Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker (or DQM for short) is what I would call a Pokémon type game. These titles generally start off with you controlling a young outcast who wants to become the world champion of this and that by means of capturing wild creatures, training them to be stronger fighters by throwing them into a ring of combat with other wild creatures that in turn you want to capture to battle even stronger monsters later on. If I were to do this in real life the RSPCA would come arrest me (and rightly so).
As you can probably tell I’m not the greatest fan of Pokémon, for some reason it just doesn’t grab me. So when Square Enix (the creators of the Final Fantasy games) sent Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker along for me to review, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down with joy.
Green Bays is the group of islands on which this game takes place; the islands are inhabited with over 200 monsters for you to capture, train and battle. The legendary Master Scout Challenge is held once every few years and is organized by Dr Snap, the Commissioner and very first master scout. He is also the inventor of the special scout ring which is the magical device which enables you to interact with the monsters. For some unknown reason this year Dr Snap has told all of the contestants in the Master Scout challenge that they need to find ten rare Darkonium Crystals (mysterious star shaped rocks) if they want to progress further into the finals of the Challenge.
After a bit of exploring and chatting to the locals on the first island it’s time to head to the beginners island on your jet ski and capture your first few monsters. You can command up to three in battle but you can store more on your substitutes bench in case you need them during a tense battle with a super tough monster, bear in mind though that monsters on the subs bench will not accumulate points when not in battle, so monster rotation is necessary if you want an evenly balanced team (it’s what Liverpool are doing in the Premiership at the moment and they’re currently fourth).
Once you’re all monstered up your next challenge is to go and make your Monster Scout pledge to a special stone at the top of the mountain.
The trouble is that along the way there are some tougher monsters and your only hope of success is to stay at the base of the mountain and compete in lots of easy battles with the basic Slime monster until your squad is really tough, well, tough enough to progress further anyway.
Basically coming across a difficult set of monsters and then having to strengthen your squad for another twenty battles to progress further is what you generally do all the way through the game. On its own that isn’t exciting and becomes quite repetitive very quickly, but it’s the other features which make this game standout from being just a loose Pokémon clone.
Your monsters can battle unarmed, armed with special equipment such as a pair of stone talons or a big wooden staff or you can also train them up with magical abilities. As you can imagine, depending on the type of monster, some are good at hand to hand combat whilst others are more suited towards magic.
So what happens when you want a tough physical monster to be really good at magic? No you don’t enlist the help of Paul Daniels; instead you take them to the local genetic synthesising centre which will happily clone two different monsters together to make a sort of hybrid monster. Don’t forget that you can’t synthesise two boy (+) or two girl (-) monsters together. They’re probably being a bit too politically correct here in this day and age, but then I don’t suppose it should be down to a kid’s videogame to introduce the idea of same gender relationships. Err, time to move on I think.
The only downside to the genetic synthesising is that you effectively lose one monster from your party when you combine two together. Sort of makes sense and also means you’re off hunting for another new monster to add to your squad. Clever!
The feature I like the best is that you can visit many of the locations at night, and during these twilight hours different monsters are around to encounter and the villagers mention other things when you chat to them. So all in all then, if you like Pokémon games you’ll probably love this. I can imagine you’ll be playing with friends using the local DS Wi-Fi or even going online using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to compete in the Wildcard World Cup, I recommend you get yourself a strong squad together before attempting that though!
Square Enix have really gone to town on the graphics for Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, they’re so close to being the best I’ve ever seen on the DS, perhaps apart from Nintendo’s Zelda the Phantom Hourglass, but it’s a close run thing. My only grumble with Dragon Quest Masters Joker is that there only seems to be about 15 different human characters to interact with. Not only that but they seem to miraculously appear at every location before you arrive there yourself, even though you have a rather nippy jet ski at your disposal. I can’t think that it would’ve been too hard for the developers to create a few more peeps to chat to rather than recycle the same ones dozens of times over.
I give this a monster breeding 7 out of 10 (8 if you’re a Pokémon fan).