Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince Review – A Bright Light

Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince Review - A Bright Light

Nintendo Switch

Pokemon has long had a stranglehold on the creature-collecting, family-friendly JRPG subgenre, but in recent years, a growing number of contenders have stepped up to the plate to contest the title that Game Freak and Creatures have long held. Despite being ten years the senior to the Pokemon IP, Dragon Quest didn’t stray into monster collection with Dragon Quest Monsters until two years after the Pokemon phenomenon had taken off. Square-Enix and associated developers have experimented with various takes on the formula but few have stuck, Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince however is one to add to your collection. 

Players asume the role of Psaro, a name that will strike a chord to fans of Dragon Quest IV: Chapters Of The Chosen. As a unique breed of individual, half-human and half-monster, and the offspring of the King of all monsters, life is anything but simple for Psaro, but the divide between Psaro’s human mother and monster father boils over when Psaro ventures into his father’s realm in search of aide for his unwell mother. The consequence from the monster tyrant is a brutal one, with Randolfo refusing the help, in response, casts a curse upon his son, preventing him from ever laying a hand upon monsterkind, and as a result of the lack of help, Psaro’s mother passes away. The fire lit within Psaro is immense and as he comes to discover that while he may not be able to fight monsters himself, he soon learns of a loophole in the curse which allows him to capture and harness the power of other monsters to do the fighting for him. This provides the thrust for Psaro’s quest to seek redemption against his father. 

For fans of Dragon Quest IV though, the beats of the narrative will be familiar, but the plot itself hits surprisingly hard from the outset, fades away in its resonance as the gameplay loop takes hold. Players will form a party, akin to Pokemon with monsters that you best in combat or scout and recruit, some may even be responsive to the beating you give them and wish to join the party so as not be on the receiving end again. The party of four will be accompanied by another back-up party of four, but as players move from recruiting smaller monsters to larger ones, party spaces are chewed up a little more.

Combat is fairly traditional, though the variation in monster size does have a bearing with smaller monsters taking turns at the normal rate, while larger monsters can make multiple moves per turn, offsetting the lack of monsters available in the party. Players can manually take their turn, but can also enact an automated mode with some predetermined selections guiding the computer’s play-style. 

As the game progresses, the synthesis option emerges. If you thought pitting monsters against monsters was a bit brutal, well the synthesis option shows even less regard for their wellbeing. With synthesis, players can pair monsters together to form far more powerful ones that have the potential to significantly bolster your damage output. Of course there’s a bit of mystery around which monsters will pair well, and so it’s possible to produce some duds from time to time, but if you can study the synthesis trees, some highly powerful options will emerge. Naturally levelling of monsters is a factor too, and, like Pokemon, abilities can be learned with most levels that are reached, with those abilities then being factors in the synthesis component as well.

With the world designed to test your mettle in a range of different ways, from the seasonal changes that see the introduction of new monsters to the environment while others retreat, and a range of different biomes, each littered with unique monsters to be scouted, you have a lot to wade through as you play. These different systems all layer upon each other in such a way that you will also have to commit a good portion of time to grinding, either to find the monsters you want or simply to level up to be ready for the next big gatekeeping boss before you. Best that beast and your chances of success when scouting improve as the monsters of that realm show more respect for your achievements. The grind is long, but a largely satisfying one with there always being a fresh carrot dangled in front of you to pursue, rather than simply bashing up the same enemies for hours on end with nothing but a few jumps in level being the reward. 

The Nintendo Switch is something of a senior citizen these days and while Nintendo themselves have found a way, with their magic, to continually find ways to achieve the visually extraordinary with limited power, third parties have either been unwilling to commit a similar financial resource, or are now defeated by the lesser power of the platform. It’s hard to know what the reasoning is in the case of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince, but the game certainly won’t be winning any beauty contests. Character models, save for the core few members of the cast are lacking completely in expression, which can be extremely jarring to look at, especially as the effort has been put in to get decent voice-acting. I was entertained by the variety of expression in the range of voice actors used; nobody felt tired and played out, with each actor bringing some flair to their roles. The same iconic Dragon Quest themes are played throughout the experience, though it was again nice to see some homages to Dragon Quest IV echoed at points through the game.

Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince leans on some well established systems from both traditional JRPGs and also the Pokemon IP, but also provides a spin on it that is refreshing, in particular through the Synthesis system. The game does outstay its welcome a bit, with players being forced into a bit too much griding for what’s required of them, but a fascinating plot cool gameplay systems, wonderful references to a franchise classic, and genuine heart makes this a title well worth checking out, visual warts and all.

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