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Dragon Quest Builders 2 - Xbox Series S

This game is absolutely loaded with charm. Coming from a person who hates long, drawn-out segments of dialogue, slow transitions, and tired exposition, I couldn't help but love the game even though it is loaded with this stuff. Every time something happens and your group of little dudes comes running over with their goofy faces and strange speech and they start clapping and jumping, it made me smile. It's all so different than what I'm used to, in every way. I honestly couldn't pinpoint why I liked this game so much or why it invigorated my patience for slower games, but it did. You are a Builder in a world ruled by evil monsters and minions. You have a shipwreck and awake on the Isle of Awakening, which turns out to be an island made by a famous Builder of the past. This essentially stands as your home base, and the rest of the story is divided into three other islands. Each of those islands has a main mission divided into three parts. Pretty formulaic stuff, which starts off feeling full and engaging, and ends up taking an awfully long time to get fully through it. It did take me until the third part of the third island to get fully tired of the monotonous repetition of the game, which is a testament to its ability to let you have fun. It has that addictive feeling of Minecraft, but with a full length RPG story, and mini-RPG elements tacked on. Plus every time you get back to the Isle of Awakening after getting through a main island, you have a ton of new recipes to build and tasks to complete at your leisure.

The story itself I found quite enjoyable. The characters will drone on, and I wavered between enjoying their weird dialects and speech patterns and wanting to be able to read it easily, but there are parts along the way that were truly affecting. This story could be told better, but it has heart and grit and interest. It was a main driver in wanting to see everything through to the end. I went in expecting no story at all, and it had a fairly standard Dragon Quest story attached. Not groundbreaking, but still well done, and it kept me interested and engaged throughout. This game would be tedious if not for the numerous and well-thought-out quality design choices every step of the way. The upgrades trickle in much like a Zelda game, but when you get them, you have a moment of Zen. Your Chakra aligns as you realize what you can do with this newfound power, and they are paced in such a way that just when you're getting tired of the slowness of the game, they give you a tool to ease your struggles. You are smashing rocks one by one, then you get a hammer upgrade that lets you demolish large swaths in one swing. You feel like you can't hold a lot and then you get a bag with hundreds more slots. The one that really sold me is when you travel to an optional island and a checklist appears on the side of the screen. Once the checklist is completed, you can access an infinite amount of a specific item at your workbench. It is truly genius. I spent the whole first island foraging for wood, to have the realization that I'll have to do it for an eternity longer to keep up. Then I unlocked infinite wood. It is a reward that I have never seen in a game of this type, and it really spurred me to keep building, adventuring, and playing the game. The cycle of building, learning, and easily accessing new tools is paced well, backed up by a nice RPG storyline. That being said, it takes a LONG time to fully open up. The first island could be a game all in itself. Furrowfield takes a long time to finish, and there are so many side missions and general freedom plus exploring options, that I had 20 hours in the game before I got a hammer upgrade that let me break stronger blocks. They really drip feed you throughout the game as they force you to go through the story in different islands. On one hand I enjoyed it, because the wealth of options in the game is overwhelming. The speed with which you can access things gives you time to learn each new segment as you unlock it. On the other hand, you have to put many hours into the game if you want to see what it has to offer completely. At 25 hours I got a frying pan, which allowed me to combine two ingredients in a fire to make combination foods. At this point, you already have dozens of things you can cook. Be prepared to spend a lot of time unlocking all of the features as you play. I have been having a wonderful time the whole way through, and they do an excellent job of their upgrade pacing, but it is a guaranteed long time investment.

You're also further heavily rewarded by exploring the full map on each island. There are puzzles to be found strewn across different areas that award mini-medals, which you can turn in for upgrades at your main island. Unfortunately, most of the mini-medal unlocks are inconsequential or lackluster. The locations of the puzzles show up on your map, so if you passed near one and didn't realize, you can simply backtrack to the map locations. Additions like that are what set it apart from tedious hunting and researching. Not once did I have to look up where to find a treasure or recipe, I simply enjoyed playing to find it. There are secret, extra-strong monsters which are huge and fun to fight, but also reward you with a recipe. Every monster I found and fought was secluded and hidden away, but not too far off the beaten path as to be laborious. The recipes you learn for defeating then are incredible. They are better than the current gear you can get and worth your time, plus once you unlock the recipe, you can usually get the better gear right away. It's almost always been recipes for weapons and armor that outclass the current equip, and are strong enough to last for a lot more adventuring. It is such a simple pleasure to go out of your way to find a challenge, and be rewarded accordingly. After the first two islands there is a boring jail section, and when I say boring I mean I almost quit the game because this section flat out sucks, bad. They take away all your equipment and movement and you have to walk back and forth and do mundane tasks while you wait for the jail escape to play out over days and days in-game. I was praying for it to be over. The third island was where the monotony started to finally set it, but still the game went down swinging. At this point I was traveling back and forth between the home base and all the areas I had accessible to me. I was gathering supplies and doing side quests and I had accumulated about 40 hours played by the time I got to the third island, Moonbrooke. It was more of the same in that you go through large amounts of text while you build up your base, learn new recipes, and collect new materials. The interesting thing about this island is they are in a perpetual war, so groups of monsters are sent to your location non-stop. You have to retreat to a fortified room or be overwhelmed. At this point in the game I was seriously getting tired of the slow pace of unlocking features, but the art design and interesting mechanics were keeping me hooked at the same time. Each step of the way during my playthrough, as I began to tire of a concept or the game itself, they switch something on you. As if you catch the carrot they are dangling in front of you enough to take a small bite. Moonbrooke may have been the most fun of the three, but there was also where the glaring problems with the townsfolk AI showed up. They request that you put necessary materials in a chest and they will build a blueprint for you. I put everything required but then it wouldn't finish and I couldn't figure out why. Later, I was in a different chest in a part of the castle separate from the blueprint, and I realized the villagers were putting the materials in this chest. I had to take them out and put them back in the correct chest 3 times for them to finish. When I was building a blueprint back at the Isle of Awakening, I even bad a villager remove a piece out of my partially-completed blueprint and put it away! Moonbrooke is also where the story intrigued me the most. There is a part where soldiers die and your generals lament the loss of life in a truly poignant way. The entire game is jolly and playful, and then people die and you have to carry their corpses into their graves. There is a jarring juxtaposition of saying a prayer for a person you just buried while I have a silly mustache and a purple ponytail. All of the quests and recipe-learning segments revolved around simple things like making a kitchen or a private bedroom for a specific person. Then you are hit with solemn music and snowy landscape while you dig graves for soldiers killed in action. Tonally outrageous, and I couldn't help but be taken aback by the madness of crafting a coffin and a headstone. It is a stark departure from the rest of the game, and it really goes full throttle from this point into the story, and no longer holds back. It was strange, but once again: the music, art, and general construction of the game made the rest of it so pleasant that they pulled it off.

