So, I had to be stuck at a conference this week, and I figured in good road trip fashion, I would go ahead and pick up a new game to cope with it—in this case, Dragon Quest Builders 2. I spent a bit of the week playing it, then remembered that resident darling and Dragon Quest fan at Kotaku, Tim Rogers, might have had some thoughts about the game. And I guess Paul Tamayo was there too.
What I totally wasn’t expecting before watching Tim (and Paul, I guess) talk about the game, however, was just how much of an emphasis religion played in the game.
Admittedly, I’m not that far in the game. I’m just now wrapping up Furrowfield—the second island you get to explore after the tutorial. But so far, the religious overtones that are sprinkled throughout the game are pretty… intense. It actually, in many ways, serves as an incredibly potent criticism of religion.
From my understanding, Dragon Quest Builders 2 takes place after the events of Dragon Quest II and after the defeat of the villain Hargon and the evil god Malroth. Years later, created by a sense of mourning and wishing to carry out Hargon’s will, a cult forms called the “Children of Hargon.”
Rather than being a typical religion focused on creation, the Children of Hargon focus instead on destruction. In their reign, the act of destroying is privileged, and the act of creating is seen as a kind of taboo. Rather than living in houses, raising crops, or anything that would be seen as productive, followers of the cult instead choose to live off of the land and destroy any remnants of society that they once knew.
Immediately, then, the overtones of religion are present from the very start. During the tutorial, you learn that the Builder is imprisoned on a ship piloted by the Children of Hargon. And although the Children of Hargon detest the act of building, they almost immediately put you to work, strangely enough, building. While this could simply be written off as the tutorial needing to do what tutorials do, it does seem odd that the tutorial introduces you both to the Children of Hargon and the mechanics of building in this way. While they are monsters, the duplicity of this religion is put at the forefront before you begin to explore the world at large.
This attitude actually carries over to your first real island, where your attempts to rebuild the island are discovered by a Paster of the Children of Hargon, who—rather than stopping you—simply allows you to carry on working while contributing nothing of real value. You later discover that the Pastor has two small houses—one actually being built on a cliffside with a rather scenic view, which is in complete opposition to those who he preaches over.
Indeed, many of the characters that you meet on that first island are living in complete destitution all in the name of being a member of the Children of Hargon. Apart from the “main character” for that island, most of the other characters have no true ambitions for trying to rebuild. Some of the characters are too scared to go against the religion. Some characters admit that it was all they ever knew, although they thought sinning was “fun.” Others still are completely die hard for the religion, and take a good deal of persuading to be won over.
But regardless, you can see how this religion has touched everyone—true believers and not—and harmed their lives, and even their ability to live, as a result.
In that same way, the game also explores the idea of religion as a means of control. While waging the war against the creations of mankind would always be in the best interest of monsters, it is in no way in the best interest for humanity. The cult’s growth throughout humanity does give some sense of purpose to its followers, but at the same time, it keeps them completely vulnerable and subordinate to the monsters who rule them through that same power.
So, while the game touches the ideas of double-standards, working against best-interests, and the ability for religion to control, it doesn’t simply stop there. It continues to promote a kind of atheistic ideal of what could be accomplished when working outside of those religious boundaries.
This follows, oddly enough, with your character as the kind of religious leader of this anti-religious movement, teaching people to follow the powers that they wield within themselves rather than what is promised to them, and to rely on hope over fear.
This even ends with a town making their own Deitree (like Deity, get it?), and if that’s not on the nose for that message, I don’t know what is.
It was a bit more than I was expecting from a spin off game. Maybe all the memes I’ve been seeing about “politics in gaming” made me a bit more sensitive to this than I otherwise would have expected, but it seemed to hit on a lot of points—a lot more poignantly and aggressively—than I’ve seen in a lot of main title games lately. At least since Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward.