Square Enix introduced Dragon Quest Builders in demo mode at TGS 2015, and it was full of surprises. Even if it made consistent efforts to polish its looks and add new elements, the game still shows its heritage.
Minecraft is the first thing that comes to mind when starting to play Dragon Quest Builders, but until the latter becomes a true rival for the Mojang and 4J Studios' creation, some improvements are mandatory.
Common elements are easily discernable, the inventory bar being the first that pops out. Also, there is an equipment belt where you can holster various weapons and tools, and you can browse through it by pressing up/down on the D-pad. To dig, you generally use the hammer just as in the trailer of the game.
If you believe all actions are intuitive, think again. Even for such an elementary task as digging, gamers should know that a simple attack/dig (square button) only hits objects positioned on the same level as you. L1 and R1 buttons allow you to aim the hammer at block situated higher or lower than you, whereas if you want to aim and hit enemies or blocks that are above or below, the shoulder buttons do the trick. Speaking of digging, the demo limits the vertical mobility to about four levels downward and 40 levels upward, making it way less open world than its predecessors.
Moving on to the unique aspects of the game, the general visuals are cute and stay true to the Dragon Quest spirit. Moving around and performing actions feels flawless. As opposed to Minecraft's "jump in the water and learn to swim" approach, Dragon Quest Builders has a soft learning curve due to its schematic system that shows you how to easily build stuff. An interesting addition is that the settlements that you construct will gradually attract NPCs.
The gameplay would benefit from a first-person mode. From the fiddling with the controls in third-person, it is blatantly clear that for precise aiming and efficient working in closed spaces, first-person is paramount.
Developers announced that the game will feature a story mode and a campaign objective, but it's the players' choice how and when it accomplishes them. Building your cube-spaced-world can continue indefinitely after the ultimate boss fight. However, for those who only desire to share their creations with the community, a pacifistic mode will be available.
The demo offers only a fraction of the game's full potential. Some gameplay adjustments and a couple novel elements might help the open-world RPG construction game depart from the nagging comparisons with Minecraft.
On Jan. 28, 2016, Dragon Quest Builders will be released in Japan on the PS4, PS3, and PS Vita. For now, there is no information about an international launch.