Dragon Quest Builders was a game I never expected to love. Sure, I tend to prefer the Dragon Quest franchise to that of Final Fantasy (the spectacular Tactics offshoot notwithstanding), but I am not exactly a sandbox-style, build-your-own-world kind of guy. To my surprise, there was something about the blend of RPG questing and urban planning that really appealed to me, and I was delighted to find the game’s sequel, Dragon Quest Builders 2, further polishes the already stellar gameplay.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 brings in a number of new elements to the franchise. There’s air and underwater travel, not to mention a handy fast travel system using a distinctly old-school overworld map. You can even play cooperatively with up to four players. The best part, though, is that the game is fun, engaging, and intuitive, even for those who missed out on the original.
Unsurprisingly, the DQB2 begins as you create your player character—either male or female, with a variety skin tones and ample outlandish hues for your distinctly anime-inspired hair—and tweak a few visual and control settings to your liking. As a Builder, it’s your job to explore and rebuild a ravaged world, but you actually start this journey as a prisoner on a ship crewed by monsters, members of the sinister Children of Hagron.
You’ll learn the ropes making a few repairs to the ship before it is predictably destroyed, stranding you on the Isle of Awakening. Thankfully, you’re not alone.
In short order, you meet its resident Hairy Hermit, the bossy Lulu, and the enigmatic Malroth—a born fighter who not-so-coincidentally shares his name with Dragon Quest II‘s diabolical God of Destruction. While Malroth admires your Builder’s gifts of creation, he simply lacks those natural skills himself. However, when you need to knock some heads, he is more than happy to be your huckleberry.
This intrinsic link between creation and destruction, between building up and breaking down, is at the very heart of DQB2. It’s reflected in your kinship with Marloth, your actions as a Builder (who must break up environmental resources like rocks, trees, and hillsides for raw materials), and in your interaction with other NPCs.
You’ll alternately spend your time making sojourns to nearby islands, gathering supplies and potential villagers while adding even more recipes and blueprints to your Builder’s toolbox, and creating your very own burgeoning civilization back on the Isle of Awakening.
Early on, things are rather prescribed. You proceed to the single island available (with Malroth in tow), carry out fetch quests and make the necessary builds for your growing community, and slowly restore the good name of Builders in a world where the cult-like Children of Hagron has long reigned supreme. As you can imagine, this requires quite a bit of exposition, and Dragon Quest Builders 2 often comes off as overly wordy. This is tempered, however, by the humorous NPCs—both heroes and villains—with which you interact.
There’s an enormous (and, thankfully, friendly) worm that makes fallow ground arable, charming villagers skilled in everything from farming to combat, and even traditional Dragon Quest monsters that turn their backs on the Children of Hagron in favor of helping you achieve your goals. And lofty goals they are! You’ll help restore a long-ruined Deitree, design and build barns and baths and eventually even vehicles, and, of course, do martial battle with the enduring forces of evil, which never seem to tire of encroaching on your turf.
At times, the tasks on DQB2 can feel daunting, even overwhelming, and when you’re eventually tasked with making the Isle of Awakening a world of your own, it can seem like a bit of a chore. But the truth is, you’re not in this alone. Even if you never touch the game’s multiplayer mode, the community that you build in-game seems uniquely inspired by your… well, your propensity for building things, and they too will be inspired to become Builders—albeit in a comparatively limited capacity.
Unlike a title such as Minecraft, where the only story tends to be the one you make up as you go along, Builders 2 leverages the breadth of Dragon Quest lore to make you an integral part of a true roleplaying adventure. This comes complete with a lot of well-worn JRPG tropes, including central character Malroth’s mysterious past, but the scope of the world itself is as broad or as narrow as you want to build it.
Sure, there are missions and goals, and the game clearly wants to shepherd you through a story, but this adds some much-needed structure for those of us who simply tend to lose interest in undirected sandbox gameplay. At the same time, there’s so much to see, do, and build that you can easily wile away the hours creating simply for your own amusement and the joy of your accumulated villagers. (The latter of which will gladly reward you with Gratitude Points, which can then be used to purchase even more craftable items.)
Obviously, I have a lot of enthusiasm for Dragon Quest Builders 2. There are a few problems, much of them relating to its wealth of on-screen dialog—some of which is a tad too small when playing your Switch in handheld mode, and I shudder to think of how miniscule it’ll be on the diminutive Switch Lite—but it’s still an easy game to recommend for anyone who loves sandbox-style builders, action RPGs, or the growing overlap between the two. My only real complaint, my only genuine precaution to fellow gamers, is that this is but the first of a volley of highly anticipated Nintendo Switch releases to land stateside this July.
Will my attention to Dragon Quest Builders 2 wane next week with the arrival of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? That’s very likely. Will it slow to a veritable trickle the following week when Fire Emblem: Three Houses makes the scene? Oh, you can bet on it. But in the meantime, it continues to be my new video game obsession. And it’ll likely become yours as well.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. Did I mention you can craft things out of your NPCs’ poop? I feel like I maybe glossed over that one.