This Week in Games
Dragon Quest Builders
by Dustin Bailey,
Yakuza 5 is long. In fact, Yakuza 5 is too long. I'm closing in on the 60 hour mark, and I'm not sure there's really enough here to justify all that time spent. Granted, it's partly my fault, since I keep engaging in as many of the side stories as I can, and those have been some of my favorite parts of the game. Becoming a master hunter, a pop idol, and a baseball icon.
But one of the reasons those side stories are so compelling is that the main story mostly hasn't been. Every chapter introduces a new character with a new conflict, and I'm still waiting for any of those stories to reach a second act. None of them are bad, per se, and having all these huge side stories is certainly an interesting way to build a game, but the dragged-out nature of structure is really putting a damper on the soap opera crime drama that's at the heart of Yakuza.
I'm really just working to justify all the hours spent. Yakuza 5 is mostly pretty good, and it's old news anyway. This is “This Week in Games,” where we only talk about the newest and hottest of things! The things that all the kids are into! Like Minecraft.
First Impressions: Dragon Quest Builders
Yes, Dragon Quest Builders is a shameless attempt to cash in on the popularity of sandbox games like Minecraft.
It's also great.
I was up until the small hours of the morning last night finishing the game's first chapter, and I would have been inspired to do the same even if I weren't writing it up for this week's column. Builders is a terrific blend of Minecraft-style exploration and construction with the life, personality, and quest design of a story-driven JRPG.
You're a stereotypically silent protagonist charged with restoring life to a ruined world. (That ruin, incidentally, seems to have been brought about in the aftermath of Dragon Quest's bad ending, where the hero accepts the Dragonlord's offer of world domination.) The magical “chosen one” power that you posses is the ability to build things, which is a knowledge long-forgotten by the world's other human denizens, who can't quite grasp the idea of combining things with other things to make new things.
Each of the four chapters has you planting a flag to stake out your base of operations, then slowly turning the surrounding land into a bustling little JRPG village, complete with shops, inns, and homes. Expanding the town and completing quests for your NPC population will draw in more citizens to settle there, each of whom has their own story, personality, and missions to undertake.
Construction is simple and easy, just as you'd expect from a post-Minecraft building game. It can occasionally be difficult to line up your blocks just right with an analog controller, but that's the only gripe with system that's otherwise smartly filled with conveniences that take away the tedium associated with crafting. Holding down the placement button will automatically stack blocks two-high, which is exactly what the game wants to call an enclosed space a “room.” You automatically learn crafting recipes simply by picking up new materials. You get a massive central storage space that you can access from anywhere in the world, making inventory management a non-issue. These are small considerations, but they add up to make almost every frustration typically associated with sandbox games go away.
You're free to build as you see fit, but the area designated for your town is relatively constrained, encouraging you to keep things simple and just build the rooms necessary to keep the quests moving. You do get encouragement to experiment, as putting down new items is how you discover new types of rooms which offer new benefits to you and your townspeople. Putting down a dresser and some chairs, for example, makes a dressing room, which gives your ragtag population some fancy clothes to wear, but adding an armor and weapons stand makes it an armory, giving everyone better stats and equipment to fight off invading monsters.
Despite the game's sandbox inspirations and open spaces to explore, the progression is pretty linear. NPCs appear in a set order and offer quests in a set order, culminating in a battle against a number of invading bad guys. Surviving the battle opens up a teleportal to a new location where you can find new materials to complete new quests. The locations appear to be set rather than procedurally-generated, which might limit replayability but gives the world a handcrafted feel with treasure-filled caverns to explore and optional bosses hiding out in the wilderness.
The story is also surprisingly well-executed. Everything's quirky and cutesy, but as you build up your town and its defenses, paranoia starts growing among the citizens, worrying that the increasingly elaborate weaponry you're using to fend off monsters is what's drawing them to you in the first place. People start ostracizing each other and considering certain folks to be untrustworthy, like a chibi-fied adaptation of the Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.
I really like Dragon Quest Builders. Granted, I'm less than a quarter of the way in, and there's a danger that the quest progression and hard “from scratch” restarts at the beginning of each chapter will make the later parts of the game pretty repetitive. But I've had a great time so far. Even if you're not a Minecraft fan, it's still worth a look, especially if you like open-ended but still goal-oriented building games like Dark Cloud or Harvest Moon.
DON'T EXPECT FFXV ON PC, BUT PLEASE PREORDER
If you were holding out for a PC edition of Final Fantasy XV, you're going to be holding out for a long time. Don't let vague quotes that “it's possible” lead you to believe it's coming. In a Spanish interview (helpfully translated by WCCFtech), director Hajime Tabata said they're “not talking about something real, just an idea.” It would entail over a year in development, which is basically forever in game development terms. Though maybe time dilates around Final Fantasy development? It would certainly explain a lot about the course of FF15.
And speaking of the adventures of Noctis, you know what's hot these days? Pre-order bonuses! Amazon just announced the utterly silly Road Trip bonus, which seems to involve playing a web-based minigame to unlock exclusive DLC in-game, including an absolutely gaudy skin for that dope car. Some extended gameplay footage of the Gamestop bonus, A King's Tale, got out this week, and it looks gorgeous. It also looks like a pretty basic brawler.
All this pre-order bonus stuff feels kinda desperate, but if so it's pretty understandable. FF15 has been in development for a decade, after all, and it's going to set the tone for Square's future AAA development. So if you want big-budget Japanese games to survive, please pre-order Final Fantasy XV and tell all your friends to do it, too! Oh god please!
Persona 5 topped Japanese sales charts when it released last month, and it's on course to continue doing big. In fact, it's already done big. It's been the fastest selling game in the series,and now it's the best-selling game Atlus has ever produced, beating out the sales of Persona and Persona 4, even when combined with their respective re-releases.
These numbers (translated by fansite Persona Central) don't even include digital sales, which have expanded greatly since the release of previous titles, meaning that the actual numbers should be even higher. It's okay, Final Fantasy XV. Japanese players are still buying console games.
BLOODSTAINED WHIPS ITS WAY INTO YOUR HOME COURTESY OF A NEW PUBLISHER
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is totally Castlevania. It's being produced by the series' latter-day director, Koji Igarashi. It was Kickstarted. It's being developed by Inti Creates. Do you remember what happened last time Inti Creates partnered with a legendary designer to Kickstart a spiritual successor to a classic franchise? That was Mighty No. 9. Every aspect of that game's production was, to outside perspectives, a nightmare, and the end product wasn't great.
So how do you rectify that in the next project? Find a new publisher to work with! Inti Creates will partner with 505 Games to release Bloodstained. 505's recent credits include Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Virginia, and Abzû, so there's no shortage of excellent games being brought to market by them. With some recent Kickstarter projects have gone real bad, hopefully some publisher backing will keep Bloodstained afloat and on target. (Please.)
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
EXIST ARCHIVE: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SKY|
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: October 18
MSRP: $59.99 / $39.99
Let's get the important line out of the way: Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky is a spiritual successor to Valkyrie Profile. For some, the mere comparison to the cult classic PS1 RPG is enough, especially with the knowledge that it's made by the same developer. If you're not familiar with tri-Ace's original game, its trademark is 2D, platformer-style exploration combined with traditional, turn-based JRPG combat.
That same concept is at play in Exist Archive. Once you're in combat, each of your four characters' attacks corresponds with a face button, letting you pull off intra-party combos in fast-paced battles. Formations are essential in developing your strategy, and building chemistry between party members will unlock new skills and story events. I'll be digging into Exist Archive over the weekend, so look forward to more detailed impressions next week.
SUPERDIMENSION NEPTUNE VS SEGA HARD GIRLS|
Developer: Idea Factory / Compile Heart / Felistella
Publisher: Idea Factory
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: October 18
I'm gonna be honest here. I've done my best to avoid contact with the Hyperdimension Neptunia series. Something about the combination of self-referential dialog, extensively goofy visual novel segments, and by-the-numbers dungeon crawling keeps me at arm's length. It seems that's true for many folks, given the series' reputation, but it hasn't stopped Compile Heart from putting out literally five bajillion of these games.
This time, the fictionalized Console Wars meet the personified hardware of the Sega Hard Girls, with playable characters including the lovely ladies known as Game Gear, Sega Saturn, and Dreamcast. The battle system is turn-based, but you can move freely during your turns to reposition and attack. Look, you probably already know whether the Hyperdimension games are for you, and you probably also know whether the Sega Hard Girls are a selling point. Proceed accordingly.
That's all that really qualifies for next week's releases, though a Steam version of 2008's DoDonPachi Resurrection will be sneaking out this afternoon. It's been on iOS for some time, but this is the first worldwide release of the Cave shmup on a non-mobile platform.
I'll see you next week, if we can all survive the cyberpunk wasteland that PlayStation VR will unleash upon us. Look forward to some Exist Archive impressions!
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