Back at the start of 2016, Dragon Quest Builders was released in Japan. I reviewed it then on PS4 and the game is still one of my recent favorites. So to have it come to the Switch is obviously great and the good news is that this updated release hasn’t compromised on any of the aspects that made the original version so memorable.
The premise of Dragon Quest Builders has you jump into the realm of Alefgard after the events of the first ever Dragon Quest game. Instead of fighting and defeating the evil Dragonlord at the end of that game, the protagonist foolishly decided to join forces with the tyrant. Obviously, the Dragonlord betrayed them and then laid waste to the realm.
When you turn up, your job is to rebuild the mess and try to thwart the Dragonlord as well as his minions once and for all.
What makes Dragon Quest Builders so very special though is how it merges an open world sandbox setup with a linear narrative via an action role-playing game framework. Normally, being able to go anywhere and destroy anything would break a linear story but it doesn’t really happen here.
Much of this is down to how the player is anchored to their town or base. On the start of each area, of which there are four, you have to rebuild your camp, as this is where you craft your items and improve your loadout from armor to weapons.
What’s also a bit different is that your camp is populated with other residents. This, in turn, feeds into the rooms you build in your base and what they can end up generating for you.
The residents also give you quests, such as find other people that need help or build special rooms. Most of these result in you exploring the world and looking for resources.
The combat is also a big part of Dragon Quest Builders and is one of the aspects that makes it decidedly better than Minecraft. This is because Dragon Quest Builders is resolutely a third-person action game so you can manage close combat a lot easier.
The similarity to Minecraft is obvious but Dragon Quest Builders has more of a lineage behind it to warrant the block-based world. After all, it is one of the formative 8bit role-playing games.
Compared to the previous release of Dragon Quest Builders on PS4, PS3 and Vita, this Switch version has some interesting changes.
For the most part, the game is identical to the original release but when you finish an area and unlock the challenges there is a noticeable difference here.
Previously, each area had five optional challenges that unlocked special items in the free play mode Terra Incognita, such as the Sword of Erdrick among other things. The first of these challenges was based around completing each area within a specific timeframe, such as within 20 days for example.
This was tracked in your Status menu but now this has been changed to items discovered instead of days elapsed. While you still retain the day/night cycle, it’s less critical now and you can actually sleep if you want.
The latter point is worth noting, as you still have the various dream based flashbacks while you sleep, so this change now allows you to see those without having to worry about wasting time.
So in the first area, the first challenge of five is now to discover 150 items, rather than complete it within a certain timeframe.
This small and simple difference changes the focus from rushing through an area to instead exploring it thoroughly. Personally, I think this is an interesting and decent change to make. It means you can take your time with each area and really explore and have fun.
Obviously, the challenges are optional and for all intents and purposes, this Switch version of the game is identical. So on your first playthrough, you likely won’t notice this change but it is a welcome one once you start exploring every facet of Alefgard.
In terms of graphics and performance, it is closer to the PS3 version rather than PS4. Obviously, it is much better than the Vita version and it also looks and plays just fine either in portable mode or docked.
The Switch version also retains the Japanese button layout from the previous versions and that’s something I definitely appreciated. After pouring hundreds of hours into the various versions, the control changes for the Western PS4 release did melt my brain somewhat.
Overall, this is still the fantastic game I remember playing back at the start of 2016 and one that works brilliantly on the Switch. Not only from a graphical and performance point of view but also because it is now so convenient to play. So if you missed out on Dragon Quest Builders the first time around, then get it on the Switch as it is still better than Minecraft.