Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 (DS)

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is, like its predecessors, headed straight to a future where it’s compared unfairly to Pokemon.

Do that, and it’s likely to come off as the inferior game, lacking greatly in the social aspect as it is compared to Game Freak’s Monster collecting classic. But then it never tried to compete there. Dragon Quest Monsters is very much its own game with its own direction, and it deserves to be assessed as such.

Joker 2, then, has a strong focus on single player play, and heavy emphasis on grinding away to build the ultimate team. The adventure kicks off when the hero finds himself part of a transport zeppelin that crashes on an exotic island. With the other passengers scattered, the hero sets off to rescue these missing people.

The problem is that this island is teaming with monsters, and the hero starts with just the one tame one to protect him.

Not to fear, though. That single monster is able to tame wild monsters. He simply makes a show of strength, and depending on how powerful he is (and thus how intimidating to the wild monster) there’s a chance that monster becomes tame and joins the hero’s slowly growing army of freaks and beasts.

This is the core mechanic of the game, and it sounds more complex than it is. Level up your monsters, run into a new monster, recruit him by displaying making this show of strength.

The second prong to the team building experience is the ability to combine two monsters to create a more powerful one. Every monster has a ranking, and combining monsters is a good way to increase the overall ranking of your team. For instance, early in the game you’ll have a team of F-ranked monsters. Combining them creates F+1 or even E level monsters. Combining those ranks the monsters up even higher.

There’s a catch, though. The original monsters disappear in such a process, and the newly formed monster is level 1. It has some of the skills of its “parents,” and becomes more powerful than either quickly, but it requires going back out into the field for some random battling first. Monsters can only be part of the combining process once they hit level 10, and usually it’s better to have them a significantly higher level than that to maximise the skills and abilities in the new monster

And that’s where the game’s grinding comes from. It’s not as painful as it sounds, as combat runs at a snappy pace, and the monsters are plentiful in the game’s environment. The lack of random battles helps keep frustration levels down too.

There’s plenty to do on this mysterious island as well, from hunting down some of the game’s biggest monsters, to working through the plot, and participating in the various side challenges the game throws at you. Exploring is a pleasant experience, thanks to the trademark visual charm of Dragon Quest games, cheery music, and sheer variety in the monsters. This is entirely subjective, but Dragon Quest’s Monsters are a whole lot more charming and interesting than anything the Pokemon series has seen for years.

The game struggles with multiplayer. There’s online play, but when the monster trading and serious competitive circuit isn’t there, the appeal of online isn’t quite as high. The fact of the matter is that Dragon Quest Monster is designed around providing a balanced and enjoyable single player game. Multiplayer is just a little bonus.

So it’s not a Pokemon clone, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. This is a 50+ hour monster collecting single player RPG, with a far more cohesive and interesting story than Pokemon, but none of the social element that has people downing 200+ hours of breeding and training in that series. Which one appeals to you more?

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