Everything's coming up Dragon Quest this month, with a remake of Dragon Quest VII out now on 3DS, and the spin-off, Dragon Quest Builders due imminently, giving us a rather different kind of slime fix.
As the title suggests, Dragon Quest Builders is a game more focused around, well, building, than it's role-playing brethren, and also seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to a little known game called Minecraft. But that being said, it does have (at least) one thing that Minecraft doesn't - a decent story to keep you going.
Set in the kingdom of Alefgard, a world which has been plunged into darkness by the evil Dragonlord, humanity has been exiled to the farthest reaches of the land, left to scavenge whatever they can.
Stripped of their creativity and their ability to build, their hope rests on a young boy/girl who's been blessed by a Guardian Spirit, and given the ability to build once more. And so, as is often the way, it falls to you to help reconstruct civilisation, one block at a time, whilst giving that Dragonlord an almighty seeing to.
Essentially a parallel 'what if' ending to the original Dragon Quest 1 game, Dragon Quest Builders tells the tale of what might have happened had the original game's protagonist decided to strike a deal with the Dragonlord rather than defeat him. With the hero instead entering a sham agreement to rule each half of the kingdom as equals, the nefarious Dragonlord soon grows tired of the truce, and eliminates his rival, leaving his monster-y dictatorship unopposed - until you come along, that is.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to rebuild the entire kingdom of Alefgard from the ground up, block by block. But before you can build anything, you'll need to find some materials, which you can gather from all across the land, a la Minecraft - sometimes dug up, sometimes chopped down and sometimes looted from defeated enemies. By mixing and matching different materials, you can create all kinds of building blocks, furniture, and items with which to create and decorate your blossoming kingdom to your heart's content.
In our demo, which covered the opening hours of the game, we found ourselves in a deserted little corner of nowhere, amongst the ruins of a town. But we weren't alone - a young girl called Pippa was wandering around, looking a bit forlorn. Making the first move, we strike up a conversation with the lass, where she asks for a hand in repairing her house, a ramshackle collection of stone blocks with some seriously big holes in the side. So, like her knight in shining armour we set about patching her hut up as best we can, sticking five dirt blocks in the gaps, dug up from the ground nearby no less. It may be a bit of a ramshackle fix but it was all we really had, and little Pippa was chuffed to bits. We even went as far as to create her a torch on a nearby workbench using a stick and a clump of grass, so now she doesn't have to sit in the dark.
You see, in the world of Dragon Quest Builders, there's oodles of Pippas (well, people like her - not really oodles of Pippas. That would be creepy) hoping for a hand in creating the house of their dreams, and such building quests form the bedrock of your adventure. Later on, we found a woman asking us to make her a workshop and adjourning store room, for example - and as your little towns grow and grow, so will your list of commitments.
Blueprints give you a framework for your creations, and by following them you can create specific structures with particular purposes, which the townsfolk will recognise and use as such - so a room with beds in will see your villagers taking a nap, or they may pop to the kitchen for a bite to eat too. More impressive structures, whether built as part of a quest or just because you feel like building your townsfolk a roller coaster, require more materials from further afield, which is where Dragon Quest Builders' more role-playing game components start to creep in.
The kingdom of Alefgard is a sprawling blocky wasteland, filled with opportunity - and vicious monsters. So, while you're out harvesting everything from mushrooms to iron ore to wood, you'll need to be prepared for battle, wielding whatever weapons you've decided to craft (in our case it was a simple stick). Unlike other Dragon Quest games, you're fighting beasties in real-time, hacking and slashing at them, dodging their attacks, and even running away under your own steam, rather than leisurely picking a few options from a list of actions. It's also worth noting that with nightfall come more vicious monsters, spoiling for a fight. As the development team told us when we spoke to them recently: "We wouldn't necessarily recommend you go exploring at night because it's quite dangerous - but if you must do it we recommend you make a camp site" - effectively a structure of your own creation to keep out the nasties and let you rest till morning in safety.
Of course, in a world ravaged by monsters under the tyranny of the Dragonlord, your towns are under threat from them too - and once your village reaches a certain size, you'll need to take counter measures to stop it falling back to monster control. Walled cities are the obvious choice, but Dragon Quest Builders has a whole host of old-fashioned security measures you can employ too, from spikes to fire-breathing statues to simple pits. Or, you can also choose to get the weapon smith in town to arm your citizens instead - it's entirely up to you.
At certain points in the game, you'll attract the granddaddy of unwanted guests in the form of boss monsters. In our demo, we saw the first of the bunch, Golem, a brick-faced bad guy from pretty much every Dragon Quest game ever. Boss fights are interesting in that you have two objectives to juggle at once - defending and minimising the damage to your town, whilst also trying to deal damage to the boss in the downtime. For the former, your character has the ability to erect a quick wall-like barrier in the path of Golem's destructive attacks, absorbing the damage he's dealing in place of your lovingly created city (whose buildings will get steadily chipped off as his attacks hit home). Unfortunately, conventional swords and the like do very little to dent Golem's stone-clad armour, and you'll need to get your crafting hat on and whip up some bombs instead, laying the explosives at his feet to defeat him. There'll be a number of such boss encounters during the game, and each will require a bit of a different strategy to defeat them, giving the old grey matter a bit of a workout too.
As huge Dragon Quest fans with more than a little bit of a creative itch, we can't wait for Dragon Quest Builders when it hits the Playstation 4 and PS Vita (download only, unfortunately) this Friday, the 14th October. Why not whet your appetite with the latest trailer below, which tells you everything you need to know about the game: