After having loved Dragon Quest XI and having been turned off by the demo of Dragon Quest Builders 1, it comes as such a surprise that Dragon Quest Builders 2 has quickly shot up to become one of my favourite games of this year… Albeit without some sacrifices and technical mishaps.
For those uninitiated, Dragon Quest Builders is a spinoff franchise from the main Dragon Quest series, pulling monsters, character designs and the general ‘DQ Aesthetic’ into a Minecraft-like experience, focusing on the development of various towns to help restore and regenerate a struggling world – Dragon Quest Builders 1 focused on a number of towns on a single plane of land… However Dragon Quest Builders 2 opens its’ eyes towards the open shores, navigating to a number of core story islands, locations and new ‘Explorer Shores’, fit with two ideal building paradises – The Island of Awakening, where you’ll be building the majority of the time, and Buildertopia, a fully customisable island from which you can pull landscape styles from any of the previously explored Explorer Shores – There’s definitely a lot to unpack here!
Beginning with the narrative, you play as a Builder – an individual with unmatched creativity and building skills – who wakes up on a mysterious slave ship, belonging to the ‘Children of Hargon’, a faction that worships the main antagonist of Dragon Quest II; as you familiarise yourself with captive boat life, your ship suddenly crashes, sinking as you wash afloat on the mysterious Island of Awakening – Here you meet four pivotal characters that will guide you on your journey; the Hairy Hermit, a spirit inhabiting the form of a Hammerhood that teaches you the basics of building, Lulu, a young girl who has similarly washed ashore, Captain Brownbeard, a local sailor who’ll ferry you to new islands, and the main deuteragonist, Malroth – A violent and brattish young man who introduces himself to you by… Showing you people’s dead corpses that washed ashore.
…Is this game really a 7+?
From here you’re tasked with visiting various islands to restore their ‘building spirit’ and to liberate them from the Children of Hargon’s rule, teaching them how to build, sustain themselves and make the most out of the world; all whilst Malroth, due to his inability to grasp the basics of building, focuses his energy into the destructive foil that opposes building, similar to a light VS dark theme – Here, however, it’s focused more on the destruction of environments and unessecary obstacles that will pave the way towards more fruitful and wonderous creation. It’s rather poetic when you sit down and analyse it.
Starting straight out of the gates, I can confidently say that the relationship with Malroth and the humour this game exhumes is easily the best part of this title – The main story will easily set you back around 20-35 hours depending on how long you spend on the Island of Awakening and Explorer Shores, giving a surprising amount of meat to the seemingly simple bones that construct this game’s image – It also gets surprisingly dark as well, especially for a 7+ title. Tales of deception, betrayal, war, famine, cultism, religion, godhood, apocalyptic prophecies and even dragging dead soldiers by hand, and burying them in coffins, putting them in the ground, topping their graves with tombstones and dirt so the locals can grieve their deaths.
…Yeesh. When I was 7 I had just beaten Pokémon Ruby…
I mean, the entire premise of one of the islands is to parody Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but with constructing pubs instead of bear-related imagery for a town full of burly, beefy miners. Fantastic.
The spirit of Dragon Quest isn’t held back by neither the age rating, the visuals or the gameplay style – If anything, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is the most Dragon Quest-ey Dragon Quest game I’ve ever played.
Construction is another huge part of the game, with well over a thousand items, blocks and rooms to construct, and this is where I want to focus this part of the review. Why?
…Well, because this part of the game feels like Dark Cloud.
My favourite franchise, with my favourite building mechanics, and it’s mirrored in something like Dragon Quest Builders 2 – I couldn’t quite believe the depth of the building in this game when comparing it to Minecraft; constructing rooms out of blocks means that you establish a blank canvas space to put whatever you want in there, but the type of blocks, and type of items inside will affect a room’s ‘ambience’ similar to a game like Sims 4, where NPC’s will act and interact slightly differently with you depending on what ambience the current room is – Pairing items can create new item ‘combos’, such as pairing a Grand Piano and a Stool to make a Playable Piano, or a Table, Chair and Plate to make a Dining Table. These items and item combos then go further into unique recipes for special ‘Rooms’, with the size and design often dictating what room you create – For example, adding a Connecting Counter, four Stools and a Cocktail Shaker makes it into a Cocktail Bar; add a Cocktail Bar to a room with Kegs, and some Sipping Tables (Created by placing some Tankards on a Table with Chairs), and you go from a Room to a Well Stocked Bar. Add three Musical Instruments, a Stool and two Curtains, and you get a Music Room. Add an Emblematic Table, a Map, and three Solider Icons to make a War Room.
With well over 100 rooms to create, there’s space for a hell of a lot of variety within a town, island, or even a castle, with each having unique properties, uses and, often, background music. It just helps to make things that much more personal. Combine this with the ability to dye most items different colours, the ability to chisel corners and sides off of blocks, and the ability to mess around with water, poison bog water and lava (Amongst many other types of fluid), and you have yourself a game that no longer looks to copy Minecraft, but surpass it.
The game isn’t without it’s issues, however – Playing other people’s islands is near-impossible on Switch due to the framerate tanking to roughly 7 FPS on most built up islands (Yes, it is that bad), and the game’s world often lagging in intense areas – During the story you’d only really notice half a dozen instances of this lag, however during your own personal exploration, you’ll notice it far more. Additional to this, the game is a hell of a battery hog on Switch. Games like Breath of the Wild already consume my battery like a child at the dessert section of an all-you-can-eat buffet, but Dragon Quest Builders 2 manages to drain my Switch from 100% to 0% in just shy of 1 & half hours. Yikes. Multiplayer is also present, however I feel it’s quite a late addition – You can visit your friends worlds for collaborative building, up to 4 can join at one point, but you lose all your items in your friend’s world upon entering or leaving. You can’t take anything in, and you can’t take anything out, meaning your mate has to have stockpiles of common items to get you set up to help out, unless you’re offering yourself as free labour.
Finally my last gripe has to do with how the game handles it’s characters in areas like the Island of Awakening and Buildertopia – When in your own personal hamlet, all sense of personality just drains from these characters; the only time you get bothered by them is when you complete a room, build a Builders Bell and ring it… And that’s it. Some people like this approach, but I just wish people would come up and try to talk with you – NPC’s have unique dialogue depending on where they live, but even then, this is limited to one or two lines at most, with them often not recognising your achievements – One person wanted me to build a Music Room; I built it for him, and went to go tell him… And he wanted me to build it still. It was a generic message and not a request. This is heartbreaking for me as the story sets up these characters so well, and injects them with so much life that I was hoping it would translate to my own creations… But I was sorely mistaken.
…Despite this, however, I still find myself with a near-limitless adoration for this game, and everything that encapsulates it.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 builds upon the firm mold that Dragon Quest Builders 1 made of Minecraft and elevates it to a new height; it may not be at the shining peak that I wanted it to be at, but it’s still one heck of a fun ride – The game has charm and charisma in spades, is addicting as all heck, and is a gorgeous example that Minecraft was simply the progenitor, and that new franchises can build off of its’ mechanics and style in new, innovative and exciting ways. Here’s to you Dragon Quest Builders 2. Here’s to you.
I give Dragon Quest Builders 2 a: