Fall Games Preview 2016: Dragon Quest Builders Makes a Fine Cornerstone for the Series' American Reconstruction

Fall Games Preview 2016: Dragon Quest Builders Makes a Fine Cornerstone for the Series' American Reconstruction

What to do if you want to increase your RPG franchise's popularity in foreign lands? The trick, as the saying goes, could be to hook 'em while they're young.

Another holiday season is up us! Here's a look at the biggest games of the season as we make our way to the end of 2016. You can find our other previews here.

We've gone from a dark age for the Dragon Quest franchise in America to one brimming with hope and, better yet, actual localizations.

Square Enix and Nintendo have three English-language releases confirmed for the coming six months or so, and we couldn't be happier. For 30 years, Dragon Quest has served as the foundation of console role-playing games, though it's always struggled to find traction in the U.S. If anything could turn around that troubled legacy, though, it's the upcoming Dragon Quest Builders, which arrives here in the U.S. on both PlayStation 4 and Vita in just a teensy fraction more than a month from today.

What is it?

In the most reductive terms, Builders is Dragon Quest meets Minecraft. In short, it tells an alternate reality tale of the outcome of the original Dragon Warrior for NES: The descendent of Erdrick gave in to temptation and agreed to become the Dragon Lord's ally. Whoops! The world has plunged into darkness, and the land of Alefgard has been rendered unto desolation. Mankind has scattered into hiding, losing the art of literacy and the ability to create. Your job, dear player, is to unite mankind and bring the world back from ruin. Which you do by, basically, playing Minecraft.

For Japanese audiences, Dragon Quest Builders was designed to serve as an entry point into construction games by presenting the genre through the context of a beloved RPG franchise. In the West, however, the reverse seems more likely to happen: Minecraft fanatics could find themselves drawn into the Dragon Quest universe. It's not that farfetched a notion; a decade ago, the Zelda-esque action RPG Rocket Slime pulled me in and got me interested in Dragon Quest for the first time in 15 years. Builders absolutely overflows with the same gentle charm as Rocket Slime, and its clever take on the construction genre is bound to make more than a few players curious about the larger Dragon Quest universe...

Is it an annual franchise?

Dragon Quest, as in the core games, are anything but annual. A new, numbered Dragon Quest appears once every four or five years. The spinoffs, however, appear pretty frequently. Well, in Japan, anyway. Outside of mobile remakes of varying quality, we've only seen a single Dragon Quest title here in the U.S. since 2012's Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2. The dam's about to burst, though, as the Dragon Quest VII remake lands here in a week, and both Builders and Dragon Quest VIII's 3DS port will follow closely on its heels. Uh, anyway, the point is Dragon Quest isn't some annual franchise in the sense of a Call of Duty, and also we're pretty happy to get new releases in the U.S. after a years-long drought. The end.

Are we excited?

Well, let's put it this way: I had to pull rank in order to claim the right to review this one.

I realize Builders is far from being the game with the greatest hype this fall. It won't sell millions of copies. It's the kind of game that shows up on the USgamer front page and causes our publisher to say, "Really? This again?" More people are going to buy a polished-up version of Skyrim, a game they played to death five years ago, than they are the totally fresh and original Builders, I'd wager.

In terms of concept and logistics, though, this game is huge. It's the de facto marriage — in spirit if not in actual brands and licenses — of two of the biggest game franchises in the world. More than 66 million Dragon Quest games have sold the world over, and Minecraft is one of the few franchises that have managed to do it one better (actually, it's closer to 33 million better). Combine the two and you have what should, by all rights, be a juggernaut.

And most importantly, Builders isn't just some vapid Minecraft wannabe. It's a smart, carefully considered union between Minecraft's construction tenets and Dragon Quest's tone, history, and structure. Even though it draws on two popular and established brands, it feels totally unique. I've never played a game quite like Dragon Quest Builders, and after spending a few hours a few weeks back getting a start on the reconstruction of Alefgard, all I can think about now is finishing the job.

You can check out our (extensive) previous coverage of the game through the following links:

How the Dragon Quest Builders Team is Crafting a New Kind Of RPG
A conversation with the creators of Square Enix's upcoming do-it-yourself take on the role-playing genre.

"Dragon Quest Builders is Minecraft Meets Dragon Quest!" OK, but What Does That Actually Mean?
Looking beyond the slimy blue skin of Square Enix's construction sandbox adventure.

Dragon Quest Builders Truly is the Dragon Quest of Minecraft Clones
Not just in appearance, but in terms of its fundamental design philosophy.

Does Minecraft Make You Feel Aimless? Fear Not: Dragon Quest Builders is Coming West
Dragon Quest Builders brings goals and structure to Minecraft's open-ended gameplay.

Dragon Quest Builders Offers the Series Its Best Hopes of Western Integration (or is That "Indoctrination"?)
Square Enix may finally have found the perfect tool to convince kids abroad to love the classic RPG franchise.

Dragon Quest Builders Could be the Minecraft Gateway for Old People
A mix of old and new could be just what the reluctant need to get into the world of blocky building.

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