When Kazuya Niinou originally set out to make the original “Dragon Quest Builders,” it was an experiment. He wanted to see if JRPG mechanics would work in a sandbox, “Minecraft”-like world where players could build whatever they wanted.
“When I started it was just ‘Dragon Quest Builders,’ we didn’t have a vision for a sequel,” Niinou told me during an interview at the E3. “I always liked ‘Minecraft’ and this is something I wanted to experiment with. A JRPG blended with building mechanics.”
“Dragon Quest Builders” sold more than a million copies in its first year alone and now “Dragon Quest Builders 2,” which came out in December in Japan, is releasing in the West on July 12th, 2019 on PS4 and Nintendo Switch. It’s got cooperative multiplayer, deeper NPC interactions, a series of quality of life upgrades, and an entirely new story.
Builders, for those who don’t know, is basically a more artistic and structure Minecraft set in the world of “Dragon Quest” where the player can build a village, attract NPCs to live there, explore the world, and fight monsters.
“The previous title was released on PS Vita and PlayStation 3, the generation prior,” Niinou said of why they developed a new game instead of more content for the first “Dragon Quest Builders.” “Bringing it to new platforms gave us more opportunities as we wanted to build a new system for the game altogether.”
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“‘Dragon Quest Builders’ merged sandbox building and RPG mechanics and when we set out to do that we were trying it for the first time,” game producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto added. “There were a lot of things we didn’t know.”
“Dragon Quest Builders 2” is set 100 years after the first game and its story is intertwined with “Dragon Quest 2” (similarly to how the original “Builders” was intertwined with the first “Dragon Quest”), the mainline series of RPGs. It has a standalone story so players won’t need to play the first game to understand what’s happening in the second, although players who played the first will get to carry over some of their progress to the sequel.
The biggest addition to “Dragon Quest Builders 2” is cooperative multiplayer, an addition that Fujimoto emphasized as part of the sequel’s greater focus on friendship. “It has the essence of friendship as ‘Dragon Quest 2’ was the first game in the series that let you recruit party members,” he said. “Building in the first Builders was lonely since you were all by yourself.”
Multiplayer isn’t part of “Dragon Quest Builders 2’s” main story, it’s separated as part of the Isle of Awakening. An individual island where you can build whatever you want and invite friends to help you build and fight monsters. It’s unlocked at an unspecified point in the single-player adventure. Each player controls the builder character in their own game and can customize their appearance, making their own unique avatar for multiplayer sessions.
Other new features include the ability to cut blocks diagonally to make buildings in different shapes, a higher ceiling to build in the in-game world, more ways to use water around creations, and various quality of life upgrades like the removal of the individual chapters system that cut the original game into separate segments.
Another change that Niinou, Fujimoto, and producer Takuma Shiraishi emphasized was the broadened scope of NPC personalities. In the original game you would obtain new villagers as you built your encampment. Dragon Quest Builders 2 features NPCs with a wider range of reactions to what you do. “We wanted to create townspeople with AI that wasn’t as intelligible,” Fujimoto said. “If they are too smart then they wouldn’t be as interesting. They need your help and it also makes them fun to watch.”
“If you only place one bathroom in your village the NPCs will all lineup to use it like traffic in LA,” he said. “It’s interesting to see all the reactions the characters have to your actions. It’s less lonely.”
Both Niinou and Fujimoto mentioned how development, which is now aided by Koei Tecmo, had been mostly trial and error. They’ve been testing how to make elements like building or farming fun. “One of the first islands had a lot of trial and error, ” Niinou said. “The act of building needed to be fun, but it wasn’t at first. That’s where the NPC’s reactions and story progression made it fun.”
Niinou never envisioned “Dragon Quest Builders” as a series with multiple entries that followed in the footsteps of the mainline RPGs, but it’s starting to look that way. He couldn’t confirm if there would be a “Dragon Quest Builders 3” but the thought isn’t off the table.