Dragon Quest: Builders PlayStation 4 Review: Fables of the Reconstruction

A brilliant marriage in which two very different types of game — Minecraft and the classical console RPG — come together to find their common ground.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

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The idea of Dragon Quest: Builders appealed to me from the beginning. I love Dragon Quest, and I find the concept of Minecraft intriguing but lack the kind of free time that its open-ended freedom demands. Combine the two and you'd have, presumably, a good game.

I was mistaken, though. Dragon Quest: Builders isn't good; it's excellent. What surprises me most about it, I think, is just how well it works as Dragon Quest. The Minecraft element seems fairly obvious, what with the world made of one-meter cubes that you can break down, carry around, and reassemble more or less any way you please. And yes, it wears the Dragon Quest identity cosmetically: Besides all the familiar enemies wandering around and all the iconic sound effects they make as they cast magic spells, many of the blocks that make up the world are essentially cubic versions of the 8x8-pixel bitmap tiles that comprised the original NES game's world and town maps.

But that in itself means nothing. I've seen no shortage through the years of games that wear a beloved franchise's skin without giving any particular heed to its essence. Builders doesn't make that mistake; not only does it look the part of a sequel to the original Dragon Quest, it nicely captures the spirit of the games. One of the series' core strengths has long been the stories you experience as you travel from town to town, and Builders turns that inside-out: You set up a different town as your base of operations for each chapter, drawing residents from across the land to make the newly restored city their home. While this home base approach represents a shift from the picaresque style of standard Dragon Quest games, in which you typically pass through a village for a few hours at most en route to solving the world's problems, this only serves to strengthen the game. Each NPC has his or her own personality, from gregarious fool to melancholy to coward, and their aspect slowly matures as your accomplishments mount and your town grows. So, while Builders contains plenty of fan service for anyone who remembers the original Dragon Quest, it also works well as a standalone tale.

The fan service deserves plenty of respect, though. Builders exists on the framework of the game that kicked off the long-running RPG series, literally: The world map, which you only ever see as small portions, exists atop that of the original game. Since this is a real-time 3D action game rather than a turn-based RPG with random encounters, Builders offer a chance to immerse yourself in one of gaming's classic worlds; honestly, this has even more impact than moving through faux-recreations of Super Mario Bros. World 1-1, because this world was meant to be a vast and sprawling setting from the beginning. Now, it truly is as vast and sprawling in a way the NES could never depict it, and on top of that you can make your way through it practically any way you like.

The story makes use of key moments from the first Dragon Quest, too. The first town you restore is Cantlin, which in the original adventure presented you with one of the game's handful of boss encounters in the form of a powerful golem that protected the city gates. The golem plays a major part in Cantlin's restoration, and the ultimate story behind its appearance here feels very true to the bittersweet spirit that drives many Dragon Quest story vignettes. The little nods are great as well, such as the thoughtful attempts to integrate the localization of the old NES games with the series' current style. Your encounters in the present day have the same slightly goofy, pun-filled, dialect-based style as other current Dragon Quest games, but your flashbacks to the original game's quest uses the stilted, faux-Shakespearean style of "thees" and "thous" from the NES games, back when it was "Dragon Warrior." It's clearly a game that a lot of love went into, and it shows.

Builders doesn't work quite as well on the Minecraft front, if only due to its restrictions. This isn't like setting up a Minecraft server and just going for it. The game world features remarkable persistence to be sure — drop an item on a remote isthmus somewhere and you'll still be able to come back and collect it a dozen hours later, and the tunnels you dig through mountainsides remain forever... as do the hideous scars in the landscape left behind by explosions. And there's something marvelously empowering about seeing a mountain range in an RPG — normally an impassable tile — and just boring right through it to the other side. Nevertheless, this is a relatively basic building simulation. The world has a fairly shallow fixed bottom, allowing you dig only two blocks beneath the surface of water. Your hero or heroine can't swim, so deeper water constitutes something of a hard demarcation; you might think, "Well, I can just build a bridge over that," but no, you can't. There's an invisible barrier over any deep water, even narrow lengths of water between jetties — a frustrating limitation.

