Did you know Pokémon was originally inspired by the monster catching mechanics within Dragon Quest V? Those same mechanics of sorts went on to create the Dragon Quest Monsters franchise, which while successful in the east, has been a bit absent here in terms of both popularity and consistent releases. After a lot of tugging from fans, we can now dig into another entry with Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince. Bringing a few updates along with an updated visual design, is this title worth picking up, or does it not escape the shadow of all of the monster catching fare of the present? Let’s find out.
You want some lore? Well this title has it. Featuring Psaro as the main protagonist, players are taken on a journey of a young demon who is unable to fight due to a curse, and must befriend monsters in order to attack on his quest for revenge. Shortly in, he discovers a purpose to this through monster wrangling, where he sets out to obtain the best team of nonhuman allies to essentially become a “monster master” by battling in various tournaments.
Sure, it sounds a bit dry on the surface, but this tale is specifically about the events that led to our hero here being the main antagonist within Dragon Quest IV. We get to see a softer, more tolerable character here, and find out some of the motivations that led to him being so bitter towards humans later in life. The story isn’t exactly deep or with a lot of substance, but when you tie the rest of the franchise in, there are so many little full circle moments that come out, with The Dark Prince acting as a long-lost puzzle piece to a story that makes Psaro more interesting as a whole. This is one of those games that will very likely lead to a lot of new interest within Dragon Quest IV, and that alone makes it worth the trek, whether you are familiar or not.
As far as gameplay goes, it really is quite simple. Due to your curse, you are unable to fight with a sword or magic. Instead, you must scout (DQM’s version of “catching”) monsters by facing them in battle. Players are assigned their first monster through a personality quiz, and the rest falls into play as every monster that can be encountered in the wild has the potential to be scouted. Battles occur in traditional turn-based fare that feels much like other Dragon Quest titles, where the player selects orders for the monsters before watching the attacks play out in real time. Monsters all have their own set skill tree, and leveling up your party is immensely satisfying due to how accessible this system is, as most should have things down within the first thirty minutes when it comes to battles and thumbing through the attacks your party can learn.
Speaking of party, the system in place is very well designed. Players can take four monsters with them, and also have a back-up party of four as well. Even if your backup party never touches the battlefield, they still level up and continue to gain attributes, which makes progression come early. The rest of your scouts are stored at the monster depot, which is used to essentially breed stronger fare through synthesis. Synthesis allows you to fuse together your own monster with another to create a much stronger ally, which will gain special attributes based on the prior duo’s attributes. Sure, you can scout the same version of several monsters, but this system allows each to be unique and bring something new to the table each time.
The rest of the gameplay is participating in arena matches, and exploring new areas that are unlocked through progression that provide new talent to recruit. Eventually, the system becomes a bit of a loop, with the player grinding their team, finding a boss battle, scouting and synthesizing new members, and heading out again and again until the game finishes. It may sound repetitive, but with all the mechanics in play, The Dark Prince becomes more addicting than tedious, as the rewards of progression are just so satisfying to obtain. This is a meaty game, and one that any RPG fan will be happy to soak hours at a time into.
With all of the positives comes one of the major setbacks to this new adventure: the performance. For a game built for exclusive hardware, Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince has a lot of issues and snags when it comes to holding it together. The framerate is choppy, and the camera is so cumbersome because of the framerate that it can take time to get used to managing activities as simple as walking or jumping as the stutters just make the game feel rough and lacking polish. That isn’t to say that anything is game-breaking – as this title is still very playable, but much like more recent titles like Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, there is definitely a lot of tremors and imperfections that made it into the final release.
In some ways, The Dark Prince looks fantastic. With ever-changing seasons come new bursts of color and boldly lit environments that are a joy to explore. The character models also feature the signature look of the franchise, which may not look as sharp as they once did, but still are able to bring personality and life into the world. That said, f you are going into this entry thinking you are going to get the same quality and finish of Dragon Quest XI, you may be a bit disappointed with how dated things can appear. Part of me even wonders if the development for this game goes back to the 3DS, as the visuals seem on par with that system and the optimization issues hint that the Switch was not the first choice of platform for this installment.
The music is Dragon Quest. There is no other way of saying it, as all of those familiar tunes are back and do a great job at keeping the identity of the franchise alive. Yeah, some new music would have been nice, but with this franchise, I can’t find reason to complain. The voice acting is also well done, and while the protagonist is silent, the other cast do a great job of telling the story for the game. I did notice a few hiccups in terms of delayed sound effects, but mostly – everything in the audio department is as it should be.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is a new journey within a deep history that is sure to make fans clamor back once more. The gameplay is addicting and while the simplistic design and dated visuals may scare off a few RPG fans, the complete product sings due to the longevity and enjoyment that is packed into this adventure. I do think that a few patches are warranted here, as the performance is far from perfect, but once adjusted, most will be able to find a gem that is sure to be appreciated for years to come. The Dark Prince is a beacon of hope for the Monsters franchise in the west, as even with its flaws it still manages to be one of the most engaging monster-catchers on the platform. Welcome home, king.
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