If there was ever a monster
outside of Pikachu that you just wanted to take home as your new pet, it'd be
Dragon Quest’s lovable slime. How could you ever want to hurt that precious
smiley face on that little blue drip? And while Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2
will break your heart because you’ll have to do just that, you’ll also recruit
these monsters in your attempt to the become a Pokémon Mas... uh, Monster Scout.
During our time with Joker 2, some aspects separated the game from Pokémon, but
we also found plenty that mimicked Game Freak’s baby. In the end, what you have
in Joker 2 is the “gotta catch 'em all” addiction amidst the classic Dragon
Quest world... but it doesn’t quite hold the same lure as the game it apes. As
generic as Joker 2 can be, the game still does enough right to make it fun.
The story is so shopworn it's hard to take seriously.
You play a poor lad who just can't afford the travel fees to compete in the
monster scout tournament. Naturally, you stow away on an airship like any sane
person would do. You're of course found and forced to perform manual labor to
pay your way. When the airship crashes, it’s up to you to search for missing
ship members, battle monsters, and discover locked away secrets of your new
locale. Forget that tournament, this is the stuff that legen-wait for it-dary
scouters are made of. You'll encounter some cliché characters, stilted
dialogue, and plenty of bad jokes. It's a little disappointing, but the Dragon
Quest series has never had groundbreaking narratives... the focus was always
the world and exploration.
The bulk of gameplay consists of
recruiting a team of monsters while navigating labyrinths and other destinations on the island. The structure is repetitive
and humdrum, because while the locations are varied enough, the setup hardly
changes - go to a new location, find a missing ship member, help them out with
a task, battle an enormous monster, rinse and repeat. Recruiting monsters is
more random: each party member will strike a monster and the end percentage
determines if they’ll join. It can be frustrating sometimes, as probability
doesn’t always work in your favor. Still, it’s always nice when a monster with
a low percentage joins the team. The good news is you’ll never be at a loss
finding a monster since there are over 300 available. It’s addicting, but maybe
that has something to do with just how cute these monsters are.
This wouldn’t be Dragon Quest without grinding, and
this is where the game loses a lot of casual appeal. Leveling up is essential
because of customizable skills, but experience points don’t come quickly enough.
Boss battles award a wealth of experience, but only account for a fraction of experience
gained. Grinding becomes as necessary as it is in a Korean MMO. Dragon Quest
fans already have a high tolerance to the grind, but for everyone else, at
least the battles play out quickly, as you can set up tactics for your monsters
and battles continue apace. The system isn’t flawless: if you’re not manually
giving orders the AI will choose seemingly random targets, leaving them
vulnerable to more damage.
Where Joker 2 separates itself from Pokémon is in its
monster fusion. The concept is simple: fuse two monsters together, one with a
positive charge, the other a negative. Then select three skills to pass on to
the new monster. In love with a particular skill or need that slime to
absolutely, positively have Zap? You’re in luck. The fusion is fun to
experiment with, but the problem is that the game places such emphasis on it for
success. This also starts the forced grinding: you can’t fuse until a monster
reaches level ten, and after fusion the leveling begins again. There’s no time to form attachment with your monster; Joker
2 wants you to take your little babies and toss them aside to fuse a brand new
monster. A tear may have been shed when we were forced to abandon our very
Joker 2 for tries to make the whole journey more
enjoyable with little changes - monster arenas, battle-changing weather
effects, and fast-travel abilities. Having more than one area in some of the
dungeons to fast travel to would have helped: many are lengthy, and the game
forces you to go back to your ship often to buy new weapons and fuse new
monsters. The biggest issue was going back to dungeons and not remembering
where we left off, which was especially frustrating due to their complexity. Joker
2 also features much in the way of online and local wireless options - like
battling and trading with those both far and near. It’s a nice touch, but it
will likely only be used by the hardcore players.
One issue that should have been
fixed by now is the camera. It can be difficult to see where you need to be
going next, such as climbing vines down to a lower level. Even with manual
adjustment it’s impossible to see the exact spot you need to hit. The minimap
does help combat some of the camera issues, but that shouldn’t be the solution
to navigation. If the game had a better UI or crisper models, this would be
easier, but the grainy graphics don’t give the game’s systems or Toriyama’s art
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is sure to be a thrill
for the most dedicated Dragon Quest fans - doubly so if they’re Pokeaddicts.
Still, the game is far from perfect and unless you’re one or both of the above,
it probably won’t be the game you’ll talk about the most this year. Joker 2 is
one of those games that’s fun in short bursts, but isn’t all that memorable. It
does borrow some of the great parts of Pokémon while carving out its own
identity in the rich Dragon Quest world. But of all the things it had to borrow
from Dragon Quest, why, why did it have to be the endless grind?
Sep 16, 2011