Shortly after the first version of Minecraft hit PCs in 2009, it became a worldwide phenomenon. The series has been ported to every platform imaginable since then and has sold millions, a monumental feat for what started as a passion project from an indie developer. Unfortunately, when something becomes as successful as Minecraft, a plethora of copycats release in order to grab a piece of the market, but are usually quite inferior to the original.
At first glance, it may seem like Dragon Quest Builders will fall into this category of less than desirable games, but quickly proves that it is an interesting take from the Land of the Rising Sun on the basic “build anything” concept Minecraft heralded back in 2009. The game, which is a spinoff within the long-running JRPG Dragon Quest series, first released on PS4 and PS Vita to glowing reviews (including our own) back in 2016, but has now made its way to the Nintendo Switch, and the results are quite good.
Like I mentioned before, Dragon Quest Builders just seems like it may be a Minecraft clone with a Dragon Quest skin put on top at first glance, but major differences begin to show upon closer inspection. While the core tenet of being able to build or craft whatever you can think of with the tools the game provides you is similar, Dragon Quest Builders goes for a somewhat more linear focus.
This may sound bad, but the game actually uses this to its advantage. After waking up from a long slumber, it turns out that the player is a legendary builder, which is a quite remarkable thing in a world that has forgotten how to build things. In order to take back the world of Alefgard from the evil Dragonlord, players must build whatever they can in order to restore the world to its former glory.
While the writing isn’t out of this world, Dragon Quest Builders does have an intriguing premise, especially when you consider it’s based on an alternate ending from the original Dragon Quest. Throughout this journey, the playable character is introduced to several new lands, all of which have their own items, blocks, and enemies to discover. When players discover an item, they automatically learn new crafting recipes, making the crafting part of the game a bit simpler and more streamlined than its genre counterparts.
Unfortunately, the game does falter a bit with its controls; buttons are mapped to weird placements and putting down objects exactly where you want them can be quite clunky. This, along with a slightly more limited toolset, means you won’t be creating any calculators in Dragon Quest Builders, but that isn’t really the point of the game. Dragon Quest Builders gives a more focused, linear take on the genre that makes it stand out in its own way. If that isn’t your thing, you also have the Terra Incognita, a free build mode, and Terra Gladiatoria, a combat-focused survival mode.
It’s always interesting to see how different regions and cultures tackle the same genres and topics. Different people with alternate experiences can both take a similar concept, and each will likely wind up making something quite different. This can be seen in gaming in the RPG genre. Your typical JRPG is definitely not identical to what you will get out of a western studio, which is why western RPGs have emerged as their own distinct thing. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other, just that they are different due to who made them.
This is demonstrated in Dragon Quest Builders, as the game’s more straightforward approach to things and the slight emphasis on story definitely stem from the game’s Japanese roots, as do the game’s visuals and overall atmosphere. This difference in vision is a good thing, as it allows Dragon Quest Builders to appeal to a demographic of people that may not normally be into Minecraft-style games. If you liked the idea behind Minecraft, but just wished you had a bit more of a clear purpose or path to follow, Dragon Quest Builders will definitely appeal to you, and it is a solid enough title to be worth a shot on any platform.
But how is the Switch port? Quite good, actually. It may have a few small kinks, but it is very close to what you will get with the game on PS4, and better than what’s present on the Vita. I don’t mean to insult the PS Vita port of Dragon Quest Builders, it is just now the lesser of the game’s two portable versions, with the Nintendo Switch version being more akin to the PS4 version, visually.
There is some pop-in and noticeable aliasing within Dragon Quest Builders, but the original PS4 version even had some of these problems. These issues also aren’t too noticeable in portable mode, where the game runs smoothly, making it my preferred way to play the game. Performance-wise, the Nintendo Switch port of Dragon Quest Builders still fares quite well; I only noticed one or two dips when playing docked, and it was when I was walking in water.
The Switch’s battery does drain somewhat fast when playing, but the system will still hold enough juice for a couple-hour-long sessions of the game. When it comes to new content, the port doesn’t really offer anything spectacular. The Great Sabrecub does allow you to get around the world faster, and retro items are a nice nod to the Dragon Quest series’ storied past, but the new content isn’t enough to warrant a second purchase on their own. Loving the game enough to play it again or wanting the best portable version of Dragon Quest Builders should do that for you.
If you are really itching to pick up a new Minecraft-like sandbox game on the Nintendo Switch, then you should definitely consider Dragon Quest Builders. That being said, Minecraft has been available on the system for quite a while, and Dragon Quest Builders 2, a new and improved version of the same concept, will be releasing on the Switch later this year, so this game’s window of relevancy on the system is quite tight.
If you really want to get your hands on a new sandbox game right now, you can’t go wrong with Dragon Quest Builders. It has its own unique Japanese flair and influence that makes the game feel very fresh, even for those who have sunk tons of hours into Minecraft, while also running great on the Nintendo Switch. Just be aware that the decision to wait until its sequel launches on the same platform later this year is also justified.