Japan is driven by a need—nay, a mission—to insert its beloved Dragon Quest RPG franchise into as many spin-off genres as possible. From action-adventure titles (Rocket Slime) to Monopoly-style board games (Fortune Street) to Musou titles (Dragon Quest Heroes), Dragon Quest isn't shy about hanging up its turn-based menus and trying something new from time to time.
Not every spin-off is a winner, but much like the series' alchemy pot, mixing ingredients sometimes yields stellar results. Dragon Quest Builders came to the PlayStation 4 in 2016 and garnered love and praise with its mix of Minecraft's building and Dragon Quest's adventuring. The game tasks you with rebuilding the series' kingdoms after they're ravaged by the minions of the Dragonlord, meaning the act of building is as important as venturing afar in search of ingredients and allies. Dragon Quest Builders isn't just good fun for Dragon Quest fans: It's also perfect for people who enjoy making stuff block-by-block in Minecraft but feel aimless without a set of clear goals to strive for.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 for the PlayStation 4 and the Switch serves up more of the good feelings Dragon Quest Builders dished out a few years ago, and then it garnishes your experience with more of everything. More materials, more tools, more recipes, more monsters, and loads more allies. Better still, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is much more connected than its predecessor. Whereas Dragon Quest Builders' four chapters don't touch one another (you're forced to enter each chapter empty-handed, and leave the same way), everything you make, grow, and learn in Dragon Quest Builders 2 stays with you and contributes to the cultivation of your home island. It helps the game feel more like a whole adventure rather than a cluster of stories that each contribute a paragraph to a conclusion.
In fact, Dragon Quest Builders 2 has more story to wade through than Dragon Quest Builders. Its lore is based around what's seemingly an alternative version of Dragon Quest 2's story: The evil Hargon is put down by the descendants of Erdrick, but many of the unholy priests' followers still roam the land and bully the human population into following the Order. Building things is expressly forbidden, which is where you (an "apprentice Builder") and your troublemaking mallet come in. You have to reteach the populace how to farm, mine, build, and defend themselves, much to the irritation of Hargon's followers.
Also, you quickly become friends with a human incarnation of Malroth, Dragon Quest 2's demonic end boss. This isn't a spoiler: The game isn't coy about telling you the identity of your be(a)stie. His memory's wiped and he's tormented constantly by voices telling him to embrace his penchant for destruction, but everything's fine. Don't worry.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 admittedly has a slow start thanks in part to all the new mechanics and features you're expected to learn about. One of the biggest changes from the first game is the inclusion of the "Isle of Awakening," a huge, barren island you're asked to populate and cultivate. The Isle of Awakening is essentially Dragon Quest Builders 2's hub, and it's the main reason you sail out and visit other islands. In time, you collect farmers who make the island fertile, miners who build sturdy structures, and other helpful denizens. It's not incorrect to call the Isle of Awakening a more interesting and integrated version of Terra Incognita, the piece of land you're allowed to free-build on in Dragon Quest Builders. Life on the Isle of Awakening is a little more structured than on Incognita; you can only build with recipes you learn on other islands, and there are missions to complete if you want to. Generally, though, you're given free rein to build the island to your liking.
Don't hog the act of creation all to yourself, though. One of Dragon Quest Builders 2's strongest points is you actually fulfill your mission to turn the people you meet into fellow Builders. There are some staggeringly huge blueprints to follow, but after a little instruction, your NPC friends roll up their sleeves and start building. It's great fun to sit back and watch your thralls—er, your friends—hustle to and fro as they set down blocks, doors, lights, and fixtures to create enormous structures and fortress defense systems. Your NPCs also cook, entertain bar patrons, farm, and do whatever needs doing. No longer do they simply vault over the walls you set down to get in your way and make demands. What's more, a busy NPC is a happy NPC. Happy NPCs help the towns you build outside the Isle of Awakening grow more quickly. All these small interactions and events make Dragon Quest Builders 2 feel livelier than the first game.
There are also countless small improvements that make Dragon Quest Builders 2 a more streamlined experience than Dragon Quest Builders. Most notably, your weapon and your hammer occupy different buttons, and swinging the former in a snug space will no longer damage objects or walls. There's a very Minecraft-like first-person view you can activate at any time, which lets you knock down walls and mine materials with block-by-block precision. (This is also a great way to hammer blocks high above you.) You can warp to your home base at any time, anywhere; no more having to build Chimaera Wings for exclusive outdoor use. Early in the game, you're given a bag that lets you hold as many materials as you require, eliminating the need to build huge Coffers from island to island. Best of all, when a monster raid or boss damages your fortress, your dandy NPCs pitch in and fix whatever's been knocked down.
All this adds up to more time on building productively and less time on fixing mistakes and monster damage. But if you're the type of person who enjoys Dragon Quest Builders' unique punishments, fear not: When you sail out to a new island, you're still forced to start the contained adventure empty-handed, save for your weapons, armor, and the Windbraker accessory that lets you glide as freely as Link in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. (Yes, it's amazing. Try flying in first-person mode.) But once you're done the island's set of story missions, you can freely transport goods between areas.
Note that the story missions on each island are long and can sometimes grow a bit repetitive. This is especially true of the second island, where your mission is to mine for precious metals and build successively bigger, fancier pubs. Granted, it's very easy to get distracted when building for story purposes. Try to remember when a townsperson asks you to build a toilet, you don't have to go all-out with a small palace and a commode surrounded by flowers. My advice is to save the best of your building energy for your projects on the Isle of Awakening.
Also keep in mind that after the first chapter, it's possible to retreat to your private island whenever you need a break from Dragon Quest Builders 2's story. There's always something that needs building. There are also smaller islands where you can wrangle animals for your settlement and conduct scavenger hunts for valuable rewards. Sometimes you just need to putter around and look for dogs to send back home.
After a bit of a slow start, Dragon Quest Builders 2 soars like the Builder on a thermal. You fight, you build, you explore, and you fly. It takes everything that's great about the first Dragon Quest Builders, fixes many of the annoying bits, and stuffs in tons more content. You don't need to be familiar with the first game, or even Dragon Quest in general, to enjoy it. All its parts come together for an excellent adventure/building game, and that's what matters.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a quintessential example of a great sequel. It takes everything that's fun about the first game and adds more of the good stuff while removing the mechanics that didn't work the first time around. It's slow to really get started, but once it starts rolling, you never want to stop digging, building, and fighting. If you're curious about the Dragon Quest Builders series on any level, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a good jumping-on point.