Goddess bless western Dragon Quest fans. We're a scattered crew, but each one of us is thoroughly dedicated to all things Loto and Zenithian.
Dragon Quest is slowly gaining a larger audience on these shores, however, and I expect the number of dragon-disciples will only grow alongside Square-Enix's promise to bring more Dragon Quest games westward.
Square-Enix has made good on that promise so far: Other than the still-absent Dragon Quest X (which is an MMO and understandably less likely to toddle on over here), most of Japan's recent Dragon Quest titles have received excellent localizations. Even the spin-offs, which are automatically destined to be less popular than the mainline titles, have floated on over to us.
The two most recent Dragon Quest spin-offs to hit western markets are Dragon Quest Builders (2016) and Dragon Quest Heroes II (2017). The former is an action/building-RPG that takes significant inspiration from Minecraft, and the latter is a hack-and-slash Dynasty Warriors / Musou game with a significant Dragon Quest twist (e.g. familiar cast members and monsters).
Both Dragon Quest Builders and Dragon Quest Heroes II get a thumbs-up from me. Go buy both games. Easy, right? If only. I know your life. Your spending money is limited, and your time is even more precious. Much as you'd like to blow your paycheque on every Dragon Quest spin-off that comes our way, you need to be selective because you are a responsible adult.
So: Dragon Quest Heroes II, or Dragon Quest Builders? Which one should you nab?
First, let's break 'em down.
Dragon Quest Builders (PlayStation 4, PS Vita)
Dragon Quest Builders is an alternate-universe take on the original Dragon Quest story. Whereas the Descendent of Loto triumphed over the Dragonlord in Universe A, he was seduced by the Dark Side in Builders' timeline. The world quickly fell into ruin. Surviving humans scattered, and monsters roam the land freely.
Some years later, the eponymous Builder wakes up and receives a single command: Defeat the Dragonlord by reuniting humanity and rebuilding their towns and cities. Thus, you strike out, pop into familiar territories (Kol, Rimuldar, and Cantlin, to name a few), gather the materials necessary to build houses and buildings for the residents, and beat up marauding monsters.
Dragon Quest Builders is a perfect mix between action-adventure RPG battles, and Minecraft-style town building. Every town you rebuild has a specific set of needs. Finding special materials and recruiting townspeople often requires you to venture far into wild territory. It can be a difficult game at times, but that just makes things feel super-sweet when you bring the goods back to your developing town.
Dragon Quest Builders pours over with fanservice. Non-fans can enjoy the game without trouble (it's well-built, so to speak), but rebuilding the world you travelled across so many years ago on the NES is special. The over-arching plot about the fallen hero is a real attention-grabber, too.
Dragon Quest Builder improves on the basic Minecraft experience as well. Granted, the mechanics adhere to a harder ruleset (defying gravity is not as easy in Builders as it is in Minecraft), but the game's clear goals and motivations are exactly what some people crave when they indulge in Minecraft's huge open world.
Dragon Quest Heroes II (PlayStation 4, PC)
Dragon Quest Heroes II is a sequel to 2015's Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below. Both are "Musou" games, i.e. games that revolve primarily around mowing down waves and waves of enemies with flashy sword tricks. The Dynasty Warriors series is probably the west's best-known example of Musou games, though Hyrule Warriors for the Wii U also grabbed a lot of attention in 2014.
And, like Hyrule Warriors, Dragon Quest Heroes and Dragon Quest Heroes II blend Musou-style action with a well-known franchise's characters, lore, and monster roster. When you play Dragon Quest Heroes II, you'll meet up with (and fight alongside) characters from the mainline Dragon Quest series, including Torneko from Dragon Quest IV, Ruff from Dragon Quest VII, Angelo from Dragon Quest VIII, and many more. Each fighter has a large roster of weapons, special techniques, and magic spells at their disposal, and class changes are possible, too.
Like its predecessor, Dragon Quest Heroes II lets you collect and use "Monster Medals" to summon friendly monsters onto the battlefield. Several Dragon Quest games let you recruit monster allies, so calling on a monster-friend in Dragon Quest Heroes II is a practical bit of fan service.
Regardless, Dragon Quest Heroes II isn't quite as engaging as Dragon Quest Builders. There's less to do, less to explore, and while you keep company with heroes from games past, the plot and main characters in Heroes II are all new. Some players who just want to soak in the fanservice might regard this unfamiliarity as a determent.
Both games are great, but Dragon Quest Heroes II doesn't quite touch Dragon Quest Builders, which wound up being my Game of the Year for 2016. Dragon Quest Builders' story, gameplay, graphics, and sound meld into a near-perfect experience that's very satisfying for non-Dragon Quest fans, but absolute brain candy for anyone who grew up with the series. You fight. You build. You fight. You build. It's a highly addictive pattern.
By contrast, Dragon Quest Heroes II is all about the fight. There's a bit of exploration and some great character interactions, but it's a Musou game at heart. In other words, it's exactly what you want to fire up after a hard day of work, but you won't walk away with the same sense of accomplishment Dragon Quest Builders offers.
Unless you are all about Dragon Quest and Musou games, Dragon Quest Builders is the right spin-off for you.