IGN Review of Dokapon Kingdom
Before we even get started, Dokapon Kingdom comes with a warning: Play this game with friends, or don't play it at all. We've had a chance to pour tons of time into Atlus's latest Wii offering, both in the multiplayer and single-player capacity, and the difference is night and day. One situation leaves players with an experience that blows Mario Party out of the water in terms of strategic, fun, classic party goodness. The other will have you cursing your system to no end. Make no mistake about it though; if you've got friends that dig the Wii, and also happen to love RPGs (or, in general, Atlus's quirky choice in English software), Dokapon is a blast, and an essential play.
There's no easy way to go back into everything we've already said about the game, so if you're curious more as to what Dokapon Kingdom is all about, you'll absolutely need to check out our latest hands-on with the game, as it goes into great detail about how the game plays, and what exactly it's all about. For a brief recap though, Dokapon Kingdom is a hybrid RPG and party game, working like Mario Party in the sense that you'll have four players, random "dice rolls" -- in this game, spins -- and enough random chance to ensure that newcomers stand at least a small, small chance against seasoned vets. With its RPG influence though, players that really dig into the game will find more customization, strategy, and depth than -- here we go, and we have to say it -- any current RPG on Wii, and when a game can boast that, mix in lots of humor, and be this downright fun to play in groups, we welcome it with open arms.
And in fact, it's that multiplayer addition that validates Dokapon Kingdom, even when so many other aspects would scream at us to turn away. It's a simple package, with not too many options until you get into the game itself, but it's still an awesome experience. Players can jump in with a Wii-mote (on its side), classic controller, or GameCube controller, and with no IR or motion at all in the game it feels like exactly what it is; a PS2 port, with very minimal changes. The game now includes 480p and 16:9 on Wii, a nice addition, and one that's completely necessary, but as far as online, more advanced controller uses, or the like, you'll need to look elsewhere.
The front-end presentation is also nothing special, and even in-game you'll be greeted by interface screens that are about as simple as possible on Wii. Brown background boxes with plain text as an example, and right now you're wondering why we love it so much, right?
Dokapon Kingdom is a posterchild for Nintendo's Wii philosophy, which -- when you really boil it down -- is that if a game is fun, nothing else really matters. Graphics could be stronger, audio could use work, interface might be less than impressive, but if you're still sinking dozens upon dozens of hours into a game, it's obviously doing something right, and that's what Dokapon Kingdom has done.
So what makes it work?
In short, it's the customization. Dokapon Kingdom is more a board game than a traditional "party" title, as you won't be seeing dozens of mini-games or any of those classic "Mario Party" elements, but instead will find a game more along the lines of the awesome Munchkin party card game, or something like a humorous version of risk. The world map is made up of hundreds of spots, each offering new items, equipment for your character, secret locations, and towns. Instead of it being route-based like in Mario Party, Dokapon Kingdom is completely open, allowing you to go wherever your spin will take you. This means you can head to open space on the map and level up your character, run to towns and take them over to start gaining huge cashflow, head over to the King to get new missions that will reward you with awesome treasures, rob stores, hire hitmen for other players... the list goes on and on.
And while most party games out there are based solely on luck -- and from what we've heard people wrongly assume the same about this game -- Dokapon is the most amount of strategy we've seen in a party game in a long, long time. Yes, you rely on the roll of the dice, so to speak, but with as many options and strategies as there are, it becomes a moot point. Crystals can be purchased or won which will allow you to hit the exact space you want, some later classes in the game (characters level up, gain stats, and then can change to over a dozen classes, each with their own skills) even allow you to ignore the spinner altogether, and instead walk up to six spaces a turn, and the game is more about the choices you make from turn-to-turn than how fast you get from point A to point B. Yes, there's some "star chasing" going on in there, but we've won just as many matches ignoring the quest and leveling up, stealing, or taking over towns as we did following the game's mission structure; and that's by design.
There are a few limitations to that as well, though. First of all, the game has a high learning curve, so newcomers will want to try and make friends with another player and avoid the main tussle as much as possible. There's a lot to do (working on your character's equipment alone can be a multi-turn issue, since you need to go out and find cash, sell some items, and then make it to a store to purchase and equip) so while the game works great as a competitive, strategic part game, it's also possible to be very, very good at the game. Another one that may throw players off is the pace of the game.
If going through story mode, it can easily take 15 hours to see everything, and while there are of course regular multiplayer matches that last an hour or so, the real fun comes with grabbing a group of friends, and playing a huge match over weeks at a time, saving after a half hour here, 40 minutes there, another few turns between other Wii games, and so on. This also means that people looking for a quick party game, rather than a more in depth, long-lasting experience with a core group of friends, may end up spending just as much time teaching newcomers how to play as they will actually doing it. Sure, a mission-long game can be pretty quick, but the real fun comes with taking over towns, screwing over friends, and coming back from long deficits three or four missions down the line.
In fact, outside of wanting more depth overall (more players, more classes, more options, online play, and more overall polish), the only real criticism we've got with the core game comes with the battle system, which is just a bit too random. Just like the other aspects of the game, battles are deceptively deep, so while some people will discount them as pure chance, that really isn't the case. At the same time, this is where the "party element" comes into play, as it's possible for a level 12 character to lose to a level six one, though most of the time that just won't be happening. Turns are based on a quick card shuffle microgame -- basically heads or tails -- and then attacking is always a matter of hitting one of four directions on the D-pad. The game does manage to get the feeling of an RPG in there, with regular attacks, pre-determined (by the player) magic and skills, and the option to give up and move on with your dignity at the cost of a few items, but the whole attack/defend system is basic. Match what the other player does in rock, paper, scissors format, and you'll null it for the most part. And, since it's all about picking the move that your buddy won't, a string of bad luck could have you losing the initial coin toss, picking wrong as you defend the first turn, and dying from a random battle or underpowered human opponent. Most of the time the higher levels will win out, but not always. It's a party game; moments of chance are included.
The only other word of advice is simply to not play this game on your own, or to put it a bit more kindly, don't expect the same game when you play it alone. Since there are over 15 hours of RPG locked away in the game, it's tempting to create a character, and rush the heck out of the experience, but it's not a good move. Character AI -- even on easy -- is brutal, and often cheats to get the right spinner number which lands them an attack on you, a special item, a shop, or other like situations, and while some random enemies and computer opponents will show off simple patterns (always attacking, or usually casting magic) in battle, it's chance, so if the game wants to beat you in a given situation, it can. This isn't news to anyone though, as games like Mario Party aren't too hot solo either. Still, this is more like playing Settlers of Katan, Risk, or Diplomacy with computer players; what's the point?
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