Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2
The Dragon Quest series is far more expansive than many European fans may realise. In Japan its success is unsurpassed, giving birth to multiple spinoffs and spanning countless titles that we have never seen on our shores. One of the many spinoffs is the Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker series and the very latest, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 offers a very different experience from the numbered Dragon Quest titles but in a familiar world.
It shares an undeniable similarity to Pokemon, in that Joker 2 is all about capturing and training monsters. In fact the narrative plays second fiddle to this collection and training experience, so whilst a story is present it's fairly light and aimed at giving mild context. You play as a young, wannabe monster scout having stowed away on an airship on its way to a monster fighting tournament. The airship crashes, however, and you and the survivors end up on a monster filled island. Your task is to find the survivors and gathering them together whilst scouting, training and fighting monsters found on the island to build an unbeatable team. The island setting is a great location and a unique one at that. It's visually disappointing, with bland textures, pixelated edges galore and a barren look but the island setting means there are no human settlements, no towns, villages or anything resembling civilisation. Instead it's miles of wilderness, desert, forest, grassland and mountain, with the odd pocket of survivors. Therefore the majority of encounters are enemies to be vanquished or captured.
Initially Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2's focuses heavily on combat. You venture off and fight creatures you see dotted around the environment, trying to attack them from behind to gain advantage. However, once you start capturing monsters the focus gradually begins to shift towards monster management, and whilst combat is a large part of that this illusion of managing your monsters over fighting with them keeps the experience from becoming too repetitive.
To capture monsters you must impress the target with a show of strength and talent. This harmless attack option attempts to woo your target and have them join your side but the target actually joining you is seemingly random. Regardless of the indicator that suggests the likelihood of impressing your target the actually choice seems 50/50, with utterly baffling 'sure things' leading to being turned down. On the plus side this inconsistency works both ways, so sometimes a towering dragon with practically no indication of joining you will, in fact, join you. The biggest nuisance is that you can only use the show of strength option once per battle, with failure leaving you no choice but to kill, be killed or run away. Fortunately the very familiar turn based battle system is simple and entertaining enough to use with your three monsters - or less depending on how many slots your monsters fill - battling against a whole host of unique enemies, with cinematic camera work doing its best to make the action as exciting as possible.
Beyond capturing monsters, combat also levels up you monster fighting team. Once you level two monsters up to level ten or above you can meld them together with the synthesise option to create a new monster that shares the most powerful traits and abilities of its parents. It's very similar to Jade Cocoon series. This is where Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 really shines. Melding monsters together can create monsters that range from practically useless to extremely powerful and they all sport a unique look. Synthesising does result in the loss of the parent monsters and the new monster starting at level one but with some traits and abilities carried over, so it's not like starting from complete scratch but it will make you pause if you become attached on dependent on some of you captured monsters. It's certainly the most compelling aspect of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, leading to hours of capturing, training and synthesising monsters just to see the results.
Additionally you can connect with other Dragon Quest games to grabs some unique monsters from their worlds as well as take you monster team out to battle against other human controlled teams with Wi-Fi multiplayer.
Overall Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is a great RPG that taps into that same collection compulsion the Pokemon titles do but with a very different set of monsters and enough original elements to stand proud as unique. The D-pad controls paired with camera controls on the shoulder buttons is a nightmare to handle at times, and the presentation isn't the best the DS has to offer but they're minor complaint when you consistency lose many hours of your day lost in this monster hunting world.