Even so, Builders provides you with plenty of freedom to build. I've taken a fairly straightforward approach with the game, what with my need to get it completed and reviewed (and even then I still have a long way to go). For those not constrained by the requirements of their job, though, Builders offers a fantastic array of construction options — and you build on your knowledge quite quickly. As you complete quests, you learn new crafting techniques, which in turn allow you to create better tools and weapons, which in turn allow you to fight monsters and gather materials more efficiently.

The greatest strength Builders possesses, in fact, is the way it so brilliantly combines the feedback loops of both Minecraft and Dragon Quest into an RPG-like system of skills and mechanics. For once, leveling up means something more than hitting harder and having more hit points. Certainly those things emerge as a matter of course during Builders, but they're more of a side effect, a means to an end. You don't level up your protagonist here but rather your town, which makes your townspeople smarter and unlocks new perks. In other RPGs, you roam around and earn gold so you can buy better armor; here, you make better armor yourself, which comes about as a side effect of learning to refine iron ore into steel, which you can do once you unlock a furnace, for which you need to complete a specific quest, which can only be completed once you've constructed a tool capable of breaking through hard rocks, for which you need a certain number of resources farmed from creatures that appear at the far end of the desert, which you can't reach until you complete the quest that unlocks the teleporter to the desert... and so forth. RPGs often have interlocking quests, but those typically feel arbitrary and rote. In Builders, the quests build on each other and create a fantastic sense of accomplishment.

The game has only a handful of flaws from what I've played so far. Besides the limitations to exploration and digging, you also have to deal with a camera not entirely suited for the genre. Builders places you in control of an avatar seen through the third-person view, and while it's possible to bring the camera in-close while you tunnel through narrow spaces, it never works quite as effectively as a proper first-person viewpoint. This doesn't break the game, but it certainly does make construction and mining inefficient.

I'm also not a fan of the boss battles, which feel decidedly out of place here. Worse, they arbitrarily break the game's own principles. The first boss, for example, attacks the town you've worked so hard to create, smashing it apart with boulders that demolish your construction. You can create shields to protect it, but I locked myself into an unwinnable state by anticipating the battle's goals ahead of time: The NPC dialogue made it clear I would need to erect those shields, so I did it in advance, placing them around the perimeter of the town. When the battle began, however, everything outside the town's borders was de-instanced, meaning those hard-crafted shields vanished into air. For a game whose core principles involve permanence and persistence, this felt like a massive violation of its own spirit.

Fortunately, these grievances are fairly minor in the grand scheme of the game. I would prefer a little more freedom in building, the ability to toggle into first-person view when necessary, and fewer out-of-place bosses (or maybe none at all). And this game is just begging for cooperative play. Overall, however, Builders has proven to be an addictive, involving adventure that combines two fundamentally different kinds of game and makes you realize that maybe they're not so different after all. For those who wish console RPGs had a little more freedom and for those who wish construction games had a little more direction, Dragon Quest: Builders finds a clever midpoint between the two. It's not a pure take on either genre, but instead a wholly unique combination of the two — wholly fitting for a game that revolves around taking two different things and combining them into something better.

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Comments 38

  • Avatar for VotesForCows #1 VotesForCows A year ago
    This has come out of nowhere for me, sounds fantastic. Just downloading the demo now, so will give it a go when I get home from work!
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #2 cldmstrsn A year ago
    The demo really sold me on this game. The building was fun and the characters were really funny plus im a sucker for Dragon Quest. Unfortunately I cant get this when it releases but its definitely on my list.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #3 cldmstrsn A year ago
    @VotesForCows I think you will really enjoy it. I didn't know what to expect and was very pleasantly surprised.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #4 Modern-Clix A year ago
    Same. I was already interested, and the demo sold me on the game, putting a a smile on my face every minute I played of it.
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  • Avatar for Ghopper101 #5 Ghopper101 A year ago
    I am really on the fence for this game. I will have to watch some let's plays or something. I don't really enjoy these sort of games, but I love Dragon Quest!
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  • Avatar for kna72978 #6 kna72978 A year ago
    Deleted October 2016 by kna72978
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  • Avatar for Tebunker #7 Tebunker A year ago
    @Ghopper101 you try the demo yet? It is a perfect example of how the game plays.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #8 Modern-Clix A year ago
    @Ghopper101 Try the demo. I don't like Minecraft, terraria, or games of that ilk. I enjoyed this so much, because while it is a builder game, it is first and foremost an RPG. That is why they made a separate free mode for those people that want to go wild without structure.

