|I mean, look, what's a young girl gotta do to make some money around here?|
Editor's(Yeah right like I have one of those) note: I incorrectly refer to Dragon Quest Heroes as Dragon Quest Warriors, like, 600 times in here. So watch out.
When Dragon Quest Builders was announced I was like "whaaaaat". I mean a Dragon Quest in the style of Minecraft? What an odd combination. I will admit, I popped my Dragon Quest cherry with VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, which I still attest to being one of the best games ever made, but I haven't really got my hands on too many of them(And by not too many, I mean: Absolute zero).
What with Dragon Quest Warrior also coming out, my thoughts were "Is Dragon Quest dying or something?" I mean one game is basically a re-skin of Dynasty Warriors, and now the other is Minecraft? What next, an FPS?". After Journey of the Cursed King, the last interest I had in DQ was this DS game that acted as a prequel, where you visit a young Yangus and his sorta-kinda-not-really girlfriend(?). But as I only had a PS2 I had no real interest in buying a DS, and certainly no money for it. My parents were annoyed with me and games for one console. Also the combat looked entirely different and turn-based combat is my shit.
But then the demo. The demo for Dragon Quest Builders came out on the PS4 a few months ago and I thought, eh, might as well try it out. I was bored with nothing else to do. And holy shit did I fall in love. Right away, the soundtrack. I mean sure, for the most part it only plays that one song over and over again, but it's a damn good song. The controls were easy, the graphics were very sharp, the gameplay was simple but addicting. It was everything I liked from the timesink that is Minecraft, but it also had, like... objectives. "Go here, do that". Sure, some could easily argue that it was repetitive, as most of the quests require you to mostly go and mine stuff, but there was a heart to it.
The entire game had heart. There was a strong and positive message that permeated the entire game. And speaking on that.
The game opens with a god talking about how you are a hero of mythical legend: The Builder. After the power of creation had been stripped of mankind from the evil Dragonlord, humanity quickly fell to ruin. With no way of building and maintaining civilization, villages, cities, kingdoms, and entire nations fell to the monsters, illness, and disease. But after so many years, so much suffering, you, The Builder, have been returned to reintroduce the power of building to the people, rebuild settlements and recruit to forge civilizations once more, and to bring hope to the lands. But, as the game then tells you, you are not a hero...
Wow. That's fuckin, like, deep dude. I'm the Builder, not the Warrior, that's a different game. Whoa. Deep. They even go on to say that you don't gain XP from killing monsters because your thing is building, not killing monsters. Which I personally found to be an incredible 4th wall breaking explanation as to why it's different from more traditional JRPGs.
So you start out and are told, very simply, to rebuild a nearby village which was a once great city but as with everything else, has fallen decrepit and void of people. Well, you know what to do.
This isn't your typical Dragon Quest game. You have to manage your health bar, and make sure you are eating food regularly, make sure to have an abundance of resources on hand lest your weapons or mining utensils break in the middle of something important. Though as you build out your base, and get better weapons or mining equipment, it becomes less of a hassle and goes into an easy flow that doesn't interrupt you too often.
Once you get your new home up and running, and have some people come live with you, they will hand you blueprints to build certain rooms to their exact specifications. Personally I found the blueprints a bit restrictive as they were usually too big or laid out inefficiently, costing me valuable build space. But the rooms they ask you to build aren't just for show, or fluff, they actually serve mechanical purposes. Building certain rooms will allow the people who live there to put food in a chest for you, or increase their base HP and such.
So not only does the insane builderbot completionist inside of you want to build this stuff, but you actually get benefits for doing so. Not only that though, you are required to decorate and fill your base with various things in order to level it up. Once you place a decoration in a room, you will get XP for your overall base. The more you add, the more you get. And if you manage to place a certain number of specific items in a room, you may actually manage to create a new room entirely, and get a boon of XP for that as well.
See, the way the blueprint system works, is the people who live in this base will ask you to build them specific rooms, but technically if you know how to make it already, you can do so by just putting the items down. The reason I find them restrictive is they don't just tell you to build it and you have to go and build that room, you have to make it the exact way they tell you do, including number of blocks to use, which kinds of blocks, and what to furnish the room with. So often times I've already got a room already like that up and running, so I have to go and tear that down and rebuild it to the exact specifications I was told. I often just destroy that new room and build it the way I wanted before, so I can maybe save space and make it more overall efficient.
The people who live with you act as quest givers, often asking you to build these new rooms, or go find more people to live here, and generally just continuing the plot. At key intervals in the story, you will have to defend your base against a few waves of monsters as they begin attacking your city. You will eventually get tools to help you better defend your base, like spikes you can set up on the ground near your wall, or even spring based contraptions that can be built near buttons so that once enemies step on the buttons, they get sent flying far away from your base.
Like a Minecraft game, your weapons and even armor have durability, so you've got to build some spares while you can before you end up like me, deep in the middle of a resource rich cave with absolutely no tools to mine anymore. I would always remind myself "Okay, before we leave here I'm going to go craft some more hammers and swords just in case I run out", forget, and then spend time building other things like quest items or other kinds of blocks or just flat out customizing my base.
I found it really easy to get lost in the game, just chilling out to either Spotify or that one really good song that plays while you do your jam. By the time you get a rhythm going and have a clear idea of how you want to build your base, customizing it is just a matter of "Okay, five more minutes and--" and then 9 hours have passed and you don't even know what day it is anymore.
