Preceding January 28th’s launch of Dragon Quest Builders in Japan, Square Enix has made a free demo available for PlayStation 4 and Vita through the Japanese arm of the PlayStation Store. While the game hasn’t been announced for release outside of Japan, I figured: “I’ve got a Japanese PSN account (an easy tutorial to do so can be found here), so why not give it a spin?”
Builders is the Dragon Quest franchise’s take on the egregiously popular Minecraft, a voxel-based game where players collect resources in a randomly-generated world and design their own gameplay goals. Builders looks to be a more directed experience though, which isn’t a bad thing, as it prevents you from feeling the “what now?” fatigue I often had in Minecraft when I had myriad avenues for spending my time.
Starting you off with a sparse character creation screen — you choose a name, gender, and the color of your avatar’s skin, hair, and eyes — real simple flavorings. Following this we’re given the story setup in a brief voiceless, text-box laden prologue, which happens to be a tale diverging from a key moment in the original Dragon Quest title. Starting off in a dungeon, the game’s tutorials slowly see your builder’s escape into the outside realm. From here, you’re guided to a ruin where you will begin to build your home base.
Being a Dragon Quest game you might expect a traditional leveling experience, but not so with Builders. Instead, the builder’s progression is reflected in the strength of his or her Camp, which gains experience points every time you load it up with new features like buildings, crafting stations, furniture, and so on. Health can be permanently increased through the consumption of rare items, and the typical attack and defense power is reflected in the equipment you forge from your cache of harvested resources.
Combat, based on the time I’ve spent with the demo thus far, is quite simple. You have a basic attack that you can spam, all while paying careful mind of your enemies’ attack animations and patterns. Things start out pretty tame with Slimes and Drackies that are quite easy to dispatch, but things ramp up a bit when you encounter new monsters after raising your Camp’s level. They’ll hit pretty hard. However, greater tension lies in the ever-strengthening hordes that will grow along with you, threatening to obliterate your carved-out plot in the world.
What’s neat about Builders is that NPCs will come to occupy your Camp (some you’ll escort home, others will find you automatically), and can be seeing milling around dutifully like any classic RPG town. They also have quests that will allow the builder to further upgrade features in their Camp. Builders’ world also divides itself into distinct region-ish continents with differing biomes, and there’s deliberate intention to keep you building nearby first rather than engage in aimless wanderlust.
Overall I had a pretty positive impression from the demo. There’s something about Dragon Quest’s classic, clean simplicity that feels so simpatico with this type of game, and the similar hooks Minecraft had in my brain were latching on here. I think it could end up being a great match. If you try the demo out yourself, just be warned that it’s Japanese text only, so a basic grasp of the language (or a handy guide) may be in order.
If you’d like to catch the archive our full Dragon Quest Builders broadcast, you can head over to our Twitch channel here. Play the demo yourself and have a burning desire to share your impressions? Let’s chat in the comments below!