oppress them, including the Final Boss at the end.
Now for the technical stuff:
Graphically and artistically, if you’re expecting the equivalent of the newest Final Fantasy games, you’re looking in the wrong place, as the game’s goal isn’t to push graphics, but to keep it cute, colourful, functional and bug-free (This series was originally a Nintendo exclusive up until Dragon Quest VII was released on the PS1, so cute and colourful is part in parcel). The Art style is that of Akira Toriyama, the legendary Manga Artist and writer who also created the Dragonball series and Dr Slump. Toriyama’s character designs and colour palette are so integrated into the series’ identity that the only way you could change the artist is to have someone who illustrates exactly like him. More or less – No Toriyama, no Dragon Quest, and no manga style that’s inspired by Astro Boy mixed with 101 Dalmatians.
The same can be applied to the music in both games. No Koichi Sugiyama, no Dragon Quest. While Nobuo Uematsu moved away from Final Fantasy after the 10th game, Sugiyama has remained the composer of every Dragon Quest to date, and the music remains highly characteristic of this series as a whole. Upbeat, adventurous, melancholy, nostalgic and sinister in all the right areas and in a very classical tone.
The gameplay and level designs are different in each game, and could be described as Dragon Quest mixed with Minecraft and Harvest Moon with a strong sandbox element. In ‘1 you have a level system, and with each new land where you build a home in the story, you leave the old 1 behind along with anything you created there. Each level receives a separate save file that allows you to return to them from the main menu (though they don’t advance the plot), along with having a separate area that allows you to build anything you want with the skills and recipes you pick up along the way. These recipes range from rooms to food to items. Meanwhile ‘2’ builds on that foundation and rather than give you a small, separate area to build within each level, that separate area becomes integrated into the story as a whole Island for you to build on (and it’s pretty big!). Think of it like a big blocky Elder Scrolls game with complete control of the landscape, all while advancing a story, as some challenges are closer to puzzles than simply following a to-do list. Part of the appeal in both games when it comes to visiting these lands, is what each new ‘home’ brings to the table. In ‘1’ you have a level with a story that focuses on building defences and another with a story on making healing items, and in ‘2’ the 1st area you live in focuses on farming while the 2nd focuses on mining. A difference between 1 and 2 in this area though, is that you can revisit these ‘homes’ for their unique supplies, and also to visit the villagers who didn’t return with you to build your island, which already makes ‘2’ more appealing if you grew attached to anyone.
The story is kept simple, whilst maintaining a mystery, such as the intentions of the deity who speaks to you in ‘1 or the mysterious backstory of Malroth (who is the Builder’s ‘Muscle’) in ‘2. The story is that a great evil takes over the land, you try to solve problems for all of the new people in your life, makes their lives better, and then fight the evil that is holding them back. It’s the same with both games, only with different dressing. The fact that important villagers can stick with you via your island adds more appeal.
Would I recommend Dragon Quest Builders 1 and 2? Yes I do. More so 2 over 1? Once again, yes. But that’s only because you can play 2 without playing 1. However, think it is best to play them in order, as playing 1 with its tighter structure and challenges can make you appreciate how large ‘2’ actually is. The Dragon Quest Builder series may not seem too groundbreaking to some, but in reality, this was a hybrid genre game series that people didn’t know they wanted until it was conceived, and in the end, both games are well executed and a pleasure to play.
Graphics: ***1/2 (1 & 2)
Art Style: ***** (1 & 2)
Level Design: **** (1) ****1/2 (2)
Gameplay: ****1/2 (1) ****3/4 (2)
Story: ***3/4 (1) **** (2)
Music: ***** (1 & 2)
Overall: ****1/4 (1) ****1/2 (2)