Game Name: Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2
Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Release Date: September 19, 2011 (US), October 7, 2011 (EU)
In the past five years or so, the Dragon Quest franchise as a whole has made quite a resurgence on the Nintendo DS. With last year’s release of Sentinels of the Starry Skies and 2011′s remake of Realms of Revelation, there is no doubt that this established RPG powerhouse has kept the DS off life support, and now Nintendo are looking to further the trend with the release of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2.
If you are unfamiliar, the Dragon Quest Monsters series has been around for about 12 years now and works a bit like Pokemon. Players are sent throughout various locations, where they can “scout” (instead of capture) monsters and then train, breed and battle to build an ultimate team all while progressing through a small plotline. Joker 2 fits like a glove into the series as most of the same elements apply, but now with over 300 monsters to scout and synthesize and a ton of extra features packed in that are sure to make fans water at the mouth. So how well does this follow-up hold that legendary Dragon Quest logo? Here is my review for Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2.
In Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, players take the role of a young hero who has big dreams to become a master monster scout. His ambitions are so big in fact that stows away on an airship that is headed to the world’s biggest competition for the sport. Things quickly turn chaotic for this mischievous hero though as the ship crashes onto a mysterious island and nearly every passenger is now missing. Given this situation, it is now your job to take control and become a one-man search party while coming face to face with the many ferocious beasts that roam the landscapes of the island.
As far as a RPG’s story goes, Joker 2 is rather light on characters and the usual bubbly atmosphere that we have seen so prominently displayed in the main Dragon Quest line of titles. That isn’t a bad thing at all though, as this adventure still has several captivating quests that all are full of twists and turns around every corner. Now since you are on an island with just a handful of passengers, there isn’t a whole lot of character interaction, which is kind of a given. Thankfully, the small cast within make the most out of the situation as each run-in is memorable due to each NPC boasting larger-than-life personalities that make rescues and standard progression that much more rewarding.
The true stars of this title are not humans though, as this island is filled to the brim with monsters. Some of these creatures are as simple as a Slime, while other breeds consist of giant beasts that are truly intimidating based on their large stature alone. That is yet another beauty of this game though, as everything on the island is completely unknown and it is your job to uncover all of the secrets of this large and mysterious setting through exploration. This is yet another specialty of the series though and most fans will instantly cling to the age-old formula found within this installment as while things may feel more secluded, the “if it ain’t broke” approach utilized goes miles to make this feel like a proper Dragon Quest title.
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 features a varied amount of gameplay, with players needing to focus on several different elements at once to progress through. First and foremost, this title is all about recruiting a team of monsters to battle the many opponents on the island. If you have ever played the first Joker game, things work about the same as far as traveling goes as your character must complete a main objective before moving on to the next area. Moving your character is as simple as using the D-Pad and due to each monster being visible, players will never have to worry about random encounters as most of the world’s inhabitants can be easily avoided by simply walking around them.
At the start of the game, one randomly selected monster will be assigned to your team and you will then be fully ready begin scouting and battling monsters. Scouting is done by engaging any foe to battle, selecting the appropriate action, and then having your squad storm the potential party member with a show of power (which is basically just attacking without doing damage). Once this goes into effect, a small meter will appear that displays the chance of success. The more powerful your overall team is, the better the success rate. Luck plays a huge role in this technique as well, as I have actually had successful captures with just a 9% chance of victory. Most players will soon learn that failing in this method is a common occurrence early on and if a scout is botched, the monster can easily take offense and gain an attack boost. If this happens, you will have no other choice but to either flee or defeat the enemy and try again at a later time. It can be a bit disheartening to fail with scouting, but I can easily say that each time I acquired a party member, it was an exciting moment that made all the grinding and stat-raising pay off ten fold.
The 300+ monsters in the game are broken down into eight separate groups known as “families”. These consist of slimes, undeads, dragons, demons, and so on and separate each monster into their own specific category for synthesizing (we will get to that in a moment). Every creature also possess their own unique skill set as well, with each set consisting of several abilities that can be earned by leveling up. Some of these abilities can be used in battle, while others supply boosts to HP, defense, or attack stats. While most battles are not mandatory, grinding is very prominent within and you will quickly learn that defeating nearly every foe that comes in your path is the best way to create a well rounded squad. Thankfully, I never found grinding in Joker 2 to be too overbearing or monotonous due to the large variety of monsters within as well as the in-depth customization that works wonders into keeping everything feeling fresh. While much of the roster is made up out of palette swaps, these advanced skill upgrading mechanics make each feel monster feel distinct and useful in their own unique way.
