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Dragon Quest Builders may look like a Minecraft clone, but it's also delightful

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

When Square Enix unveiled Dragon Quest Builders earlier this summer, the game immediately drew comparisons to Mojang's Minecraft, thanks to its blocky graphics and emphasis on construction and crafting. After playing the game at Tokyo Game Show, it's safe to say those comparisons were justified, though Dragon Quest Builders is not without its own unique charms.

The premise for Dragon Quest Builders draws upon the events of the original Dragon Quest, which celebrates its 30th anniversary next year. At the conclusion of that game, the player is given a choice by the final boss, the Dragonlord: join him and rule half of the kingdom of Alefgard or challenge him in battle. Dragon Quest Builders explores what would have happened if players chose the former, so-called "bad" ending and Alefgard is ravaged by the power of the Dragonlord.

In Builders, you start small, reconstructing tiny towns, homes and workshops in Alefgard with the help of its citizens.

At TGS, Square Enix had a short playable demo of the PlayStation 4 version of the game — it's also coming to PlayStation 3 and Vita — in which we could build a small structure and take on a short quest. An NPC in the town provided us with some instructions and a blueprint culled from a nearby treasure chest offered a template for a workshop. There were ample construction supplies contained within that treasure chest, things like stone and dirt clods, as well as pre-crafted doors, tables and stools. Putting together that workshop was a snap; simply build the walls, slap a door on it, and place items like a workbench, stool and campfire per the blueprint's instructions.

Dragon Quest Builders

Dragon Quest Builders controls well in its construction moments. Structures are laid out simply on a grid, and dropping materials in the right spot takes no time at all.

Beyond the small town we were trying to rebuild was wilderness: plains, mountains, forest. They were inhabited by familiar Dragon Quest beasts like blue Slimes and Drakees, which were easily dispatched with a stick, hammer or sword. Slimes dropped a crafting material — slime, naturally — and the only real concern we had at this point was keeping our character fed and harvesting more material. Players can whack flowers for their petals, trees for wood and rocks for stone.

We happened upon a quest while exploring the undeveloped countryside of Alefgard: an inhabitant who was so afraid of nearby wandering monsters that he'd built himself a protective structure ... but had accidentally walled himself in. We simply had to break his self-made prison apart with a hammer and escort him back to our town, where he settled in and rewarded us with new construction materials. We went to our previously constructed workshop and made some raggedy new clothes with those new materials.

Our time with Dragon Quest Builders was brief, but rewarding. Minecraft-style construction combined with Japanese role-playing game quests feels like a good fit, and we can't wait to see what slime-crafting is possible.

It's not clear if this Dragon Quest game will actually make it outside of Japan, however. Square Enix has only confirmed Dragon Quest Builders for Japan, where it will be released on Jan. 28, 2016.

For a look at the game in action, check out some Dragon Quest Builders gameplay from TGS in the video below.