    Do yourself a favor and try the demo.
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  • Avatar for Soapfish #9 Soapfish A year ago
    I must be the only person who was excited for this game and then found myself bored when I played the demo. I may give iftanother shot, but I think it might not be for me. I just couldn't get passed the way the camera behaves.Edited 2 times. Last edited October 2016 by Soapfish
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  • Avatar for Namevah #10 Namevah A year ago
    I agree with the camera complaint. Having a first-person option just for construction would be preferable to shuffling into position and hitting the buttons to alter elevation.

    Otherwise, the demo sold me. I love Minecraft, so it's great to play something similar-yet-distinctly different. Unfortunately, a purchase might have to wait. We're getting into the big glut of fall games, and I'm already feeling the strain on my wallet.
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  • Avatar for tigergt33 #11 tigergt33 A year ago
    @jeremy.parish thoughts on the soundtrack ?
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #12 Modern-Clix A year ago
    @Namevah Wouldn't a first person camera make things tougher since I cannot get an aerial or wide view for planning a construction?

    What I do wish, however, is that I could use the d-pad for movement for more precise positioning.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #13 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @Modern-Clix A camera that could be toggled between first- and third-person view would be ideal. And you can hold down both the "look up" and "look down" buttons together to lock in positioning for placement.
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  • Avatar for TrustyPanda #14 TrustyPanda A year ago
    I respect Minecraft, but it wasn't what I wanted from a game. But I think I'm sold on DQ Builders after the demo... except I feel torn about whether to get it on Vita or PS4. To play on the train or on the big screen at home? If anyone knows of any big differences let me know.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #15 VotesForCows A year ago
    @cldmstrsn I'm sold! And so's my daughter. We both love it. And I've never even played Dragon Quest before, so I'm coming at this pretty fresh. Love the gentle sense of humour.
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  • Avatar for Mikki-Saturn #16 Mikki-Saturn A year ago
    This game was on my radar already, but I just finished the demo and now I am truly excited! I can't believe what a good job they did merging these two games. I simply did not want the demo to end. I think I will definitely be picking this up.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #17 Modern-Clix A year ago
    @jeremy.parish Hey, over on the forums someone mentioned you can go into first person mode in this game. Can you confirm this?
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #18 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @Modern-Clix You can!? I was never able to do that. I'll look into it, but all I've been able to find is the ability to bring the camera in close while in confined spaces.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #19 link6616 A year ago
    @jeremy.parish first time I'm hearing about this too.

    The closest is sometimes the camera will end up in a weird place and the game will appear first person... But it's not.

    Could have been added for the western release though??? But I don't know where you'd put the button for it on vita at least.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #20 Modern-Clix A year ago
    @jeremy.parish I don't know if it's true or not since I stopped playing the demo after finding out my save won't carry over and didn't want to do everything all over again. Someone mentioned it in a GAF thread.

    It is a moot point though since between the demo and your review, I am sold on this. I cant stand these type of games but this one hooked me in.
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #21 himuradrew A year ago
    @jeremy.parish Did you play on PS4 or Vita? I'd like to know if there are any performance issues on the Vita (stuttering, long load times etc).

