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Dragon Quest have released Dragon Quest Monsters 2 which automatically shot onto my 'NEED! list along with Harry Potter Lego years 5-7; yes, I'm fairly certain we've already covered my fluid definition of the concept of 'need' previously. Unfortunately for me when it came out I had already bought myself a SatNav and at £120 that meant my finances were a little stretched. So, I resorted back to the original Dragon Quest Monsters which was released in 2008 and which I picked up for the bargain price of £2 expecting it to be awful. And instead found myself completely hooked on a game which was truly a bargain.
This game is completely different to the usual RPG style of Dragon Quest. Granted you are still a teenager traveling around the world. And yes, you are still battling monsters as you go. And yes, you do end up with the task to save the world. But I promise you it's different. And that's because in an odd merge between Dragon Quest and Pokemon you are not really going on an epic quest to save the world. Instead you are catching, training and synthesising monsters so that you can beat the final Monsters Scout championship. Well, it is a little bit more complex than that because actually you are the son of the leader of the secret CELL organisation who at the beginning of the game is in a prison cell for sneaking off to try and join the monster scout challenge. But then despite your imprisonment for insubordination, your father sends you on an undercover mission to infiltrate the monster scout cup. At this point your adventure begins.
You are given your choice of a starting monster and off you go. Along the way you meet, save and befriend a mythical creature, the Incarnus, with an agenda of his own who joins with you. So you have the added quest of aiding him as he travels from shrine to shrine to reach his highest level of transformation possible. Yeah, it adds a somewhat weird touch to the game but oddly it does work, and it keeps a higher level of interest than if the game was solely tournament orientated.
If you are expecting the full Dragon Quest experience of a detailed world map; towns, continents and hours of exploring over different terrains then you may end up being a little bit disappointed because the world is one heck of a lot smaller. There are seven islands in total to explore, and although each island has a scout post where you can heal, save and buy items, your exploration of the islands is confined to caves, the outside and palaces on the island. You get to each island on a jet ski which you don't control so it is purely the islands that make up the game. It is somewhat lacking in the epic feel that the Dragon Quest RPG's are best known for, but I would urge you not to give up now as there is plenty of gameplay within these islands and the focus for this game lies elsewhere.
You start the game with one very low level monster and your aim is to train, capture and breed (synthesise) new, stronger monsters that you will be able to win the championship with. In total there are over 200 monsters living amongst the seven islands and these are split into the families that regular Dragon Quest players will be more than aware of; Slime, Dragon, Nature, Beast, Material, Demon, Undead and Incarni. Different monsters appear dependent on whether it is night or day and on how far you are into the island as they get progressively harder. In addition you can see the monsters walking around the map, so if you already have a monster or you don't want to fight a much weaker/stronger monster you can run past them.
When you meet these monsters on the map you will engage in battle with them. Any experienced Dragon Quest player will know the drill from here. You have a basic turn based battle with the choices to Attack, use a skill, Defend or use and item. The only difference is that you personally stay out of the battle and your sole responsibility is to control and watch your monsters fight and level up. You also, as with many Dragon Quest games, have the option to choose your tactics before going into a battle which means you have the joy of just being able to sit back and watch. But battling is also how you get new monsters because like the Pokemon games you have to catch them as such, but here there is a difference. The monsters aren't 'caught' in Pokeballs or any other such device, they have to chose of their own will to come over to your team and the only way they will do this is if you impress them enough with your skills. There is a probability bar once you have decided to 'Scout' the monster out, and the harder your monsters can attack the more this percentage chance of scouting the monster become.
But this all sounds a little simple, and to be fair I guess it is. It isn't any less enjoyable because of it but I doubt it would last for all that long if that was all there was to the game. But, there's more. Because although you can catch monsters these are all basic level monsters as such and they can only get a limited number of skill points in a limited number of skills. So at this point you can synthesise new monsters out of two of your existing monsters which you can personalise the skills which they will be leveling up and get higher level skills for them to train in. You can only pick three, but to be fair if you could pick any more you'd never be able to get enough skill points to make it worth it, and this adds an extra strategic element to the game. The stronger the basic monsters you are synthesising, the stronger the monster you will get out of it. The more skill points the monsters you are synthesising have the more skill points your monster will start with and therefore the better head start it will have. You do however lose the two original monsters.
Unfortunately this leads to the one massive problem in the game that will probably put a fair few people off the game. Because, as you can guess if you have to train up one set of monsters to a high level and then you synthesise two of them into a Lv 1 monster which you have to start again with it is hard going. You are going to spend a lot of time going around the same maps, fighting the same monsters and generally grinding your levels up one step at a time. Personally this doesn't bother me, but I can see it upsetting a few people who would prefer to play through.
The game definitely doesn't let you down here, which to be fair is a bit of a relief because if you had to spend hour after hour grinding your levels up for your next round of synthesis and it wasn't appealing you'd want to claw your eyes out. But the 3D aspect and the cutesy graphics are very nice to look at indeed. The monsters are recognisable from previous Dragon Quest games and the extra details that have been put into them mean that there is something new and refreshing about them. It's bright, it's appealing and it's easy on the eye. As with most games I hit the sound off fairly quickly on just about any game, but from what I have listened to it's certainly not offensive.
Possibly this is another game that will appeal mostly to the slightly more OCD natured of us because to be fair if you don't start trying to collect as many monsters as you can and synthesising them to the highest possible ability then you can probably run through the game in about 20 hours, which is fairly short for an RPG. It's only when you want to get every single aspect of the game complete that things are more enjoyable, but that is not an aspect of the game that will appeal to everyone even if it does appeal to me. The whole game seems to have a very laid back approach to it that says 'Well, we've included this but it's completely optional.' But it is easy to get lost in the world, and somehow their laid back attitude does seem to work as you can play the game in whatever fashion you want to. The addition of the plot with the Incarnus also adds a lot to the game, as without that it would just be too thin - there isn't the substance that you get in Pokemon.
The plot is fairly thin and unless you are somewhat of an OCD maniac there isn't half as much to do as you would except from an RPG. But for some reason this game is actually fairly compulsive playing. I wouldn't say that this is the best game I have ever played, but it is an amusing and occupying way to while away the time. There isn't the detail that you can see in Pokemon with many different towns and people and a variety of different aspects and puzzles to the game, but equally Pokemon is a game where you can easily hit 100 hours gameplay. This isn't. If you want an epic storyline and adventure RPG then this isn't the place to find it. But if you are instead looking for a fun, compelling and fairly laid back game that doesn't try to take itself too seriously then you won't be disappointed. And believe me, it is fun.
This ticked all the boxes for me and I couldn't put it down. It wasn't that kind of playing because I needed to see what happened, it was playing purely because I was enjoying myself. I enjoyed it the first time I played it and I've enjoyed it just as much when I've come back to it a couple of years down the line. This is a game of good, clean fun which really can't offend anyone. It's just that the grinding may drive you insane. And granted, you'll be lucky to find it at the bargainous price which I got it for, but at £7.80 from Amazon it's not going to break the bank.