Dragon Quest Builders Demo, Japanese RPGs, And Free-Form Gameplay

dgq-builders

I am one of those people who still hasn’t played Minecraft. When I realized Dragon Quest Builders was getting a demo for PS4 I saw this as a chance to see what one of these survival crafting games was all about. Plus this is supposed to be a somewhat unique take on the genre from a Japanese developer.

I’d heard a little bit about Builders from the 8-4 podcast before it came out in Japan in January. If you look at the game for even a second you can tell it’s pretty much Square Enix’s attempt to grab some of the Minecraft craze that has even penetrated Japan, with probably Japan’s biggest video game franchise. One big reason people might be interested in Builders in particular is because it combines that sandbox game freedom with pre-designed quests and goals Minecraft lacks (to my knowledge).

I’m one of those people who tried out Minecraft for a few minutes before asking myself “what now,” and then stopped. Games like this require players to come up with their own goals, and obviously millions upon millions of people can do that. A lot of other people though seem so hardwired for the traditional video game structure that they need to be given goals in order to make a game worthwhile.

I have to admit I did feel more comfortable with the crafting system in the Builders demo once the tutorial started tasking me with things to find, craft, and build. The content of the demo really just has you build a few different kinds of structures along with some very light exploration and combat, ending as soon as you try to leave the starting island. There’s also some information from the tutorial guide, signs, and characters telling you about the lore of the world you’re exploring, but I don’t know if Minecraft actually lacks that sort of thing.

Of course I also can’t tell you how the crafting in Builders compares to Minecraft. It seems to be almost the same from what little I’ve seen of Minecraft — stacking and destroying different kinds of blocks while surviving enemies and hunger. It’s just in third person instead of first person. Maybe Minecraft doesn’t have the same emphasis on setting up bases and attracting characters to live in them. If Builders borrows anything from Terrarria I know even less about that game. I imagine however that Builders doesn’t use procedurally generated worlds like most games of this type. This undoubtedly limits the size of the world in Builders but is probably what lets Square Enix put real quests into the game.

What I can say though is that it’s sort of odd to see such an open-ended and systemic game from a Japanese developer belonging to a classic Japanese RPG series. JRPGs are known for being more linear, bespoke experiences than more systemic western RPGs or especially sandbox games like MinecraftBuilderes has tasks, but they’re still set within a completely open-world system. Other than separation by vast bodies of water the demo doesn’t try to control where you go, and non-player characters seem a lot more autonomous than in most JRPGs. Ironically there’s something about the simplistic structure of games like Minecraft that might appeal to the sensibilities of Dragon QuestDragon Quest is known as an RPG series that lets players explore worlds with a bit more freedom and immediacy than some gamest that might rely more on cut scenes and scripted events to convey their worlds. The way Minecraft immediately let’s players go to engage with the mechanics is somewhat reminiscent of NES games like the older Dragon Quest entries. The main difference is that Dragon Quest still assigns goals to you, it just let’s you go about them at your own pace.

I think Builders might be a good game for people who like the building mechanics of Minecraft and its ilk but want a little bit more substance or are maybe just fans of JRPGs as well. In my experience I actually wanted to spend more time exploring that building. I think if I ever get into Minecraft it’ll be more for exploration than building. The only one of these “don’t give the player a goal” sandbox games I’ve really been able to get into is Elite: Dangerous, in which I’ve done nothing but exploration.

The Builders demo does however imply that you can completely ignore the main story and just build, sort of an option for people who are fine with Minecraft’s structure but what some Dragon Quest flavor in it. I’m actually ready for more RPGs and sandbox games in general to do this — give players a mode with simply the world but no main story. It can work in games that have enough emergent behavior and systems going on like Grand Theft AutoMinecraftBuildersEliteElder Scrolls games, or STALKER as shown by modders.

BULLETS:

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