Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-11-18 Nintendo 3DS RPG T (Teen) Square Enix

After Rocket Slime was launched, the Slime Knights community site took a break until a new Dragon Quest game was announced, so my interest for Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker grew considerably from hanging out there.

I wasn't expecting to receive it, so the game came as a big surprise. Two cartridges came in the mail, no boxes, just the game and a copy of the manual along with the fact sheet and usual letter. And yes, I was a bit skeptic, because I'm not too fond of these Pokemon-like games where you have to hunt for monsters to turn them into party members. I did have a blast with Rocket Slime though, and even if this was completely different, all I knew about the game through Slime Knights did have me curious.

So I finally sat down to play it, and I couldn't put it down for hours, until the urgency of doing my college assignments kicked in.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker (DQMJ for short) puts you in the shoes of a monster hunter. You begin the game in prison. Your father is responsible for your imprisonment, because he is the leader of the CELL organization, which forbids any member to become a monster hunter. However, there is an assignment regarding the Monster Scout Challenge, and he sends you in under the condition you will only become a Scout for the duration of the mission.

Once you reach the main island and register for the Challenge, the adventure begins. Your main quest is to find the ten darkonium crystals, so you will have to do a lot of exploring. In between, there is plenty of fighting and a few key events here and there.

Your hero doesn't actually fight himself (but you can use one item before your monsters' turns), he has monsters do the dirty work. But first, you need to capture monsters to fight with you.

This is done by "Scouting" while in battle. Scouting means all monsters in your party take a turn to impress the enemy instead of attacking. There is a little meter that shows the percentage of how impressed the enemy is. At the end of your party members' turns, a message will say if you have successfully scouted the monster or not, and if you did, it will join you.

You don't need 100% for a monster to join you, it's a matter of overpowering it. For example, you might want to defeat any other monsters in that party before scouting the one you want, since there will be a better chance to capture it. If you capture a monster with others still waiting to attack you, those will flee once the other is captured.

You can choose a particular stance for your monster to behave (such as don't use magic, use the most powerful attacks, mix magic with attacking, or use only support spells) or you can control them individually picking the targets to attack or buff first. If you choose to use the "Fight" command, your party members will behave according to the stance you picked.

Defeating monsters gives your monsters experience - obviously. Once a monster levels up, it gets some skill points that you can allocate among its skills, customizing the way you want them to perform.

You can only have three monsters in your active party, but you can set three more to become your substitutes. Your storage can hold as many as you can capture, including multiples of the same monster.

But why store monsters? To either trade for skill books for your hero or to synthesize new ones!

Synthesis is an interesting part of the game, but you can only use monsters level 10 and up to create new ones. You can synthesize at the scout outposts, combining any two monsters and picking the skills for the resulting hybrid. It's a lot of trial and error, and once you combine any two monsters together, they are gone from storage, so if you want to do a lot of synthesis, you will be constantly capturing and leveling up more monsters. It's a very time-consuming activity.

The game world is composed of several islands, and transportation is done via a jet ski. Islands have different levels of difficulty, different sets of monsters and very distinct environments. The monster sets also vary from day to night, so if you've already captured all the ones you see in a certain place during daytime, rest at the outpost and you will advance to nighttime.

Aside from all the monster collecting and searching for the darkonium crystals to advance, there are other activities to keep you busy. For example, right on the first island you explore, there is a tent where you can take the ten steps of the Monster Proficiency Test. These are little activities that cost gold and at the same time, teach you about the game. For example, capture a monster of a certain rank, bring back a synthesized creature, have a monster in your party that only appears at night or reach a certain rank in the arena.

There are also characters you can battle, but they appear randomly and in different areas. There is a battle Arena as well, but the combat mechanics there work a little differently from while exploring. You can only use the Fight command and there is no individual control over your monsters, so the battles become a lot more challenging.

The story also branches out when you encounter an injured monster. It will join you for a while and ask you to lead him to a shrine, where it will then transform into something else, so eventually you will have another quest to find all the shrines so this particular monster can undergo the complete evolution. But no matter how much you like to use it in your party, make sure you level another one, because you can't use this monster in the Arena battles.

Moving on to the overall look of the game, DQMJ is a bit of a mixed bag. The environments look great and I really enjoyed seeing the monsters and characters I knew from artwork come alive and move around. However, during the battles the graphic quality decreases quite a bit and the backgrounds look very pixelated and odd.

The music while on the world map is very cheery and lighthearted, while the battle theme has that "heroic effort" feel to it. And that's about it, since the tunes are limited to a couple for each situation, world map or battle. The sound effects are pretty good though, especially in battle for the monsters attacking.

The controls are simple enough - moving with the D-pad, menu selections with the stylus - but the camera gets frustrating in certain places, because you can't tilt it up and down (only left and right) to look around.

But all that is passable compared to the power differences between monster ranks. From one rank to the next, you will notice that your monsters seem to be very weak in comparison, so all that time you spent leveling up sometimes goes to waste when you encounter the next set of monsters. Eventually you are forced to swap your party to higher ranked monsters.

Regardless, I am still enjoying my scouting experience and every time I capture something new, I feel a little sense of accomplishment that makes me verbally exteriorize my inner "yay!". Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker may not be innovative and it certainly has its flaws, but it manages to draw you in and keep you busy chasing after those 200 something monsters.

Special thanks to Charlie Sinhaseni and Square Enix for providing a copy of this title.