**Update 10/20/16: Read our Dragon Quest Builders review here.
Dragon Quest Builders has already become hugely popular in Japan since its release on January 28 of this year, and now it’s coming to North America.
The open world sandbox action RPG combines gathering, crafting, and building elements from games such as Minecraft and Terraria with classic elements from the Dragon Quest series. The series has been something of a cultural phenomenon in Japan for years – there are books, manga, and even anime series based on the games – and is just starting to gain traction in the West. Dragon Quest Builders is based on the first game in particular, which released for the NES back in 1986. If you’re thinking about buying the game, which will retail for $59.99 USD, we have compiled a list of the five major things you need to know about it.
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1. The Plot Is Based on an Alternate Ending to the First Game
According to the official PlayStation blog, Dragon Quest Builders “follows a “what if” story following the original Dragon Quest“. It’s set in Alefgard, the world from the first game, and imagines a parallel ending in which the Hero accepted the evil Dragonlord’s suggestion for each of them to rule half of the world. It was, of course, a ruse; not only was the Hero destroyed, but the rest of the world was plunged into darkness and the remaining population robbed of its creativity. That’s where you, as the Legendary Builder, come in. You are awoken by a Guardian Spirit as either a boy or girl Builder and tasked with rebuilding the world and destroying the evil Dragonlord.
Basically, your job is to restore villages because you’re the only one who can; as you do so, NPCs will flock to inhabit them, and you will help them get in touch with their creativity. They will provide you with quests, and you, in turn, can have them do things such as cook food for your journey.
2. Despite Sandbox Mechanics, It’s Primarily an RPG
Many seem to think of Dragon Quest Builders as Minecraft with a Dragon Quest skin, but there are many fundamental differences between the two games so this isn’t necessarily an accurate description. This seems to be an inevitable comparison for any new game with sandbox elements, as Minecraft has become the standard for sandbox games, but Dragon Quest Builders is so much more than that. Although gathering, crafting, and building are all large components of the game, there is an equally strong RPG element and the heart of the game lies in its story, which is something many players felt that Minecraft was lacking when it released. TIME breaks down some of the differences in detail.
For one thing, the levels are deliberately designed rather than procedurally generated. It’s much more structured and provides you with guidance and blueprints for building. The narrative gives players more of a purpose for building, rather than just for building’s sake. It’s perfect for those who want something Minecraft-like, but with a little more direction. It does, however, include a free-building mode called Terra Incognito.
Forbes also calls Dragon Quest Builders “better than Minecraft” due to its successful merging of sandbox mechanics with the feel of an old-school Dragon Quest game.
3. The Game’s Length Depends on Your Playstyle
In an interview with Famitsu (via Gematsu), producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto states that the main story alone is about 50-60 hours long. If you’re a completionist and want to explore all the areas and side objectives, it could easily take you over 100 hours to complete. And then, of course, there is Terra Incognito mode, which offers open-ended free-building play similar to Minecraft and that players can easily sink hours into. So the sheer amount of playtime alone seems to justify the $60 price tag.
Be prepared to invest at least 50 hours if you’re planning on completing the story, though. Although it is mostly open-world, you can’t rush through it. The game is comprised of four chapters and main areas, and you can only move to the next upon completion of the previous area’s main storyline. Each area is further broken down into multiple islands as well, and you must unlock a portal to get to the next island (which sounds a little like indie sandbox RPG Portal Knights).
4. New and Old Fans Alike Will Find Something to Love
Although the story and world are based on the first Dragon Quest game, you won’t need to have played it (or any of the series) to enjoy Dragon Quest Builders. The premise is easy to understand even if you never played the original game, which is good considering there’s a solid chance many potential players weren’t even alive when that came out. It’s a great introduction to the series for newcomers and may even transition them to the main games, which seem to be transitioning to and gaining popularity in the West.
However, there are of course nods to the main series that longtime fans will enjoy. There’s obviously the tie-in with the first game’s story, and those who played Dragon Quest on the NES way back when will recognize Alefgard. You’ll see familiar enemies such as Slimes and Drakees, and items that have the same name as in the iconic series. Based on the trailers, it looks as though Dragon Quest Builders has successfully captured the overall feel of the series.
5. You Can Download a Free Demo Right Now
If you’re still undecided about the game, you’re in luck; it was announced this morning in the aforementioned new Dragon Quest Builders trailer that players in North America and Europe can download a free demo via the PlayStation Store. The demo is available now for both PS4 and Vita and includes an introductory chapter to the game which will allow players to explore a large island and experience building, combat, and quests. For those who are on the fence, this should give you a good taste of the game and help you decide whether or not it’s worth investing the money in.
Since the game has already been out for most of the year in Japan, there is also the benefit of reviews for the Japanese version. Most notably, Famitsu gave the game a score of 36/40 (via Gematsu). Famitsu is not one to hand out such high review scores routinely, so this is highly encouraging.