Eventually when you progress through the level enough, you will obtain teleportals, which you can then place somewhere in your base to warp you to new zones. There are usually 3 teleportals in each chapter, denoting each type of new zone in the respective chapter. These new zones will have things like different and stronger enemies, new resources and blocks and all kinds of different things. They are often times even different region types, like deserts, swamps, and snowy lands.
The game starts out with the camera peering down at your dead body in some kind of old ruined temple. The voice of Rubiss, a goddess of some sort, tells that you have been revived by her super awesome magic, and not only that, but you are the mythical hero of legend, The Builder, who has been sent to introduce building back into society, and also to rebuild society! But first, you must go and re-establish Cantlin, a once great city brought to the brink. But, remember, you are not a hero...
It's fuckin' hype, right? What does that even mean? Am I some crazy villain who has been like mind wiped or some shit and like, this god is manipulating me for good instead of evil or something? Whatever the answer to that question is, I was all the more excited to find out.
Once you dig yourself out of the old ruined temple or whatever it is, you find yourself starring at an old beat down city, with the purpose of planting a Flag of Hope or some shit. Once planted, it creates a safe aura around the city, which shows you the exact dimensions you have to build within it, and also allows you to save the game. It's meant to be a heavy symbolic thing alerting people around the area to your presence, leading their journey to get to you and help you.
The game is actually pretty long and has a lot of shit going down, so I'll start to summarize or I'll be here all day.
So the game is broken up into chapters, which I didn't know. I sorta thought it was just one chapter and that was it, but there are 4 in total, with a bonus freebuild area where you can actually connect to a network and see creations that other real players have uploaded. After struggling to make anything I build looking good, I was immediately put to shame with some of the incredibly creations people can come up with. A shame I will never be on that level, but boy do I love to look.
So with the story, the thing that surprised me was a strong positive message. Unification, sharing, working together, helping each other. It really works. The characters are always interesting and never boring and the game even surprises me once more with some very suddenly morbid themes.
So once you complete the first chapter of Cantlin - a beautiful shining plane of grass and trees and the ocean, a stalwart reminder of nature's stunning beauty - you continue your journey to the swamps of Remuldar, a poisonous, diseased land, where you meet a young nun. Elle, a nun who is trying her very best to help people who have become sick and diseased, and desperately seeks your help to do so. So you do your buildy thing, make a sick room and set out to find diseased and ill travelers. The thing that sticks out about this chapter is how the game takes a stark turn in the narrative, eh, I guess maturity? The tone shifts drastically to a striking sober tale of our morbid lives and the reality we, as human beings, will face in death.
So you go around and start rescuing people, most of which are collapsed on the ground and you must carry them all the way back to your (hopefully) rebuilt base where they can rest and get treated. After a while, you get a pretty respectable band of people who have yet to get better, and by this point you have a base consisting of a great and powerful alchemist, and of course the faith of the nun to do the spiritual work. But, that's just it, nothing seems to work. So everyone wracks their brains and thinks of a way to save these people, but at that moment, the worst comes to pass and all 3 of these individuals don't just die, but rather turn into zombies. It seems this particular disease were parasitic worms digging into the patients brains, slowly converting them to zombies.
They then attack, and you must kill them. It's stark. It's morbid. It's depressing. But that's not all. In the attack, it seems Elle has contracted this disease as well, but in a shocking turn, Elle has denounced her faith. She has seen the effects of this terrible land first hand now, and begs you to kill her as there is no hope. Whenever you approach her wrestless form as it lays in the sick room, she cries in her sleep to kill her.
Fuck. Goddamn. This is supposed to be a cutesy kids game, right? This shit just got heavy.
And that's what I loved about Dragon Quest Builders. You play the first chapter, and if you're like me you probably didn't even know there were more than 1 such chapter, but the game doesn't repeat itself. I mean sure, you're going to be building new settlements and recruiting people and mining and hunting for secrets in every level, but the narrative never quite goes in the same direction, or even close, really.
It kept surprising me, all the way up to being able to build a goddamn super motorcycle, but that's neither here nor there(But it was fucking amazing). It was such a treat from beginning to end. And on that note, oh boy, that ending...
Glossing over some details because I've already written a fair amount of spoilers for the Remuldar chapter of the game, the ending is triumphant and glorious. I'm often brought back to the ending of Mass Effect 3, which was in my opinion a burning dumpster fire, yet, the developers thought it was uplifting and triumphant. I mean, it took away any and all player agency and completely forced your hand in bullshit decisions, and lead to several developments that were as incoherent as they were illogical, but, yeah, sure.
Dragon Quest Builders on the other hand had section after section of triumph leading to the climax of the game where everything, past, present, and future, all comes together in one glorious moment of "Fuck yeah!!". Unfortunately, the whole "You are not a hero" thing has a bit of an unsatisfying conclusion, where I thought it would lead to some metaphor or grand design theory or some shit, but, ehhhh, ended up being pretty much nothing important. That was a bummer.
But in the end, I can honestly say the experience of getting to play Dragon Quest Builders was one I'll never forget. It managed to rekindle whatever love I had for the series from Journey of the Cursed King(Even if it was the only other one I've ever played) and established itself in a new light, in my opinion being able to reach even greater heights. I went from having no interest in this package to falling super hard in love with it, and I so, so desperately hope everyone else can give it a try play it for themselves. Because you won't regret it.
I give Dragon Quest Builders
|Easily my most prestigious award yet!|