ONLY YOU REMEMBER HOW TO BUILD
**A review of the Japanese Version of Dragon Quest Builders**
By (click: ?name)[(open-url: "http://www.twitter.com/sean_htch")]\
*Played February-March 2016, written August-September 2016*
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(click: ?jpgames1)[(replace: ?jpgames)[*I'm not the first to admit that having Japanese ancestors led me to believe I had an affinity with Japanese games. People call me "Japanese American", because two immigrants from Japan gave birth to my grandmother. *]]\
It's the end of February 2016 - out of interest, I downloaded the demo for Dragon Quest Builders, looking for |jpgames1>[Japanese games] to play. It was my partner who was initially interested in Builders, but I ended up buying and playing the whole thing.
It seemed fun - some light crafting and building. A story, RPG-lite mechanics. And, in addition, out of the want to practice |in2>[reading Japanese], I played through the demo.\
(click: ?in2)[(replace: ?out2)[
*Also, I found myself performing "Japaneseness" by deciding to purchase, and eventually complete, the entire game, in Japanese.*]]\
I liked the demo, a lot. You should buy it when it comes out in English. I'd like a sequel. The story may be oversimplistic, but I felt there was a sincerity to it. Despite its cliches, anime-ish dialogue, at-times contrived pathos. I like the Dragon Quest aesthetic. Simple, and, at least based on the spin-offs I've played recently - of a certain design quality no matter what genre they're stepping into. Cash-ins? Sure, maybe. But whoever's writing these games, be it Yuji Horii or an only-in-the-credits credited intern, seems to still believe: hold your friends and family close. Just... that. And I like that. I don't know if Dragon Quest could handle much heavier. I think it knows that.
More games should know themselves.
<img src="http://i.imgur.com/GB8tZSV.png" width="100%" height=auto/>
I |in3>[finished the game] a few weeks later.
(click: ?in3)[(replace: ?out3)[*Of course, this was with occasional help of guides both Japanese and English, and the heavy use of dictionaries. I misinterpreted dialogue, went to the wrong places, picked up the wrong items.*]]\
The story's structure makes you play the role of a hero, who, over four chapters, must travel to four continents and help rebuild a village-like area in each. The ultimate goal, of course, is to stop the Dragonlord. 99% of the time, you'll forget about that goal. You'll be busy helping out a villager.
Each chapter contains a plot of land, on which a village will be built. You meet a villager, they tell you they want a bedroom. Or a sauna. You find the materials to build it, by digging. Sometimes you need to find items to build digging tools. It feels good, watching your village slowly grow. Sometimes you must follow blueprints for buildings, but you can choose where in your plot of land to build it.
As your village grows, so does the strength of your equipment. As you progress the plot of the chapter, you will have to fight enemies, which the Dragonlord is sending. This is pretty sloppy 3rd-person combat. At least it's easy! After battles, you might get a portal. Use the portal, you can go to a new island near the current island you're on. This is great! Each island has particular resources. This sounds boring, but because they're tied to advancing a small plot, it's relaxing and enjoyable to see what you can find. It's not just about advancing yourself... it's about advancing some (newfound) friends. Some islands have hidden things, hidden NPCs, or sidequests. It's a good time!
At the end of a chapter, you fight a boss. I could have done without these boss fights. Each of the four chapters revolves on rediscovering a particular technology. The last chapter is a bit different. Part of the fun is not knowing what those differences are, so I won't mention them.
You can freely build anywhere in the game, but you can only "level up" your town (or "Camp", shown below), by building structures that the game recognizes within the border of your town. The max level is 5. You don't get anything for this (Except maybe a Trophy), but sometimes leveling up is required to progress the story. You gain recipes for houses as you experiment, which the game recognizes and gives you points for. You can place objects you make into houses for more points. There are hidden blueprints and stuff. I didn't get super into this, but you might.
<img src="http://i.imgur.com/nM7pRnb.png" width="100%" height=auto/>
The core of the game is combat, crafting, voxel graphics, survival and sandbox gameplay, which date far back (far before That Game).
There's a Free Build mode. You unlock objects for use here by completing objectives in the main game. I didn't get into this much, but it's roughly like the main game except you can build anywhere and share buildings with friends.
I liked the cute, small plotlines. I enjoyed building a small house for a villager, to have her run over, hop up and down and clap. Hearing one villager gossip about another. I liked helping three desert-dwelling bodybuilders rescue their (maybe older sister) leader from a volcano fortress complex carved into dark mountains.
I liked how, as I completed quests for villagers, more villagers would appear. The game asks me to '|in4>[get to know]' the villager. They will have a bubble above their head with a hand-shaking icon.
(click: ?in4)[(replace: ?out4)[
*There's an anxiety, playing a game in a second language, in which I felt the weight of a long dialogue sequence. It'd take time. I wouldn't know some words, there would be a tangible filter between me and the game's message. This transforms into feeling like it is hard to get to know someone new. But each time, as you work through it, you get to know that NPC. Maybe this is why I liked this game a lot, because of the reward of understanding the communication.
