I am a fan of the Dragon Quest world, mostly owing to my early Nintendo gaming experiences. The early stories, as I mentioned in a review of a remastered version of the first three games, were spectacular at the time, but feel dated now. Dragon Quest Builders II (DQBII) takes the early plot and turns it on its side, in a good way. But does DQBII craft a masterful gaming experience? Find out below – this is our Dragon Quest Builders 2 review!
As you may already know, DQBII was released on the Switch before it was released on PC. Graphically, it looked quite nice (comparable to the first game). Accordingly, probably the most powerful addition to DQBII over the switch is the graphical options. I wish I could say that graphics can change a whole lot, but they can’t. I mean, there are certainly some options that would increase or decrease one’s framerate, but, overall, I found that I didn’t need to touch them. There are some annoyances (a theme you’ll see more than once in this review) with how the game doesn’t ever change to full screen when I tell it to, among other things, but one thing I can reliably say is that DQBII consistently looks about as pretty as it does on the switch. It carries the same catchy (or irritating, depending on your perspective) tunes and characters have the same dopey looks (cheekily referenced by characters in-game, also). Overall, the game has a charming ‘remastered retro’ vibe.
Being able to draw from established lore and body of equipment was no doubt helpful in designing DQBII. It was a delight to find items that reference the early games. Similarly, one could build features and furniture that were reminiscent of the older Dragon Quest games, which was also a nice touch. I’m almost always a fan of fan-service, and DQBII did it right for me. I don’t know where the Dragon Quest Builders franchise is going, but I suspect one of their strongest features is this fan-service, so I hope they keep it up.
The story, as mentioned, has a similar fan-service vibe. Without spoiling the story, it takes a key antagonist and, instead of pigeon-holing the character and remanding them to the one-sided villain most early games used, brings out a more nuanced and flavorful personality for the player to explore. The game features themes of fate and personal nature, exploring and presenting them in a fashion that left me wanting to simultaneously intervene to save a beloved character and let the story play out. I found that surprising, but it was a welcome surprise.
Not all of the story was wonderful, though. Indeed, much of it felt forced or disjointed. It was certainly not very deep in many ways, consistent with the depth of personality for most characters. Taking the whole of the story in, I guess that makes sense, as does the disconnected nature of the world, but until you’ve reached the end of the game, you may, like me, be left scratching your head at some of the design decisions with regard to how the world was built and why some of the stories were written the way they were. I can’t deny that the way everything was tied together felt rather convenient, but… it worked. I may be a little irrationally bitter about how my initial impressions of the logicality of the world were upended by it making sense later on.
The systems are straight forward, but not as deep as I would have wanted. There is a multiplayer element, allowing people to build on the same main island together, but I didn’t get a chance to explore that. Also, despite clearly having a role-playing system, gaining levels (typically by obtaining experience from killing things) really only nets the protagonist and his partner with more hit points and occasionally more stamina. Every once in a great while, one will also discover a new recipe on level up but leveling didn’t feel nearly as exciting to me in DQBII as it does in other RPG or even RPG light games. Progression mostly, therefore, comes with equipment and discovery of new recipes (which occasionally includes equipment). I really liked that crafting can be for others as well – if I learned a new sword recipe, I could make swords for everyone in town to aid in the defense against random monster attacks. I couldn’t do that for armor and shields for some reason, but I’ll take what I can get.
Speaking of progression, as you might imagine, progression is gated depending on where in the story one is. Each island on which the player finds themselves has a specific theme and largely prohibits access to recipes acquired in a previous major island. I’m not generally a fan of that, but I could see where plot progression would be very broken if one had access to all the neat tricks one built up in a previous island if starting over.
But things do have to break down somewhere, and for DQBII it’s in the dialogue. Maybe it’s because I’m American, but I find it really hard to understand written accents from other parts of the world. I mean, I can listen to the fine, but once a writer starts arbitrarily taking letters out of words and substituting words found in the King’s English for words that may or may not be found in like one unique dialect, I’m lost. I’m not the most well-traveled man in the world, but I am pretty sure the writers randomly tossed in words every once in a while. What it meant was that half of the game, I had no idea what the NPCs were saying. The good news was that it meant I could largely skip over the text and just keep killing and building stuff, not necessarily in that order. But yeah, game design tip – don’t do that. If you must have an accent, please just use actual voices.
DQBII is a bit of an odd choice for PC, as it really does feel like a console game. Don’t get me wrong, I like it a lot, despite its many irritations. I think that, although the progression is fairly lame, and that dialogue and plot often don’t make sense, that the experience is still fun and compelling. I definitely got the evil eye from the wife for being too involved in DQBII, and I think given a choice to do it over again, I would. This is a game for those who love fan service and who have the sort of patience necessary for a building game. It’s great for kids and adults alike, but if you’re someone with a short fuse or someone who demands a deep, cohesive plot, I’d look elsewhere.
A game key was provided for this review.
COMPARE TO: Dragon Quest Builders, Minecraft, Trove