IGN Review of Dokapon Journey
Dokapon Kingdom for Wii and PS2 is really one of those games that felt like the "lovable underdog" when it released last year. The Dokapon series has been going strong in Japan for quite a while, and while it was an extremely simple game overall, Kindgom was a great first entry for the franchise stateside. There wasn't a whole lot of animation to be found, most of the experience was done with a classic controller and no Wii-specific additions (outside of 16:9), but the core gameplay was strong enough to really capture us, as well as other gamers that took a chance on the unique "RPG/board game" design. Once we wrapped up coverage on Dokapon Kingdom, we were immediately asking for more, and that "more" has come in the DS release Dokapon Journey.
Remove any system-specific limitations or changes, and Dokapon Journey is a nearly identical experience to what you can get on consoles. Set on a new game board with a few returning characters, players can engage in what is a more tactical, strategic take on the video board game design. Instead of Mario Party mini-games or the like, Dokapon is all about building your character with RPG stats, leveling up after battles, liberating cities across the game board, collecting items to make your quest easier (or destroy friendships with negative stats on other players), and other various tomfoolery.
Rather than hosting minis as mentioned, battle takes place with a four-option, attack and defense turn-based battle system, with each of the game's classes allowing for a few specific abilities to make use of. Each turn of a battle (an attack and defense phase) acts as one turn on the game board, so it's possible for other players on the board to jump in and either save you in a time of need by defeating the monster, or interrupt, stealing a would-be victory for themselves or kicking you when you're down and reaping the benefits of a player-to-player KO. The amount of options and tactics is what made the original Dokapon so great, and it returns with DS.
Unfortunately, Dokapon Journey is an obvious low-budget game, and a pretty bare bones offering in presentation and visuals. The game was developed by Sting – the team responsible for such greats as Riviera and the upcoming DS powerhouse Knights in the Nightmare – but it's apparent that this was a "pay the bills" licensed game for them, as you won't find any of the stunning art or amazing interface the team is known for. Animation overall is very limited in the game, and the game board looks on par with GBA titles and not even current DS offerings, so while there's still some charming character portrait art in the game, the bulk of your time is spent looking at low-quality, unimpressive assets. It's a shame too, since so much of the game banks on its charming appeal. Yes, the core game is still just as entertaining and fun as ever, but when you scale down the already-simple Dokapon Kingdom design into what is Dokapon Journey on DS, the visuals do end up being a pretty sizable distraction. It's already a low-demand, turn-based offering, so it would be great to see the very capable Sting go crazy and champion a Dokapon game with amazing visuals and style to go with their entertaining core mechanic.
But with that being said, Dokapon Journey is still a fun experience due to its accurate conversion from the console game. You've got a lot of different strategies and items, equipment, more classes (now having males and females offer different actual class types, instead of just a male and female warrior with the same perks), and even more modes and multiplayer options. The game supports four players for either multi-card wireless or DS download play, as well as hot seat (which I tried, and is just fine given the design of the game), so there's no real loss of multiplayer when going to handheld. In addition, new modes allow for different styles of play, so while you can still sink dozens of hours into a saveable, progressive story mode (for either one, two, three, or four human players) over the course of months and months, you can also play a one hour deathmatch game or variation of it. Multiplayer lets you set specific amount of weeks (or set of turns) for a match, you can play cash-based games, territory-based game, and a unique collect-a-thon mode where each character attempts to collect all their colored orbs and bring them back to the Dokapon Castle. There's a lot of variation here, so if you can ignore the extremely simple presentation and visuals, it's the same lovable Dokapon experience with even more to offer in some cases.
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