Building a great franchise, one block at a time
The first time I picked up the controller to play Minecraft I immediately wanted to set it down again. I was visiting my brother’s family and it was my nephew’s game du jour. Minecraft had never looked that appealing to me up to then, but I wanted the spend as much quality time with my nephew as I could. It’s like when I visit my parents and sit through five hours of Wahlburgers.
It only took about 20 minutes for him to notice I wasn’t having any fun. While he was off constructing a voxel McMansion with incredible deft and speed, I was still trying to figure out how to build a house that’d keep me safe overnight. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t able to. After my second time dying, we finally switched over Injustice, a game I could actually hold my own at because I’m super cheap with Batgirl.
Minecraft just never crossed my radar until then and after that moment I resided myself to the fact I’d probably never get into the genre. And that was absolutely true until Dragon Quest Builders walked into my life.
The game was announced in what would be a lull for franchise fans in the West. After a particularly bountiful Wii/DS era, the Dragon Quest well dried up at the beginning of our current generation. We didn’t get X, we didn’t get any of the new Dragon Quest Monsters titles, and that Theatrhythm title never made it to our shores. We did get Dragon Quest Heroes, but neither it nor its sequel really did anything for me beyond showing me how frickin’ gorgeous a Musou game can look.
I first experienced Dragon Quest Builders on my Vita with its demo. Going into it, I didn’t expect much more than Minecraft with a Dragon Quest dressing. I didn’t anticipate the thoughtfully created worlds, the amusing characters, the stunning look of everything, or the gameplay loop of quick missions that only take a few minutes to complete but eat up hours of your time when a case of “just one more mission” starts to kick in. I destroyed that demo and ate up a fine chunk of the final release when I finally had the money to pick it up.
This is how Minecraft clicked for me. The open-ended nature of the title is clearly enough for many, many people, but I couldn’t get into it without a little direction. I do know how to make my own fun in games, yes, and I enjoyed watching videos of the cat fountain as much as the next, but something about a lack of clear goals and progress were a barrier for me.
Dragon Quest Builders annihilated that barrier. Across all four chapters of the game, I transformed from a man who couldn’t see the fun in just assembling a crappy looking house to a guy who just had to create an entire village to perfection. Make that several villages. DQB got me excited about large-scale landscaping and city planning in ways I hadn’t been since SimCity 2000, but in a more personal manner. The absolute joy I found in crafting an entire town and castle allowed me to find the fun in regular Minecraft when I downloaded in on the 3DS and other games that use the formula, such as Harvest Moon: Skytree Village.
For as much time as I put into Builders on my Vita, I’ve doubled it on the Switch. The port is perfection and as of this writing, it stands as the title I’ve put the most time into on the console. My experience rebuilding Alefgard has not only captivated me into falling for a new spin-off of a franchise I adore, but of an entire genre I once thought beyond my appreciation. It’s funny how one exceptionally made game can do that to a person. I look forward to Dragon Quest Builders 2 and any other franchise looking to branch out into new, do-it-yourself worlds.