I certainly wasn’t expecting to love a Minecraft-style block-building game based on a decades-old JRPG franchise as much as I did Dragon Quest Builders 2
. Even though the combat is a bit weak and the controls can be frustrating at times, it manages to be both a great construction game and an engrossing, full-fledged RPG with tons of memorable areas and characters.
I never played the first Dragon Quest Builders, and I didn’t feel like I needed to in order to get what was going on in this sequel. There are tons of references back to the Dragon Quest series that come across as nice touches if you catch them – familiar enemies, some returning locations and bosses, and nostalgic victory music. Even the minimap looks like an old school Dragon Quest overworld. And, well, if you don’t already know why it’s a big deal that your main ally’s name is Malroth, I encourage you not to look it up so you don’t spoil anything for yourself.
The biggest surprise for me was that Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a proper RPG with leveling, gear, magic items, dungeons, and boss fights. Rather than settling for dumping a bunch of Dragon Quest decorations into a Minecraft clone, what Omega Force and Square Enix have given us is more like a main-series-worthy JRPG with the exploration and crafting elements added as a bonus on top. I never felt that compromises were made on the elements of one to fit in elements of the other, which is quite an accomplishment.
When you’re not putting together saloons, throne rooms, and wheat fields, you’ll find yourself journeying above and below striking vistas to defeat monsters, retrieve magic items, and recruit new allies. There’s an especially cool section that takes place in a huge, underground temple complex with puzzles, traps, and some tricky platforming. All along the way to each of these, you’ll come across optional quests, hidden caches of loot, and shrine puzzles that can be solved to unlock rare items.
The one fairly weak aspect is combat, and it’s unfortunate that such an important pillar is crumbling when so much else works so well. It’s a real-time hack-and-slash system that lacks a block, dodge, or even strafe button. On easier enemies, I usually just wailed on them toe-to-toe and absorbed the hits. Bigger bosses with special attacks can only be avoided by sprinting forward past them and running around in clumsy circles until their animation finishes. Your character’s main special attack takes so long to charge up that it does less damage per second than just button mashing, so I almost never used it.
Some of the boss fights do have fun, unique mechanics. And there are some very cool field battles where you fight dozens of monsters alongside a personal army of NPCs. Those were entertaining in a chaotic, “I don’t even know what’s going on but this is pretty cool,” kind of way. It’s not completely unenjoyable to play, but I never felt my skills were really being tested in an interesting way.
Luckily, the construction and exploration pillars go a long way toward making up for this. While it can be nice to be dropped into a game like Minecraft to build whatever you can imagine with no restrictions, Dragon Quest Builders 2 encourages you to take fallow fields, a dried-up mining town, or a ruined city and build them up with specific structures and services into something that looks like a real, functional, lived-in settlement. I felt like I still had the freedom to make these places my own, but the objectives I had to meet were fuel for my creativity, like a good writing prompt. And seeing a vibrant community come together over time is a much more rewarding progression mechanism than anything involving stats or gear, especially when it comes to the wondrous great projects that serve as the capstones to each area.
Apple of My Isle
The overall story and dialogue are fairly simplistic, and at times seem geared toward a very young audience to their detriment. But it gets pretty exciting with some dramatic crescendos and sizzling intrigue toward the end. The three main islands you visit build toward this, and each has a very unique look, personality, and backstory to sink your teeth into. From the blighted grasslands of Furrowfield to the parched, Old West-inspired Khrumbul-Dun, you’ll find a variety of challenges, new and charming NPCs to join your growing throng, and tons of varied, dramatic landscapes to explore. Each one feels lovingly crafted, and put together they make up one of my favorite RPG worlds to explore in a long time.
I did wish that exploration were a bit less fiddly, though. The controls on PS4, even aside from the frustrating combat I mentioned earlier, just don’t feel particularly intuitive or well-thought-out. My ongoing nemesis was not any of the servants of the evil Hargon, but the fact that the button to switch tools is the same one used for Speak and Activate, so if a party member stepped in front of me while I was trying to get my hammer out, I might have to hear about their day for the 30th time before I could continue. There are some options available for remapping the controls, but they’re very limited. Offering full button mapping would have been great, especially since L1 and L2 essentially do nothing useful.