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E3 2016 Hands-on: Dragon Quest Builders


Jonathan Higgins

My love for Dragon Quest is infamous in certain circles. I bounced around the room like a game of racquetball when Nintendo announced that Dragon Quest VII and VIII on 3DS were finally coming West. As much as I pined for those games to leave Japan for years, I didn“t really feel the same way about Dragon Quest Builders.

 

I approached the demo at E3 2016 willing to give it a chance because it“s Dragon Quest, and plenty of their spinoffs have had enough charm to win me over. But see, Minecraft and I have never really gotten along. I found its beginnings largely intimidating, since it didn“t really tell me what to do or where to go. And, from what I gather, Minecraft is a game where you kind of imagine your own story, versus see one unfold before you.

 

If you feel the same way I do about Minecraft, I am happy to report that putting a Dragon Quest spin on that game“s conventions gives players a sense of direction, as well as an underlying story that gives the world you create meaning beyond what you make of it. If you don“t, and you love the kind of creativity that Minecraft yields, there“s absolutely plenty of that, too. Still, I“m going to spend most of this reflection offering up how Dragon Quest does Minecraft a fair bit differently.

 

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For those who don“t know, the original Dragon Quest was one of the first NES games to give you the ability to choose whether you want to “join forces with the last boss” or not. The Dragonlord offers the hero from that game the option to rule half a world with him. If you hit “Yes” at the time, it“s a trap and you get a Game Over. But see: Dragon Quest Builders takes place after that Game Over, in a ruined world (Alefgard) where the hero failed. Bad stuff happened, but now a new hero, the player, has been graced with the ability to build. Folks have apparently forgotten what the word “build” even means, so it“s up to you to -- quite literally -- rebuild and restore the civilization that the Dragonlord destroyed.

 

The hero has a direct line of communication to the spirit that watches over the world, and said spirit guides you with a loose sense of what to do next. One of the first things that made me happy about Builders was the interaction between the silent protagonist and spirit. It plays with the trope in a bit of a humorous way -- it seems the hero of this game is largely reluctant to do anything, and doesn“t really understand what the heck is going on.

 

You“re more or less prodded along your journey as God gives you a to-do list, and the few NPCs you meet probably think you“re crazy because you “hear voices” and what have you. It“s a fun plot that makes getting into a lighter, more directi version of Minecraft more interesting, to me.

 

The experience is Minecraft, more or less. You build stuff out of raw materials, and the point of the game is to rebuild entire villages however you see fit. That kind of gameplay is entirely what you make of it, but that“s what“s made Minecraft is wildly popular as it“s become. The way Dragon Quest spins on it is by offering a more direct line of communication to the player, that stops things from ever becoming too intimidating. It sheds complexity in favor of telling a simple story, but that“s par for the course in even the mainline Dragon Quest series, much less its spinoffs.

 

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Replace Minecraft“s zombies with Slimes and other common Dragon Quest enemies, and you“ve got a decent picture of how combat works too. You“ll need to create healing items for yourself, simple replacement weapons if the one you“re using breaks, and more. You“ll get hungry and need to hide in your home at night -- it really does borrow heavily from Minecraft. I“m not exaggerating for the sake of it.

 

At the end of the day, it seems like Dragon Quest Builders was created to give the conventions of that game a little more context, and a fun Dragon Quest plot. It“s honestly the first game to ever get me even remotely interested in what philosophies Minecraft is trying to communicate. I approached the demo expecting it to confuse and intimidate me, but it definitely delighted me, and has certainly warmed me up enough to put it on my personal “to buy” list. I“d absolutely recommend it, and it may be one of my favorite parts about the Square-Enix booth at this year's E3.

 

Dragon Quest Builders releases for both the PlayStation 4 (physical and digital) and PlayStation Vita (digital only) on October 11th, 2016. We“ll offer more information as it comes.

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