    Was not able to download the Vita demo since my brother took it with him on a trip.
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  • Avatar for moochan #22 moochan A year ago
    @himuradrew Played the demo and the only difference is resolution and some lighting effects. There was someone in a different DQ Builder that posted a youtube video comparing the difference. Here

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  • Avatar for himuradrew #23 himuradrew A year ago
    @moochan Thank you for this. I really want to get this for the Vita as this type of game seems to lend itself well for a portable console. Was sort of hesitant because as lot of PS4 to Vita ports are crap (RE:R2, AoT, DW Empires, etc)

    EDIT: Would've loved to get this for my PS4 also, but no cross save?Edited October 2016 by himuradrew
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #24 Frosty840 A year ago
    I vaguely recall a "You Are Not The Hero" line being associated with this game, and I have to agree that it would have been nice if boss battles had been entirely absent.
    RPG villagers are, after all, the people who have been terrified by the local monster boss for years at a time and who need to be rescued by the Chosen Hero. How better to emphasise your character's status as not that hero than to be unable to confront boss monsters directly; to be forced to wall away the Minotaur in a labyrinth, rather than confront it head on?
    Of course, there's a whole Chekhov's Gun argument to be made there...
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #25 cldmstrsn A year ago
    Oh man! Want to get but must resist for now.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #26 LBD_Nytetrayn A year ago
    Yeah, if I get the chance, I might like to check this out.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #27 link6616 A year ago
    @himuradrew I've been playing the vita import version. You sometimes get a slight stutter when impressive effects happen, or just some camera angle changes, but it never interferes with the game. Most of these moments are either when little is happening or when the game already won't let you do anything.

    The demo will provide ample example of how well it runs, so I'd really recommend that if you are worried, but I found builders an enjoyable experience on the vita through out.

    No psvita tv support though!

    Although with the hacking scene as it is, dqb is well set for whitelist hack support.

    And no cross save in the jp version. Apparently save file sizes would be too big or something.Edited October 2016 by link6616
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #28 himuradrew A year ago
    @link6616 Thanks. At least I'm confident of getting the Vita version as I feel this is the sort of game that lends itself well to playing on a portable for extended play sessions. :)
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  • Avatar for link6616 #29 link6616 A year ago
    @himuradrew I really like the vita version. But I really think this game is actually better suited to longer sessions that aren't always the best on vita.

    I nearly always started on full charge and ended when I saw a battery warning.
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  • Avatar for WiegrafFolles #30 WiegrafFolles A year ago
    Kat, Builders feels like Vita was the target platform with the PS4 version just being an upres. The interface works very well and there isn't slowdown.
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #31 himuradrew A year ago
    @link6616 Haha.. Well this is actually the sort of game I'd really want to play on my daily commute to the office or when the wife and baby are asleep meaning I can't fire up my PS4. :)
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #32 VotesForCows A year ago
    @jeremy.parish Honest to god Jeremy, the first half of your review opened my eyes both to this game and to Dragon Quest in general. Loving the demo of the former, and will definitely give traditional DQ games a look in future - had previously discounted them cos the visuals don't quite work for me. Thank you!
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  • Avatar for Gaminggumper #33 Gaminggumper A year ago
    @Modern-Clix if you hold both top triggers you lock in place and be able to snap to the rows of blocks as you build its something you get accustomed to as you play and makes building very quick
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  • Avatar for Gaminggumper #34 Gaminggumper A year ago
    @Modern-Clix its rare, but if in a building with a roof only two blocks high the camera is placed in your head for something like first person. but its difficult to judge distance in this view because you interact with thing a block in front of you.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #35 jeffcorry A year ago
    We fell in love with the demo at our house. The kids love it. I need to figure out how to justify this game, World of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XV, Mario Color Splash...and several other games the kids are interested in.
    I am going to have to be on a schedule...
    Too many games.
    Not enough time.
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  • Avatar for metal_maniac #36 metal_maniac A year ago
    Wow, this sounds like a really fun game. First Paper Mario, now this? Gonna be a great christmas :-)
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  • Avatar for dburrola #37 dburrola A year ago
    "Fables of the Reconstruction"? So it's true. You ARE an evil Michael Stipe from a parallel universe. :-)
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #38 jeremy.parish A year ago
    @dburrola Wow, deep cut there.
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  • Avatar for jessedylanwatson26 #39 jessedylanwatson26 A year ago
    The Chapter 2 boss battle ruined this game for me. I loved it til then, despite the bad controls and terrible camera. It was getting a little old, but I probably would have had a break and happily began Chapter 3.

    Whomever designed the Ch 2 boss battle should give me a refund.
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