When Dragon Quest Builders was first announced, I remember how confused I was by the concept. It appeared to be Square Enix using the Dragon Quest brand recognition to make a Minecraft rip-off. I was certainly curious about it, but I wasn’t expecting anything more than what it looked like at first glance.
When I finally got my hands on the game, to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. While the gameplay itself was still unambiguously Minecraft, it was able to make substantial differences to the way the game progressed to make it a functionally different experience. I think it’s worth talking about what choices it made to make a cohesive story while still keeping the classic Minecraft gameplay.
Minecraft has for a while now been attempting to make versions of itself that has a story, like with Minecraft Dungeons or the aptly named Minecraft Story Mode, but these didn’t feel like Minecraft beyond its visual style; if Minecraft were to take some of these cues from Builders, I’m positive they could make a Minecraft story mode that is still the same game people have come to love.
The first thing to note, for those of you who aren’t like me and don’t need any context or story to like a game and wouldn’t appreciate the narrative additions to the game, Builders has a separate free play mode. Minecraft could still keep what it currently has for the people who want just that.
With that out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How was Dragon Quest Builders able to make a comprehensive story while focusing on creative building gameplay? First, it opted to use chapters for its story. There’s an overarching narrative, but each individual chapter focuses on rebuilding a different town.
This chapter-based storytelling is great for numerous reasons. It allows for each chapter to have its own self-contained progression system. The feeling of starting out with nothing (the punching trees portion of Minecraft) up to the feeling of having a completed fortress is condensed into nice portion sizes. This gives the game a nice difficulty balance. It starts difficult, you build, you get more comfortable, you get really strong, and then you lose it again. Each chapter is also progressively more difficult, with tougher enemies and scarcer resources, so there’s still a good difficulty curve for the overall game.
Builders also features an incentivized central building location. This really works well within the context of the story: your goal is to rebuild a town where it once stood, but it also works for a couple of gameplay reasons. Making lots of rooms in the location is how the player character levels up, instead of through combat, which makes a nice gameplay loop of fighting enemies to get materials to make rooms to fight stronger enemies. It also attracts NPCs to live there, who can give advice on where to find rare materials, hints on what furniture are needed to make certain rooms, and in the sequel join you in combat.
I never thought it was possible for Minecraft to integrate a story while keeping its gameplay in tact, but Builders really has some good ideas that could be implemented. I’m not saying it has to, of course, but I really think that instead of attempting to branch out and making Minecraft-looking games with next to nothing in common with its source material, they could use some of these concepts instead. It would probably go over much better.
What Minecraft Can Learn From Dragon Quest Builders.