This is essentially a Dragon Quest-lite. The minimap looks like an NES Overworld DQ map. All the songs and enemy designs are from DQ games, as well as sound effects and character models. The story goes off the rails and they discuss some heavy topics out of nowhere, while also being a sort of a Dragon Quest-esque fantasy world, filled with their associated tropes.

The character dialogue is somehow obtrusive, yet comforting. It is not the same old retread fantasy garbage you are used to, at least not all the time. While you find yourself meandering over pages of text, you'll find some eccentric bits of conversation that lift your spirits. One of the people in the first island used modern slang. The juxtaposition of the fantasy element and a girl saying how lit our farm is going to be was endearing, and not overbearing. A father in a mining village laments that he feels guilt having to make his daughter work there as a dancer, then gets upset when she is fine with it, stating he would have liked to put on fishnets and do it himself. These wild and outlandish parts break up the monotony of the regular story exposition, and in a sea of constant dialogue, are a brief oasis of personality. It was pleasantly outlandish, and gave a sporadic break from the otherwise standard fantasy-fare. Something I don't get into very much in these types of games is creative builds and photo mode, but they have both. The loading screens show off other peoples photos of their worlds: huge buildings, giant set pieces, and pixel-art mosaics. On the xbox version, however, I was entirely unable to use any online features for some reason. I couldn't connect to any other worlds or have people visit mine. I expect this is due to having a small playerbase, but the game simply would not let me connect at all. I imagine this would have been a cool way to learn new blueprints and building ideas, but I never had access to it, and ended up having to do some research online at the end of the game. One thing that I cannot make an excuse for at all is the horribly slow reading sections that pop up. There will be a segment of the story where text comes across the screen from an unknown speaker, and it will stay on the screen for sometimes 20 seconds or more. I know because I counted it. It happened so frequently. You cannot skip it or increase it's speed in any way. You must sit and watch a single sentence on screen for an excruciating amount of time. Watch this next part for an example. The text had already scrolled onto the screen, and it's fully there for about 18 seconds straight. I was button mashing the whole time and could not skip it. You have to sit there and stare at it. These segments will have this happen 4 or 5 times in a row. Truly unbearable.

The main story drags. It takes entirely too long to unlock all the key components, which is what made the game so fun. Traveling around your private island and building was a respite between the story parts. The main quest serves to break up the monotony of being dumped into a sandbox with no ideas or expectations, but it needs to be cut back severely. That being said, every time I started to feel like I was finished with the game and wanted to stop, I found myself ready to go again the next day, or after a short break. I can't say that about a lot of games. After habitually quitting games that didn't offer constant decisions I agreed with, somehow Dragon Quest Builders 2 was able to ease me back into the RPG genre, and I can't quite pinpoint why. The leisure of freedom at the main hub after a long story part? The slow but deliberate and linear task completion? A literal checklist of objectives? All of the above maybe, combined with the charm and accessibility of the game. No matter the cause, I was enamored and encompassed by this game. My expectations going into the game were to try out a quirky new building game and have some fun screwing around in it. Going in not knowing they had a fleshed out story and tons of thought and energy put into the entire thing was good for me. It tempered my resolve and expectations for future games. I wasn't expecting to put 70 hours into this game, but I found myself wanting to play it day after day, and felt full and satisfied upon completion of the main quest. You are put back on the Isle of Awakening after the end game, and you can build to your heart's content. I had enough building as I progressed, and at this point was happy to have come to a conclusion. All building games I played would benefit greatly from adding in the comfort features and quality shortcuts of DQB2. The extra large personal inventory, non-destructible tools, and gated upgrades remove the tedious and agonizing grind I was expecting. I was constantly having fun and working towards a goal, instead of painstakingly re-crafting needed items in a fake gameplay loop of boredom. It wasn't perfect, but what they get right they get really right. Somehow the unknown genre of DQB2 has reignited my love of long-winded, classic RPGs. I immediately got Dragon Quest XI and have started working through it. It's interesting going from the miniature version of DQ to the full thing instead of vice versa, but Builders was my stepping stone. It has failures and shortcomings, but it is honest, and true to the fantasy formula. Fun and inventive building ideas, constant unlocks, and a full-fledged story are the hallmarks of its successes, and it is worth a play because of the amalgamation of them. It is carefully built and detail oriented. The character exposition, very slow auto-text sections, and overall time commitment were drawbacks, but none too great to make me stop playing, which is my favorite sign of a good game. I wanted to keep playing in spite of its shortcomings. If you want to build like Minecraft but in a Dragon Quest world, play it. If you want more Dragon Quest story, play it. If you like both you'll be in heaven.

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