Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 review

Back around mid-June, Amupla had one of their outdoor concerts, this one with the multiple stage locations. To take advantage of the rare crowds at the west side of the train station, Bic Camera, the electronics superstore, put all of their used games on tables in the space between the store and the train station west entrance, although it didn't look like they were slashing prices much. The result, though, was that when the games and DVDs were returned to their places in the store afterward, they were all mixed up together. I'd tried checking one box at random, and found a Negima girl chase game for 450 yen. I was thinking I'd come back the next day, and if it was still in the box, I'd buy it then. However, it rained hard that day and I didn't get to the store until 20 minutes before closing, plus now it was impossible to find anything in the boxes. I spent the 20 minutes sorting out some of the games, putting PS2 games in one box, DVDs in another, etc. After another couple of days, I went back to Bic again, and spent another hour finishing up the sorting; the store personnel pretty much ignored me, but other customers kept coming by and undoing some of my work. At the end of it all, I found two games of marginal interest, neither of which were the Negima girl chase game.

One of the games was Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, for 950 yen ($10 USD). I've mentioned before that I don't like the Dragon Quest franchise, but I remain optimistic. Plus, it was pretty much the only cheap used RPG in the store, so the only other option was to not buy anything at all. I'd played the first one in the series, DQM:J, which wasn't all that bad, but the gameplay was unbalanced. What's interesting is the complete lack of interest online American fans have of the DQM:J series. There are only 2 walkthroughs in English on gamefaqs for J2, and neither are all that complete. When I tried googling the solution for something not covered in the faqs, the search results brought me to a DQ wiki, where most of the few participants there had slammed DQM:J and used that as an excuse to not buy DQM:J2. Granted, J1 wasn't that great, but I can't understand why people like DQ to start with, so I don't know what criteria they're using to judge what's a "good" or "bad" DQ game.

(Battle screen.)

Anyway, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, came out from TOSE/SquareEnix in 2010. Like the prequel, J2 is a Pokemon clone, where the idea is to capture or create all of the 300+ monsters in the game. The story is pretty much unrelated, though. You play a stowaway on a flying ship heading for the GP (Grand Prix) arena, but the craft crashes on an uncharted island and you have to become a monster scout in order to save the crew and other passengers from the monsters you encounter. Also on the island are super-big monsters that take up all three slots of the battle line, and eventually you discover what's causing them to get so large. While the goal is to get all of the monsters, some are only available if you play a wifi game against one of your friends, and others could take hours to just scout one of them. So, I'm not interested in being a completist here.

(Area map leading to the Land of Darkness.)

The world map has roughly 8 visitable locations, which each have their own monster ecosystem. Occasionally, you need to defeat someone in an arena battle to unlock the next location. Otherwise, the idea is to go to each place, scout monsters if possible, then use them in battle to build them up in strength. Monsters are rated F-A, S and then SS (or X in the American version). The higher the rank, the harder to scout. You can also breed them, which is called synthesis, and occasionally certain "parent" combinations will result in a monster of a higher rank. The real problem with this system is that the "offspring" always start at level 1, so you're constantly churning to bring new monsters up to the point where they can survive the next part of the game. And that constant churn gets very boring very fast.

(Area Boss battle.)

One departure for J2, though, is that you can max out the character levels. Generally in the DQ franchise, leveling your characters up is the worst part of the game, because there's little in the way of monsters that give you large boosts of experience in one encounter. With J2, that's not a problem. The "metal menagerie" and the "Land of Light" (post-game) both contain liquid metal and/or king metal slimes that you can harvest for 10,000-20,000 exp. apiece. The frustrating part is that metal slimes have high speed ratings and will escape if your party is too low-level. So, you struggle for hours to be able to kill just one liquid metal, then suddenly you're just slicing through them like a hot knife through butter when you hit a particular level.

The backgrounds and landscapes are really good, some of them resembling Quake. Interestingly, the way the clouds fade to reveal new locations on the world map is very similar to Radiant Historia. The monsters were designed by Akira Toriyama (Dragonball), and some of the music was performed by a Tokyo orchestra. One thing that struck me as odd is that the ending credits list all of the people that worked on all the other DQ games, but at least 60% of the names were question marks. Either my GameBoy doesn't support certain kanji characters, or the producers didn't want to give credit to some people for some reason.

You can scout the area boss monsters after beating the final story boss, and there are new bosses that appear post-game. The only side quests are battles with optional bosses (Captain Crow the Pirate, Eugene Poole, Estark and Incarnus). Crow shows up randomly in areas when it's raining. Poole becomes available post-game at certain random locations. Incarnus was your partner in J1, but now hides as a rock altar in certain other areas that are overly-difficult to locate. And Estark was THE most difficult monster in J1, but is virtually unmentioned in the gamefaqs walkthroughs. I'm wondering if the walkthrough authors ever encountered it. Estark can be found in a cave in the desert cliffs area on the way to the top of the mountain on the way to the area boss. It's funny - when I finally had my party up at level 75 (1,000 HP each, attack of 1,000+ each), I decided to tackle Estark. He stayed asleep for the first 4 rounds of the battle. The game caps your damage to 2,000 hits per attack, so I had 6,000 hits on it before it even woke up. I toughed out 3 more rounds of damage while boosting the party again, and beat Estark in the next round. Kind of a let-down, but I'm not complaining.

The one thing that I was trying to google was how to get into the metal menagerie. In J2, you can find or buy "metal tickets". What no one (walkthrough authors or forum members) mentioned was how to use them. I had to look at one of the Japanese walkthroughs to learn that you have to burn a ticket from your inventory (open inventory, click on "metal ticket", then say "use"), then visit the world map and look for the new area with "???" for a name. You get to run around the menagerie until it says "there's no more slimes here", whch is kind of random. When you get an attack stat of 500, harvesting liquid metal slimes becomes really easy and is a good way to level up to about level 50 or 60. After that, it's best to visit the Land of Light (which becomes available post-game).

I've beaten Estark, all of the regular arena contestants, the story boss, and all of the area bosses. I've even finished Eugene, and Incarnus. Although, with Eugene you can keep fighting him as often as you like; he just uses the same battle line up after defeating him the 5th time. All that remains is to scout the higher level monsters (mainly ranks A and S) or to synthesize the missing ones, and I have absolutely no interest in that. For me, the game's finished when I've beaten all of the post-game bosses, and I've done that. So, I'm putting J2 away and getting back to working on stuff that I should have been doing before.

Overall, J2 isn't all that bad, at least, not as bad as other DQ fans expected it to be, I guess. But the gameplay could have been more balanced, with less churn required. It's worth buying if you can get it used cheap.

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