It was almost ten years ago that my younger self, desperate for a fix of RPG monster raising after getting hooked on Pokémon, first laid hands on Dragon Warrior Monsters on the Game Boy Colour. Right from the start I was hooked. It might not have been as polished as Pokémon, but Dragon Warrior Monsters offered a surprisingly deep and massive adventure that easily became one of my favourites. Could the latest offering in the series, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, rekindle my nostalgic love and deliver as memorable an experience on its own merits?
The first Dragon Quest Monsters Joker
game was a bit of a disappointment to me. The storyline was forgettable, dull and uninventive and the main character was weird-looking. DQMJ2
gets off to a stronger start right off the bat, with a similar but more appealing main character and with a story that immediately throws a curveball at you. While en route to the world’s biggest tournament to presumably replay the uninspired story of the previous game, the airship you’ve stowed away on unexpectedly crashes on an uncharted island. It falls to you to rescue your lost companions and escape the island, which initially seems like material for a big prologue chapter.
While I started to play expecting to quickly gather my crew and fly away to take part in a bland tournament, instead the mysterious history of the island began to take centre stage and I quickly became more engaged by the story. Especially when it was revealed that the island is being ruled by moles. Who doesn’t love moles?
It does take a while for the game to really hit its stride. Like its predecessors, the biggest and most time-consuming aspect of DQMJ2
is the Synthesis feature, which lets you combine two of your monsters in order to create a new one. With hundreds of different combinations and a host of memorable veteran Dragon Quest monsters available, synthesising chains of monsters can get very addictive.
Trying to put together a perfect team of your favourite monsters with the right skills and abilities is where most of the game’s depth lies. Probably the only drawback to the synthesis system is the rate at which you’re likely to go through monsters, rapidly training them up to an adequate level and then trading them in for a newer model. This prevents you from getting attached to any of your loyal minions, which is an unusual approach for a monster raising game. Your monsters are more of a means to an end here, mere tools in your on-going quest for greater power.
Synthesising monsters first requires you to actually have some monsters ready, and the monster hunting is where I feel DQMJ2
truly shines. The areas you can travel to are massive and each is home to a unique range of wild critters to tame. There’s also a day and night cycle that goes on as you explore, with each seeing a different variety of monster come out of hiding. Not only that, but each area has an alternate weather condition that can randomly trigger, which also changes the available monsters as well as opening up new areas which, you guessed it, lead to even more monsters. All of this means that if you really want to 'catch ’em all' you’re going to have to spend a lot of time revisiting areas and fully exploring them in order to track down the more elusive beasts.
Probably the first brand new feature you’ll notice while playing is the inclusion of giant-sized monsters. Absolutely everywhere. They are genuinely impressive the first time you come across one however, and then the next time there’s an even bigger monster and the next time is an even bigger monster. And it’s somewhere around the fourth or fifth giant monster that you find yourself not so impressed any more. There are literally one or two massive behemoths in every area you explore.