As far as world-building block-'em-ups go, Dragon Quest Builders has to be the most charming example of the genre that we've played. Perhaps that's to be expected of the long running property – which, throughout its many incarnations, has always been a delight to experience – but the Dragon Quest skin lends itself particularly well to this Minecraft-esque spin-off.
Whether it's the attractive use of bright colours or the myriad cute chibi characters that you'll meet during your adventures, there's just something pleasant about spending time with a game like Dragon Quest Builders. Likewise, general gameplay isn't very demanding, and can mostly be enjoyed at your own pace. Exploring the world, harvesting resources, and building small settlements is an accessible gameplay loop that's very rewarding, and it's a simple enough concept that just about anyone should be able to pick Builders up and have fun with it.
Speaking of simplicity, this is where the release deviates from similar games like Minecraft. Although Mojang's insanely popular title isn't that difficult to wrap your head around, it does require a lot of freeform experimentation because of how purposefully vague it is. In contrast, Square Enix's latest is always giving you a set path to follow, with non-playable characters dishing out specific quests for you to complete. You're still given the freedom to wander the land and do your own thing, but there's a set structure here that ensures a sense of progression.
Indeed, Builders features a full campaign made up of multiple chapters, each boasting their own storyline – which ties into an overarching plot – and their own set of crazy little characters. The stories themselves are of your usual Dragon Quest flavour, with monsters running amok and the populace being wary of potential doomsday prophecies, but the narrative is relayed confidently as you progress, and, as always, the localisation is top notch.
Plopped into the small shoes of the legendary Builder, it's your job to rekindle mankind's imagination. You see, humanity has somehow lost the ability to create, meaning that men, women, and children are forced to trek endlessly across the monster-ridden land. Without any villages, towns, or cities to call home, the responsibility of kick starting new civilisations falls to you and you alone.
Naturally, you accomplish this goal by slapping a few blocks together here and there. In the beginning, you'll be making simplistic structures out of dirt and straw, but it won't be long until you're erecting unbreakable steel walls and advanced defences that'll help keep the monsters at bay. As previously noted, there's a really smooth sense of progression as you continue to develop and upgrade your base of operations, with each new jaunt into the wilderness yielding increasingly useful materials to work with.
One of the best things about Builders' overall design is that new creations, whether you're looking to craft a fresh suit of armour or a lovely new cooking station, never seem out of reach. In other titles found throughout the genre, you're made to hoard a huge amount of resources on a constant basis so that you can make even the most basic of items – but here things are much more streamlined, and the flow of the game is better for it. Whenever you unearth an undiscovered element, you'll immediately unlock a few fresh recipes that make use of your newfound resource. This removes much of the tedium that comes with a lot of comparable crafting systems, and really helps keep things ticking along at a healthy pace.
However, there is one crack in the game's foundation that many players may stumble over. As mentioned, the title's split up into several chapters, and at the end of each act, you'll need to teleport to a different part of the world to continue the story. The only potential problem is that when you warp to a new location, you'll lose all of your items, equipment, and stat boosts in the process. In other words, everything that you've worked hard to attain during the previous chapter – barring your acquired crafting recipes – will be wiped away.
There are both good and bad sides to this. On the one hand, a fresh start means that a new chapter feels like a whole new adventure, complete with its own tale to tell. On the other, it can be disheartening to look back at ten hours of playtime and realise that your only lasting reward is access to this newly unlocked chapter. For some, that tangible sense of progression we talked about earlier may be hampered by having to start anew at set intervals during what is a lengthy campaign – and that's a shame.
It's also a bit of a shame that the combat isn't a little more engaging, although it's clearly not meant to be a focus. The one-note system sees you whack monsters with a single swipe that's mapped to triangle, while your only means of defence comes in the form of moving away from incoming attacks. Combat works and its simplicity is a good fit for such an accessible release, but taking on bulkier foes does become something of a chore later on in the game, when beefy health bars are the order of the day.
Before signing off on this one, we need to at least point out the title's fantastic audio. In true Dragon Quest style, the adventure is buoyed by a wonderful orchestral score, and the series' trademark sound effects are as satisfying as ever to hear.
Dragon Quest Builders gives the genre's heavy hitters a run for their money with its charm, character, and accessibility. A streamlined crafting experience that's always happy to provide you with purpose, it offers a delightful adventure that's packed with discovery. Even though a couple of wonky design choices prevent proceedings from being totally watertight, this is still one of the most downright addictive titles available on the PS4.