Dragon Quest has always been a late bloomer in western markets despite its wild popularity in Japan. Fortunately, I managed to play both the original Dragon Quest and Dragon Quest II (Dragon Warriors as they were called) on the Gameboy when I was but a wee laddie. Being one of the RPGs from my formative years, the franchise has a special place in my heart.
Why am I bringing up ancient history? That’s because the story of Dragon Quest Builders 2 is tied closely to Dragon Quest II. After a short tutorial, you wash up on the shores of the Island of Awakening and soon run into a character called Malroth.
Old-school players like me might find the name familiar. There are more references to the 1987 game as you further explore the world, with things clearing up by the end. Although the story is rather simple and can be slightly predictable (to help with its all-ages appeal), it is those tie-ins that will surely delight any Dragon Quest fan.
The Builders series can be best described as “Dragon Quest meets Minecraft”. You gather resources by breaking down the environment, slowly climbing up the materials tier as you forge stronger tools to gather with. New crafting recipes are unlocked as the story progresses, though my favorite activity is cooking.
Cooking starts out as a simple affair, where you just find the right ingredients and place them on a bonfire. Later into the game, however, you can start mixing in more materials to create all sorts of food. I found myself spending hours mixing and matching random ingredients, just to see what new recipes I can discover.
As for structures, you can build anywhere you desire on the Island of Awakening. You can also invite friends to build together or visit their island instead to give a helping hand. There’s an annoying hold-over from the first game, where you have to start from scratch whenever you enter a new story island, but any recipes learned are transferable to your main sandbox island.
Otherwise, Square Enix have fixed many of the problems from the first game. In fact, they’ve done a great job of incorporating player feedback. One of the main gripes from DQB1 was how dull and slow it was to travel from area to area, something you had to regularly do to complete quests or find appropriate materials.
Now, we have a fast travel system to teleport to the village and other key areas. Players unlock additional fast travel points as they explore the story islands, and even that is made faster with the new sprint ability. That's not all. The game goes out of its way to give players more movement options, so expect to glide around the island or even travel on an Army Ant-styled vehicle. With all these new options, traveling is a lot less tedious.
Combat also sees an improvement, with a certain someone joining you as a companion. This translates into having a competent AI teammate that helps with distracting and killing your enemies. The implementation greatly helps the game's pacing and, once again, makes the overall experience less of a slog.
Building on top of that, your weapons and mallet no longer have a durability bar. There are so many other improvements that makes Dragon Quest Builders II a better game, but perhaps the most defining change would be the NPCs themselves. They now play a more active role by either tilling the ground or building certain structures for you, making the world feel much more alive.