Have you ever played a game that you thoroughly underestimated? A game that was easy to dismiss because it is so different from what you would normally play? I have two this year alone: Tetris Effect, and Dragon Quest Builders 2.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 can be best simplified as a mine-craft style game featuring one of Japanese RPG’s most illustrious intellectual properties. Simply put, you build, build, and build some more, en-route to making impressive fortresses and locations. All of that is set in the backdrop of Dragon Quest 2 (or an alternate time-line sprouting from that game).
Now, given my deficit when it comes to knowledge about the Builders series, I tried scouring for information in the internet, but couldn’t come with a satisfying and comprehensive explanation as to its gameplay. All it said is that you are a builder, and you will have to “build” things like rooms, houses, castles, and walls. Nothing about the story except that Builders 2 is set in the alternate reality of Dragon Quest II.
Turns out, my lack of lore knowledge did not hurt one bit: this game is GOLD. I literally lost track of time playing this game, because not only does it have the benefit of Dragon Quest lore reinforcing the setting, the building stuff itself is very addicting, the super-deformed art style (a style I last liked in the PS One days) is pretty charming, and there’s a simple yet engaging back story through all of this.
Akira Toriyama’s art style is one of the hallmarks of a Dragon Quest game, and this one is no different. His distinctive style is one of the things I liked about Dragon Quest XI, and it is one of the things I am liking about Builders 2. It helps maintain the series’ light atmosphere, even when you’re supposed to be around evil characters. A game’s visuals shouldn’t need to always be beautiful, realistic depictions. Sometimes, keeping with what works is enough.
Unlike most modern RPGs, Dragon Quest Builders 2 settles for a simple soundtrack. The Dragon Quest series as a whole was never known for having epic orchestral music like Final Fantasy, and Builders 2 is no different. But it works in this case because the interface and atmosphere of the game itself is light and simple. It has no illusions about what it is, and what its main draw will be. That must be partly the reason why the Builders games had chosen SD style characters as opposed to having realistic proportions simply because it didn’t need to. The story is quite deep, but never melodramatic, and the art direction complement that fact.
The gameplay is one of the things I really love in this game. The interface is so simple, yet it allows you to accomplish very complex stuff. It starts slowly at first, but when the game sets you free to unleash your talents, you realize that you can actually do much, much more. Beneath the “minecraft clone” exterior of Builders 2 is a really deep game that is more narratively exciting than the first. In time, it’s not just you who will build everything: the people in your town also could, as long as you have the blueprints and dump the required materials in a nearby chest. You are not just the builder, but the leader too.
The first Dragon Quest Builders game encourages you to be creative in the easiest way possible. Builders 2 not only encourages the same, it actually assists you in it. I was making towns, TOWNS! As long as you have the blueprint or the recipe, you can make anything. The funny thing is, these are stuff that I never realized I am capable of doing in a video game. I’ve built stuff before in strategy games, but never to this scale, and without the need for micro-management like The Sims. Speaking of the Sims, that reminds of another game.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 not only lets you build structures, it makes you build a community, something the game executes brilliantly. Many games have strived to create the feeling of building your own base, having your own followers, and leading them to glory or prosperity. But their execution either depends too much on strategy game mechanics or worse, just another shallow plot device. Not this game. It even lets you build a functional farm. Yes, this game has farming mechanics, oh and you also get to cook too for that matter.
Lots of games strive to be many things at once and it doesn’t always turn out great. Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes many things from many places but it all comes down together brilliantly. Why is that? I think, that is because the game is well-grounded, doesn’t overreach, and tries to optimize each mechanic and each part to fit nicely into the whole. Does it feel like a Dragon Quest game? Yes it does! The visuals, the lore of the world, and the actual story reinforce that on you. Plus, it still has the usual Dragon Quest stuff like leveling up, quests, battles, and a charming story that really grows on you.
Is it a Minecraft clone? Yes and no. It takes the sandbox concept but tries to make it work in a JRPG kind of way that it pulls you in via the story than the concept of making something out of blocks. You can do brilliant things in Minecraft, yes, but Builders 2 adds a lot of soul into the process.
Is it a fun game? Oh yes! One of the best games to come out this year, in fact. It is a testament to the fact that you don’t really need high production values and hype to actually make a good game. A good game is a good game, whatever its genre is.
I never expected to like Dragon Quest Builders 2. When I started playing this game, I figured it would be a nice “cool down” game after the sometimes wild orc-slaying action of my Shadow of War playthroughs. It turns out, I spent more time in this game than I ever expected I would. I have even eschewed making scores in this review because this game needs to be played. It’s simply that good.