There’s a sad moment in every gamer’s life where the intense first world problem of too many games comes into play; a stack so high you’re rarely able to even pick one game off the list before another five are added. It’s a great problem to have, but it means games often get left behind. For me that game has been Dragon Quest Builders released in October of 2016 by Square Enix. Now, like most indie titles released on the Switch, Dragon Quest Builders is getting a second life on Nintendo’s hot hybrid system, and it’s coming out at the best possible time of year that sees relatively few new releases.
Dragon Quest Builders was originally reviewed by Gaming Respawn to a 75%, or what would be a 7.5 now (original review here). Some of our negatives included how basic the quest-driven story was and a couple of missing features that could’ve made the game more worthwhile. However, we still looked at Square Enix’s Minecraft-like adventure with great admiration for its rewarding gameplay loop and sense of achievement along the way. Much of these things still remain true two years later on yet another handheld (the Vita also hosted Dragon Quest Builders), albeit with some minor frustrations, mostly with the odd controls and way the third-person camera worked. The odd placement of the change item button on the left and right D-pad meant I continued to strain my hand to reach down, because changing weapons or items is a common activity. This meant I had to keep adjusting on a controller with an already cramped layout, and Square Enix only made it worse by not taking this issue into account in the new port.
The choice to have the bumpers essentially serve as a pair of unwanted guides to where you’re building only serves to point out the flaws with building in third-person and how it can be a real fuss. I had trouble trying to get stuff to go exactly where I wanted it before I got used to doing a weird building dance that allowed me to increase my efficiency beyond what I originally could do. That being said, I think having the functionality of the shoulder buttons and the arrows on the Joycons swapped would have done my hands a great service. There was also the fact that the minus button did nothing except inform you about some nearby objects. I have yet to learn how to press start or pause (which I’m puzzled on why you cannot), and the fact that a button on the already limited Switch is completely wasted frustrated me beyond belief.
Other than these tiny quirks, Dragon Quest Builders remains to be the experience our original review said it was. The story still manages to throw corny jokes while you rush to the next simple quest. I found myself less emotionally invested in talking to anyone in the game and more invested in how I was going to build my town to facilitate those same people. Gathering resources Minecraft-style felt more like grinding in an RPG because of the satisfying orchestral score and the reward of getting a thank you for fulfilling quests created by your townspeople. This gameplay loop of getting quests, foraging, building, getting rewards, and obtaining new visitors has me addicted to Dragon Quest Builders beyond what I thought I’d be. Even more, of you like or love the series or even the JRPG genre in general, you’ll love the subtle touches that make Dragon Quest Builders feel more like those types of games and less like a Minecraft rip off, which it totally isn’t.
More than anything, Dragon Quest Builders amazes me through one of its more important aspects: its smooth graphical fidelity and beautiful art direction. You don’t quite notice it at first, but the game seemingly retains the same look as the console versions, but sooner or later you’re bound to have the same quick experience as I did. You hop around on the edge of a mountain, see the monsters all in the distance, and wonder how a seemingly average game can sometimes leave you gawking at its visuals. It wasn’t anything that pushes the boundaries on what a Switch game can look like (Zelda: BOTW did that already), but it has its own personal style of beauty. The water flowing, the sun shining down on the occasional valley, and even the color pallete all pitch in to make Dragon Quest Builders a very visually attractive experience. That experience didn’t skip a beat (or a frame) on the Switch port.
Square Enix did a fine job in transporting one of their most oddly themed Dragon Quest games to the Nintendo Switch. Dragon Quest Builders has the same fun gameplay loop and quest progression as before and keeps all of the features which made it a glory to play. Not only does it look just as pretty on the Switch as it does with other consoles, it continues to impress with the buttery smooth frame rate I didn’t think it could keep up. The only problems come in around the area of controlling the adventure. Some odd decisions with the button layout made my time in Dragon Quest Builders a bit more frustrating and longer than it had to be, although I’m not complaining about the latter since the art direction is just so entertaining to admire. These control problems also come with the caveat that playing this game on the go is so much better than leaving it at home. Though I would’ve liked to see a greater focus on optimizing Dragon Quest Builders’ control scheme, it still sticks out as the best alternative to Minecraft on the Switch by far and even manages to make its own path in a genre filled with meaningless clones.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS Vita
Release Date: 9th February 2018 (Switch)