Dragon Quest Builders Review

October 17, 2016

This review was contributed by freelancer Katie Millard.

When Dragon Quest: Builders was announced in July of 2015, fans were cautiously optimistic. See, the thing about the Dragon Quest franchise is this: it isn’t always released in the West. Actually, it’s released outside of Japan so infrequently that fans have learned that it’s pretty pointless to hold their collective breaths waiting. The announcement of its Western release, therefore, left fans of the franchise pretty happy. With the release of Dragon Quest 7 and Builders coming within a month of each other, players can get their Dragon Quest fix on 3DS, Vita or PS4.

The thing you need to know about me is that I can get pretty obsessive. I’ve developed a reputation within my group of friends as liking to have things flat. I complete every available quest, ensure I’ve discovered every point on the map, and kill every monster in the dungeon before progressing to the next level. With that in mind, my playthrough of Dragon Quest: Builders might be very different to yours.


When the game began, I commented to my husband, who is a Dragon Quest fan, how much I liked the look of the game. I found the cartoon look very cute: a chibi version of the older games. The art style is very clean and fun, and the music (always very important in any JRPG) was taken directly from earlier games and really lends a feeling of continuity to the franchise. Creatures also take their design from earlier games. The graphics and music moved seamlessly between your base and the real world, and overall I really enjoyed the look and sound of the game.

While the artistic direction and music may be incredibly familiar to fans of the series, the gameplay itself is very different to anything seen in Dragon Quest before. Moving from a turn-based RPG into the open-world third-person action RPG is a very big shift in game style. To match the new genre there are two types of weapon in the early game: one for gathering and one for fighting. You can gather with the fighting weapon and fight with the gathering weapon, but neither is particularly good at the other’s job. While the weapons can be upgraded and are easy to create, there is a durability system and the items themselves cannot be repaired.



Before I start to talk about the crafting system I feel like I should give a little backstory to the game. In this iteration of the Dragon Quest universe, the Dragonlord has brought darkness to the world, and the humans have lost all hope and the ability to create. Into this mess comes the revived Builder, with an unknown history and a sassy attitude. I don’t know if this was in the original script or the translator took some creative liberties, but for a silent protagonist, there is a LOT of implied backtalk – and it’s amazing. The dialogue is all text, but the reader never has any trouble feeling the emotion in the words. There is a great sense of humour behind the dialogue as well: one of my favourite lines refers to “a nun with the face of an angel and a Builder with the face of a potato.” The writing in the game was certainly a highlight for me.

I found the crafting system both intuitive and easy to master. There was one drawback though: the most basic crafting table, found randomly throughout the world, has an extremely limited repertoire, and cannot create the upgraded version you require to make anything beyond the most basic of tools; tools which, by the second chapter, are completely obsolete. I recommend carrying around a creation station with you at all times, or storing one in your easy-access giant coffer, for all your crafting needs in the wilderness. While the creation itself is not difficult, and an item exists that will teleport you home immediately, returning is trickier: there is no way to return to your spot instantly, and heading home just to create a new giant mallet and then return to the area you’ve left can be a chore that takes multiple in-game days.


Now, to the sticking point for me: controls. The game’s controls were somewhat unexpected, with all of the main controls – attack, place, jump and menu –mapped to face buttons and no use of triggers. Additionally, the menu button is where you would normally expect to find jump, instead of the Options button, which instead opens a bird’s eye view of your map. I found this to be quite confusing early on and admit that they took some getting used to. I placed a block a lot more often than I had intended, rather than destroying one or attacking a monster, and found myself destroying blocks often in lieu of jumping or placing a block. Although the error was usually pretty easy to remedy, the end result was a great deal of frustration on my end that some level of customisability could have allayed. Additionally, the third-person nature of the game meant that the block placement was not always as expected and also required a lot of fiddling. Realistically, for a game which even names itself as a building game, the building controls were clumsy and imprecise.

Finally, let’s talk combat. As I touched on earlier, the game has switched from turn-based combat to a third-person action RPG. The issues of precision are much less dramatic when it comes to destruction than building. Your weapons have an arc of attack and as long as the creature you’re attacking is more-or-less in front of you, you’re good to go. You don’t have a shield hand to worry about (although you can equip a shield to add defence points). Many creatures won’t attack on sight, so you have got a bit of room to manoeuvre if you’re aiming to avoid combat. Overall, as a combat game, this isn’t bad. The quest system is pretty great too; there tend to be four types of quests. Find someone, gather something, build something, or kill a specific creature. One of my pet hates is a game with quests lacking in diversity and while this game does not have a totally different quest each time, the variety they offer is more than enough to satisfy me.


On the whole, I would recommend this game to anyone interested in the idea of a creating game with more direction than Minecraft, or any fan of the DQ series or action RPGs in general. It’s definitely kid-friendly as well! Square Enix has produced a great game that successfully straddles the line between action RPG and creative freedom.


-The chibi art style
-Music is a great throwback
-Sassiest silent protagonist ever
-Large amount of creative freedom


-Control scheme is frustrating
-Lack of fast travel system

Overall Score: