Dragon Quest Builders has potential to be more than a knock-off - hands-on

Steve Jobs once famously said that "Good artists copy, great artists steal" - but even after going hands-on with the game at Tokyo Game Show, it's hard to tell which side of the copy/steal fence Dragon Quest Builders falls on.

One thing is clear, though: This is one polished, well-made take on the formula that Minecraft made so famous. It doesn't seem to shy away from the fact, either - its menus look like Minecraft and the world's blocky construction is equally evocative of Mojang's brilliant title - but there are touches here and there that also define this plainly as a typically Japanese and even more typically Square Enix title.


So, while the world is block-based, characters and enemies aren't. Those are given the usual attention to detail you'd expect from Square Enix designs, and fit into the typical archetypes and designs one expects from Dragon Quest. It looks great, keeping Minecraft's blocky aesthetic but offering everything at a slicker higher resolution. It's square, but not pixelly. 

Similarly, where Minecraft has shied away of going too deep down the traditional RPG hole, Builders features some more traditional questing elements - but also seems to feature more truncated mining and building, which ultimately balances that out.


While it wasn't really clear to me if this was a limitation for the demo or one the game will generally feature, attempting to just dig down to 'bedrock' resulted in me being stopped after only a couple of layers, for instance - and the game is keen to direct you to complete quests, which in this demo was primarily to construct a town and a bridge to another area of land. 

Where Minecraft is a creation tool that is almost entirely imagination-powered, Builders seems keen to give players who struggle to think in that way more to do.

Blueprints can be 'placed' into the world. Blueprints essentially act like a template, telling players exactly where to place blocks of certain types in order to build out a traditional, typical layout for a particular type of building, such as a house - a useful touch if you're less confident winging it with your building designs.

The controls for building are actually rather different to Minecraft, where instead of just using full axis FPS-style aiming, the shoulder buttons allow you to adjust what 'layer' of the world you're placing a block on. Part of these controls seem to be designed to combat the fact that there's no first person camera - and there's definitely a lack of precision associated with constantly being in third person.

I've logged far more time on Minecraft than I'd care to admit, and yet I've never used third person more for anything other than taking screenshots - so the decision to omit a first person camera does perplex me.


What makes Builders a more fully-fledged RPG comes in terms of its combat, which immediately feels to be more typically Dragon Quest and thus more in-depth.

Battling foes appears to be is key for getting important crafting ingredients, and crafting will be vital not only for creating new types of building block but also for creating items like potions and the like. It also seems there'll be the expected slew of equipment to be found by raiding chests and so on.

Beyond that actually functional NPCs will drop quests on you - some building-related, some combat. It surely feels more like a RPG as a result, but the third person perspective seems to be doing a great deal to make the building aspect more unwieldy and limited; hopefully the controls can be finessed more before launch.

I'm not quite convinced that Dragon Quest Builders is going to be a great take on the Minecraft formula just yet, but it certainly feels an interesting one. Given that it clearly isn't going to be a fully-fledged building experience, it could live or die by how its single player content unfolds - and we know little of that right now.

Regardless, my TGS hands-on has left me intrigued - this is more than a simple knock-off, and there's real potential buried here. If the subtractions and additions to the base Minecraft gameplay actually add up for more than a short show floor demo remains to be seen.