I hadn't thought of the word 'native player' before - a person who gets to play a game in its original language, before the inevitable trade-offs of localization. I'm thankful to have English as my native language - it is a privilege. Though, a game may lose its charm if you play it in your native language - as it's harder to sort of get lost in the joy of Understanding. Maybe that's okay...*
I'm pretty happy, finishing this game, in Japanese, as the dialogue was often simple enough to understand roughly. I think I've |in5>[gotten better] (at reading Japanese.)\
(click: ?in5)[(replace: ?out5)[
*Through the act of playing this game, I've come to realize that, despite my being labeled as 'Japanese-American', there is not much in the Japanese language, or culture, or whatever - that is inherently and inseperably a part of me.
I have no bid towards more legitimately wanting to investigate the Japanese language. I know plenty of "non-Japanese" who excel at the language. They live in Japan, or live in the USA and are fluent at reading, speaking, etc.
The existence of having "Japanese blood", doesn't give me some right over going and claiming scholarship and knowledge over cultural productions of Japan. Did I hear about more Japanese stuff while growing up, because of my relatives? Sure. A lot of that is just 'skill points' in Japanese Interest... points that one can gain through study throughout their life. Yes, there are some unique things, like I have ancestors I can study who lived in Japan, or Taiwan, or Ireland... but that's almost akin to studying any figure from a country. Just in this case, they're related to me.
Speaking of Special Japanese Skills, in case you're wondering: yes, a White Person can learn to make sushi just as good as a Japanese Person. No, a Japanese Person is not necessarily inclined towards being skillful in making sushi. Do White People - and Japanese People - often misstep, and dictate how a particular food should be made? Yes. Is that bad? Yes. Might a Japanese Person be better, on average, at making sushi, because they could have known relatives who came from a part of the world where more people are likely to make sushi? Yes, but remember, that doesn't exclude Non Japanese from being able to do the same thing well.
Japanese people of all sorts can fetishize and exploit their own culture, too. Even me. Investigating Japanese can still be a fetishizing act, depending on how one does it, or: "Japanese Americans can be weeaboos, too!"
Be, do, eat what you want. Just be careful about what sort of power relations you're playing into. Don't do an interview on how to eat pho if that means it would legitimize your view and obliterate a dish's history. Etc.
When we define "Non-Japanese" People, we complicate the difference between a person born in Japan and a diasporic ((ancestor of ) immigrant, expat etc whatever) Japanese. What happens to the legitimacy of food I cook, if I combine "Japanese" and "American" elements? Well, it should be legitimate. Anyone can make a legitimate cuisine, so long as they are not claiming to be a truer, or elevated form of some other cuisine.
Back to reading Japanese at all. Suffice to say, I should not view learning Japanese as a claim or stake into proving my legitimacy as a Japanese. That is an impossible and nonexistent ideal. I can, however, view it as a natural result and curiosity stemming from my family's past, or a personal research interest stemming from interest in the history of games, or in other healthy ways.
There are fuzzier motivations that are not so clear. I can't deny one of my motivations is rekindling a language in my family line that was cut out due assimilation, social pressure, or racism, on my grandmother's family from the late 1800s to the end of WWII and beyond - to stake the claim that multiple languages should be able to exist in a country without being Othered or marginalized.*
Dragon Quest Builders is a straightforward and fun game where you harvest the (very cute) environment and slaughter enemies until you can follow the explicit directions to build particular building. It's also about recovering the past, what has been forgotten, piece by piece, until people are satisfied with what now exists.
The bosses at the end of chapters: they will likely manage to destroy parts of your settlement during the fight, but it's nothing repair can't handle - destruction only scatters the pieces used to build, never removes them permanently.
It can be rebuilt!
At the end of each chapter is a sadness. You built a relationship - at least some kind of relationship - with these villagers. The game gives you nothing else to do. There is nothing to do but move on. Perhaps this isn't the best thing in life: you probably should try to get communities you create into self-sufficiency. I forget if the villagers end up learning how to build or not. Maybe killing the Dragonlord fixed that.
But, it seems you have done enough for the villagers, and must make your way to the next village. The person you knew the longest sends you off.
Thus, memory recovered and reconstructed, you bid farewell. It's a little sad.
<img src="http://i.imgur.com/4aJ2eXx.png" width="100%" height=auto/>
*"Yasu (my name)... so you're really leaving...*
You can stay in the village and reload your save, yet there's not much engagement other than repeated dialogue. You can look for easter eggs, finish a few side quests, but there are no more main quests to do, your purpose is served, the village, |in6>[built.]\
(click: ?in6)[(replace: ?out6)[
*Many diasporic Asians I know are trying to rebuild identity in their own ways. Of course, there can be errors, and what we rebuild might not necessarily be healthy - an aspiration towards a non-achievable racial ideal, or an identity built on excluding others as too FOB or too white-washed.
Being under the umbrella label of "Asian" places oneself into a an eventual acceptance of floating between positions of existence, as an "X born in Y, Y born in X, etc...". Asian is a uselessly broad term, that we don't have great replacements for. A term that erases so many important distinctions between the billions of people its label captures. *]]\
You leave the village, keeping some of your knowledge for the next one you end up at.
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