Battles themselves are pretty much the same turn-based fare we have seen in the past incarnations of the DQM series. Players can either assign specific orders and select a specific enemy to attack, or they can simply pre-set a party member’s tactics where healing, magic, offensive, or defensive maneuvers are automatically used. Each player has six slots available to place their current and substitute squad in as well, so if all three active party members faint, their backup will act as a full replacement. If a monster is in trouble or needs an item to enhance the odds of victory, the player can step in and use that item without taking away a turn from your team in battle. Monsters can also equip weaponry, which can increase attack points based on the item given.
While some items can be found scattered about the varied landscapes, a lot of goods can be easily purchased with the currency collected from battles. This is all done at the crashed airship at the start of the game. Along with a bank, players can utilize a vending machine in this home base to spend gold for swords, pitchforks, and several other weapons. Thanks to an easy to use “Zoom” function, anytime more herbs or better upgrades are needed, you can quickly warp back to this destination and refill on supplies. As you progress further, this shop of sorts can be upgraded with machine parts, which in turn delivers new goods that can better protect your current party.
The biggest element of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is without a doubt synthesizing monsters. After a member of your team reaches level 10, they automatically qualify to be mixed with another to create a much more powerful creature. Back at the airship, the lovable Dr. Lump is the guru on this, and any two monsters that meet the requirements can be combined at anytime the player desires. This feature not only opens up more breeds, but also enables players to continue evolving monsters until they are at the peak of their potential. These ultimate creations are so large that they take up 3 party slots at once, which is as rewarding and awesome as it sounds. There is a bit of a downside to all of this though as each new monster starts off at level 1. To assist in the grinding (and to make you feel like all your time with the previous incarnation didn’t just go to waste), parents can pass on traits and abilities to their spawn, which broadens the customization of each player’s recruits even more.
Sure there are a good number of quests to partake in, but scouts looking for that extra competition will be delighted to know that this island features it’s own Monster Scout Challenge, hosted by Don Mole. These challenges have the player take part in battles in waves of three with no scouting or switching permitted and can even progress the story once a round is completed. After each set, it’s always a good idea to go back and grind a bit more as well as these battles continue on by rank, with more powerful foes waiting right around the corner.
As you can probably tell by now, there is a lot of content and choice within this title. Even though there is a lot to take in though, I never felt too overwhelmed as every feature compliments the next and blends into the quest driven gameplay with nearly perfect results. The menu system and map (which is readily available on the bottom screen) also keeps everything well organized and even a rookie to the series will feel right at home in a short time.
Much like it’s predecessor, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 also has quite a few online features. Taking a page from Dragon Quest IX’s book, players can put their game in tag-mode and “tag” other owners of the game, enabling for the scouting of their prized monsters. Nintendo are set to enlist scouts to join up in weekly Wi-Fi tournaments as well, which will let players from all over the world test their squad’s battling capabilities. If you own either Dragon Quest IX or VI, you can also “tag” those titles as well and enlist and battle monsters from both games. I used this function quite a bit as not only can you take on or scout those primed opponents from the past, but you can also re-battle each and use the function as a tool for grinding.
It may be pretty late in the DS’ lifespan, but Joker 2 pushes the handheld to it’s limit with the large and detailed environments. Monsters also look fantastic as each are fully animated and can come off as either cute or menacing based on the design given. Fans of the series will also be pleased that the same art-style has been fully applied here with our spiny-haired protagonist and slimes fitting right in with the visual aesthetic that the Dragon Quest series is known for. Little features like weather changes and animated backdrops also go a long way to deliver some atmosphere to the island and make exploring even more enjoyable.
As far as music goes, this title treads closely to the same soundtrack stylings we have seen in just about every game from the franchise in the past. When a large beast is near, the music will also change quickly to make the monster feel intimating, and I can easily say that if anything will put you on the “edge” in this title, it is having that beat strike up when you least expect it. My only complaint with the music however is that there just isn’t enough variation. Sure, everything sounds great, but it would have been even better to see new music provided for each environment you visit.
When it comes to delivering an in-depth RPG experience, the Dragon Quest franchise has never failed to deliver in the past. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 lives up to this trend by smoothly blending several mechanics together to make one of meatiest experiences this year. Much like the Pokemon games, this title gives an unprecedented amount of customization and choice to make each player’s personal squad different from the next while giving a campy and fun little plot to partake in along the way. Now if you are not a fan of grinding, then this game really isn’t for you. If you enjoy the rewards after labor though or are just a huge Dragon Quest fan like myself, Joker 2 is an absolute must for any DS collection and just feels like a fresh breath of air for the aging handheld.
I Give Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2: