Sweet As Syrup: Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2 Review

I found that I had been drawn to a lot of Pokemon clones this year. It’s understandable, since Pokemon has an immense amount of fans. I could never get into any Pokemon game past Gold and Silver, so I eventually gave up on the series. Come 2016 and I find myself being drawn to games that play similarly to it. Dragon Ball Fusions, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, and today’s subject: Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2. While it’s true that this is an older game, I find that it has aged remarkably well.

This is one of the first Dragon Quest games I ever played and I found it immensely enthralling. It’s a fun and entertaining game that never really gets that dull. A game where you constantly obtain new monsters and get progressively stronger. On paper, that sounds exactly like Pokemon. However, it’s completely different in execution. Without further adieu, let’s get into this amazing game!

Background Information

Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2 was originally released in 2010 for the Nintendo DS. It was released a few years after the wildly successful game (at least in Japan) known as “Dragon Quest Monsters Joker”. This is a turn-based RPG that is semi-open-world in scope. Joker 2 is the fifth game in the Monsters series. Some may say that the gameplay for this title was ripped from Pokemon, but the Dragon Quest series actually pioneered the collectible monster genre with Dragon Quest V.

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Geez, this cover is crowded! At least it’s better than the American box-art though…

Plot

Our story takes place in a world where monsters are tamed by humans and do battle with each other. In this universe, the Monster Scout Challenge is one of the greatest events known to man. People from all over join and try their luck at becoming the champion. This includes our nameless hero, the one you play as. As a young spiky-haired anime boy, you are driven by passion and desire in order to be the best. Sadly, you have no cash and our forced to sneak aboard a giant airship.

Unfortunately for our hero, he is caught and forced to serve as a deckhand. This couldn’t come at a worse time, as the ship is sudden and mysteriously damaged. It crash-lands on a nearby island, and it’s up to you to do all the hard work. Your shipmates are scattered, and it’s up to you to obtain power in order to save everyone and get off the island. While on this island you encounter strange and unexplained phenomenon. These include ghosts of people aren’t dead yet, a mysterious Monster Scout challenge ran by a giant mole, among many other oddities. It’s up to you to defeat these threats, solve these mysteries, and escape the island.

It sounds like a basic plot, and it kind of is, but I enjoyed it immensely! Ever since I was a young man, I have always loved plots that revolve around getting stranded on an island. It always felt like a good setting for an epic adventure to me. While I enjoyed the setting, I found the execution of the plot itself to be a bit underwhelming. The game sets up all these interesting mysteries for you, but never really solves them until the main game is almost over.

Things were kept overtly ambiguous for too long, which is kind of annoying. Even then, when you do get the answers, some of them feel a bit unsatisfactory. Then again, that’s just my way of thinking. I may over-analyzing the plot of a children’s videogame way too much. In short, I liked the game’s story even I felt it dragged its heels too much.

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Wow, this is really bland! At least the Japanese one actually had stuff going on. Even if that cover art was over-stuffed.

Gameplay

The gameplay is where this title shines, as this is one of the most expertly crafted “monster collecting” games I ever played! The game seems pretty basic at first glance, and it pretty much is. However, there’s enough here to really set it apart from it’s competition. As the nameless hero of this story, it’s your job to journey across various locations and encounter many threats and challenges. Luckily, you are not alone! You can also acquire monster allies to help you. You are given one at the start, but can other monsters to aid you.

However, the scouting is a bit… Problematic. Engaging the “scout” ability is easy enough. All you do is click the button, and your monsters will attack. They will bash the monster individually and then you’ll be given a capture percentage. Unfortunately, the percentage seems to not matter a whole lot. Even when you get a high percentage, there is still a strong chance you won’t get the monster you are trying to acquire.

I’m not sure if certain monsters work better with scouting or not, but I tried using several different ones and got extremely random results. What makes scouting more annoying is that if you do it too often and fail, the monsters will get ticked off and enter berserk mode. This makes it impossible for you to catch the monster for the rest of the fight, leaving you no choice but to kill them.

Now, to be fair, you don’t need a lot of monsters to beat the game. Once you have the right combinations of team-members, then you’ll be able to take on most challenges. Some of the strongest monsters you’ll need can only be obtained through synthesis though. Synthesis is a system that allows you to fuse two different monsters, or two monsters of the same type together.

To fuse two monsters together, they need to be a certain level. This makes the game fairly grind-heavy, but that never really bothered me too much. Grinding also gave me a chance to gain more monsters, so it was a win-win for me. Synthesis can sometimes be a bit too grind-heavy. In order to get some of the more rare and powerful monsters, then you need to fuse a bunch of creatures together. This will require a lot of grinding and synthesizing, though you won’t have to worry about that until after you beat the main campaign.

One feature of the game I’d like to touch on is exploration. You see, each area you go to is different than the last. Some of these areas feel a bit too linear, especially when compared to the more vast open-worlds of past Dragon Quest games. There are still a fair bit of large open areas, but there are way too many narrow hallways when it comes to exploration. The way maps are set up remind me of Fable: A fair bit of exploration, mixed with a lot of linear paths. Still, it’s enjoyable for what it is.

Despite the claustrophobic nature of some maps, they still feel unique and teaming with life. The game incorporates various systems to help better flesh out it’s world. For example, it’s possible for the player to encounter bad weather in the game. This could come in the form of rain, snow, mist, or other natural occurrences. When these events happen in-game, they have a tendency to affect the ecosystem. For example, if it rains in the Doubtback, then the the log paths will become unstable. Elements like these shake up the gameplay and can cause unforeseen circumstances for your character.

There is also a day and night system implemented in the game. You have a chance of encountering enemies at night you’d normally never see during the day. Likewise, during the aforementioned bad weather, it’s possible to encounter even more unique monsters. This adds more variety and replay-value to these areas, which is much appreciated in my opinion.

The last thing I’d like to touch on is the combat itself. I thought since the combat was pretty basic, I’d save it for last. However, there is a lot to discuss when it comes to combat. Each party can have up to a max of three monsters each. This can change depending upon the sign of a monster. Each monster can come in one of three sizes: Regular, Large, and Gigantic. Regular monsters take up 1 slot in the part, Large take up 2, and Gigantic monsters take up the entire party.

Each monster takes turns attacking, much like any other Dragon Quest game. What makes the gameplay a bit unique is that your player character can use items without wasting a turn for your monsters. I really liked this, as it made so you didn’t have to waste turns desperately trying to have your monsters heal each other using items. The combat was pretty standard, but I still loved it! I got immense enjoyment out of the gameplay overall, despite its few hiccups.

Visual Stimuli

The game looks pretty good for a DS game. It came out late in the console’s lifespan, but still holds up remarkably well. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop the game from looking and feeling very dated. Characters don’t move their mouths when they and animations can appear a bit stiff at times. On top of this, the game purposefully uses bits of it plot in order to justify not making new character models. There are very few human character models in this game, which I feel hurts the entertainment value a bit. Then again, it is a deserted island, so it makes sense not to have fifty different looking people on it.

The soundtrack for this game is amazing. It boasts tracks that fit each individual area well, and even boasts it’s own unique battle theme. Despite being a Dragon Quest spinoff game, the main theme of the series isn’t heard until the end credits. Honestly, I really liked this addition, because it felt like a good composition to cap off this fantastic game with. I can say that without a doubt, the presentation is top-notch, despite a few minor problems.

In Summation

This game is amazing and you need to play it! If you have a 3DS and are interested in the Dragon Quest series, then this is a good game for you to play. However, I reccomend at least playing a few Dragon Quest games before this. The game is chock full of references and Easter Eggs relating to previous games, so having played previous games in the series will give you a better frame of reference.

The game certainly has problems: It’s grind-heavy, characters have stiff movements, the graphics look a bit dated, scouting seems to be broken and getting certain monsters is a major hassle. However, if you can look past all that, then this game amaze you. It’s a fun adventurous action RPG that doesn’t hold your hand too much.

It’s charming, fun, and entertaining and possesses a character all it’s own. It’s not a masterpiece of a videogame, but it’s got heart where it counts. That’s why I can definitely say that it is as sweet as syrup. It’s a game I reccomend to fans of Dragon Quest and Pokemon alike. It’s one of the best monster collection games I ever played and is a fun little game for people of all ages.

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