|Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker|
|Genre||Gotta Slime 'em All!|
|MtAMinutes to Action||3|
|Buy from Amazon|
Two franchises I consider to be inherently Japanese are Dragon Quest—really, Dragon Warrior—and Pokemon, and both were born under the mighty and massive RPG tree, but have had their fair share of spin-offs. With Pokemon, its ranged from zaniness like taking pictures to brawling with other well-known gaming characters to rogue dungeon crawlers. As for Dragon Quest, they took a page out of their younger sibling's book, releasing Dragon Warrior Monsters in 1999 for the Game Boy Color; in it, a young boy is out to save his sister by collecting monsters, breeding them, and pitting them against other monsters. Pretty close to the Pokemon formula, but naturally featuring the classic monsters of the Dragon Quest franchise. Things like slimes, gremlins, and wyverns. There was more of a focus on taming monsters than simply capturing them, too. But it hooked players nonetheless.
The monster-raising series has continued on over the years, and I'm here today to give TOSE's 2007 Nintendo DS release Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker a try, a few weeks shy of the sequel's release. I have no expectations other than Pokemon mixed with my favorite classic RPG monsters, and maybe some light implementation of the DS touchscreen. And I hope the joker subtitle has nothing to do with that crazy jester from Dragon Quest VIII.
A half-hour review approaches!
00 – On the top screen of the DS, we have a swooping shot of an island with a volcano next to covered up by the game’s title, all colorful and cartoony as to be expected for any kind of Dragon Quest game. The bottom screen simply says PRESS START. You got it, game. Time to name our hero. Can’t think of a more heroic noms de guerre than Hodor.
01 – Cutscene time. Hodor, a punky teenager, is sitting in a jail cell. A prison guard by the name of Black Jacques tells Hodor that Warden Trump wants to see him. Turns out, Warden Trump is Hodor’s father, and he’s pretty peeved that Hodor ran off ten days ago to partake in some contest called the Monster Scout Challenge. Don’t get why that’s a jail-worthy crime, but whatever. Hodor’s dad has a sudden change of heart and wants him to enter into the competition, but as his spy.
03 – Now in control of Hodor. He needs to gather items and then head for Domus Island. In the meantime, we’re chatting with locals, all of which are commenting on Hodor’s lackluster relationship with his father. Hey, in the Pokemon games, the main boy/girl is fatherless, right? Daddy issues: the reason kids chase down monsters.
04 – Overheard a conversation between Black Jacques and some other scout. They were discussing the morality and point of what they, under the name CELL, are doing by capturing all these monsters.
07 – Okay, finally found the elevator lift which will take Hodor to the jetty. One of those classic horned helmet men approaches and is prepared to take our boy scout over to the island. However, once Hodor leaves, he can’t come back. Probably not until the end of the game, at least. But first, it’s time to choose a starting Pokemon. I mean…monster. There’s a Dracky, Platypunk, or Mischievous Mole. Went with the mole since it has the highest attack stat and nicknamed him/her Mulva.
08 – Off to Domus Island…via a jet ski?
10 – Lots of people to talk to here. Turns out that preparations for the Monster Scout Challenge are still under ways. Everyone suggests Hodor take this time to scout out more monsters for his team so that he has more than one fighter. Okay, sure. But where?
11 – Found another jet ski, which will take me to Infant Isle, “an island inhabited by weak monsters. It’s perfect for beginners.” Ya hear that, Hodor? Like stealing candy from a baby (monster).
14 – Immediately battled four classic blue slimes. Tried to scout the last one twice, but failed to impress it. Scouting is basically attacking, but without doing damage; instead, a percentage meter fills up, indicating the chance of getting that monster to join your side. Maybe Hodor needs to level up first. Can he level up? I think the focus is on the team itself, not him.
16 – Entered the scoutpost building located right off where the jet ski docked. Lady at the counter heals Hodor’s team automatically upon speaking with her, something I’m sure will come in handy as grinding becomes an issue.
17 – Exploring the scoutpost some more. Seems like it's the main hubbub of Infant Isle, featuring shops, an ATM, and a synthesis machine for fusing monsters together. Ended up buying Mulva a new axe.
19 – Defeated another slime, taking Mulva to level 3!
22 – Finally got a slime to join Hodor's team! This feeling is akin to catching a wild Pokemon with your sole remaining Pokeball. I'm gonna name it Blues and keep it in the team for the time being. Hmm. Do we get to name our team at some point? I remember that being in Dragon Quest VIII. If so, Team Dream Beam might be a good idea.
25 – Climbing up the mountainous part of Infant Isle. It's slow going, with a lot of battles. Not random, but it's much harder to avoid enemies here than say in Dragon Quest IX. Found a hut, which has some people in it, most importantly Scoutmaster Shuffles. Yeah, that's his name, and he won't elaborate on it. He asks Hodor if he wants to take a proficiency test for five gold coins. Sounds intriguing.
27 – Okay, the proficiency test actually consists of 10 mini-challenges. Hodor was able to complete the first two easy enough, but is not ready for mini-challenge numero three. Prizes won include a medicinal herb and antimagic powder.
29 – Found a cave's entrance near the top of the mountain, and with nowhere else to go, Hodor rushed on in. Supposedly, the path through here will take us out to the mountain's top, wherein Hodor can take his scout pledge. Unfortunately, there's a Dracky straight ahead, and this battle does not go well. A Shadow—in one single attack—kills my new buddy Blues. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Minutes to Action: 3
What I liked: That there's more visible depth here than in the Pokemon games I've played prior. A lot of stats, equipping weapons, learning new skills and abilities, and fusing monsters. It's comforting to know that, especially because a lot of the cooler stats and breeding combinations were behind-the-scenes in Pokemon. Here, I can see exactly what I'm going to get. Also, seeing slimes bouncy around the land is always a great time.
What I didn't like: Um, the death of a goo friend. Rest in peace, Blues. I guess it was just your slime. I will revive you as soon as I can get back to the scoutpost.
Story: Seems a little ham-fisted, but whatever. The purpose of the game is to collect monsters, make a team, and battle your way to the top. The whole subplot about Hodor's father and the suspicious nature of CELL is secondary to the mix, and I really can't care too much about it. I just want to capture more monsters and build a rad and raging team.
Gameplay: So far, just a lot of running up a mountain and battling monsters. That seems to be it, with the only constants changing being the location and the type of monsters to fight.
Nintendonly on the DS: No touchscreen elements so far. Pretty easy to move around with the d-pad (and circle pad for the 3DS) anyways. Maybe there's a mini-game down the line, but kind of doubt it.
Fun Factor: Um, nothing is standing out too much. It is fun when you successfully convince a monster to join your team and then get to equip them with weapons and name them and hug them and squeeze them and make them your itty witty monster bitty baby...ahem, sorry about that. Don't know what came over me. But yeah, that's fun.
Would I keep playing? Yes. I've been at a standstill in Pokemon White for some time now, knowing that to beat the Fab Four (or whatever they are called) I will have to majorly grind my team well into the 50s or 60s. Not something one gets done in an evening. Starting is always much easier in these kinds of games than finishing, and I need to resuscitate Blues and maybe get a third fighter on my team to conquer this deadly cave. Join me in wishing Hodor, Mulva, and Blues lots of luck!