Square Enix continues to expand the world of Dragon Quest, this time inspired by Minecraft while keeping the charm that defines the Dragon Quest series. Zach Webster lets us know about Dragon Quest Builders, coming out this fall.
If Minecraft wasn't so ugly it would look like Dragon Quest Builders. Aelfgard has never looked as good as it does after it's been destroyed by the Dragonlord and remade as a series of harvestable blocks. In this alternate universe, the hero from Dragon Quest chose poorly when making his choice during the endgame. As a result, his world was conquered so hard the concept of building was eradicated. The simple act of applying slime to a stick and creating a torch becomes a heroic act of rebellion. Despite these grim overtones, the friendly, colorful Dragon Quest aesthetic spruces up even the rudest hovel. Although construction is familiar to Minecraft and Terraria fans--crafting takes place at work stations and cubes of material are placed one at at time--the resulting buildings are more charming than their spiritual predecessors. The cartoony style is pleasantly lumpy, which is suitable for a world inhabited by smiling Dragon Quest stalwarts like slimes, hammerhoods, and drack—as well as a few new monsters.
Dragon Quest Builders' story mode consists of four different zones: a familiar map based on the Dragon Quest world map, a world of poisonous swamps and distant islands, a mountainous region pocketed with lava, and a final zone shrouded in secrecy. Each of the worlds has a unique theme to match the environment. The green first zone is focused on teaching the basics, the second zone focuses on developing the story aspects and base-building, and the third world dives into building traps for enemies and other advanced crafting projects—including transportation. The localization uses quirky British inflection and comic asides to impress a light, fairy tale tone. Even though humanity has been so devastated by the Dragonlord that they've forgotten how to build torches and straw pallets, the game doesn't give in to post-apocalyptic despair. Although the puns that ooze through several Dragon Quest games didn't reveal themselves during the demo, the allies the protagonist can recruit to gang up on monsters are a jovial bunch.
Producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto explained the importance of the story mode. It draws people along and presents the familiar structure of quests and sidequests, providing manageable end goals and quirky conversations to go along with the open world crafting and exploration. The unlimited freedom of the typical sandbox building game presents great opportunities, but also a paralyzing freedom of choice. According to Fujimoto, Japanese gamers appreciate the gradual introduction and quest-based scaffolding--and have since gone on to submit some amazing buildings to Square-Enix's monthly building contests, including a multi-level roller coaster and macro-scale pixel art of classic Dragon Quest monsters.
When I had a chance at the PlayStation 4, I played through the first several quests. I started as a mysterious urchin trapped in a mysterious crypt. The spirit of the world, an encouraging sort, taught me to craft medicine and build, so I built a set of stairs leading out into the light. For my efforts, she provided me with a Flag of Hope. Planting it in the ruins of the once-great city of Cantlin brought a precocious moppet crawling from the wreckage. She encouraged me to turn dirt piles into rooms by filling holes in the wall and adding torches. Next, I upgraded the empty room into a bedroom by adding two straw pallets, courtesy of a pile of weeds I chopped down. Upgrading rooms provides special features like enhanced recovery rates, automatic storage, and a location for NPCs to automatically generate resources. They also produce experience points, which are used to level up the town. Leveling up the town advances the plot until it's time to attract a boss monster and bring the hammer down.
Boss monsters are big and consist of several objectives. For example, Cantlin's famed golem can't be damaged head-on. While it jumps around the perimeter of the player's base and smashes the rooms, the player must build special shields to block its attacks. After blocking three times and hiding behind a shield once, the golem becomes vulnerable to bombs. The first bomb stuns it and the second bomb blasts it into its component pieces. This process repeats itself several times, after which point the brute is laid low and peace reigns once more.
Outside of the main story, players can explore free build mode. In this zone, which exists outside the borders of Aelfgard, players are thrust into the wild with their imaginations as their guide. Buildings created in this mode can be shared with friends. The game does not feature multiplayer and will not include content updates, but Fujimoto is curious about including both features in the sequel, if the game sells well enough to warrant one. He would also like to build a waterfall.