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Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 Review


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On 10/21/2011 at 01:15 AM by Jason Ross

Why so serious?
RECOMMENDATION:

Grinding issues in the late and post-game and a few online quirks bring this one down quite a bit. It's easier to pick up and understand some of the deeper mechanics than Pokémon, but if you don't have the time or the patience to invest dozens of hours, it won't work out. If you do, this game could become your best friend.

What is Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2? Is it Pokémon? Is it Dragon Quest? Is it Monster Hunter? Is it Monster Rancher? As I'd never played a Dragon Quest Monsters game before, I began to discover it has elements of all the monster-related games above, believe it or not. The variety of Pokémon, the skill-set making and monsters of Dragon Quest, the attempts to defeat giants who can maul a team of hunters, and the careful balance and planning of crafting and synthesizing a quality monster.

As wonderful as that sounds, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 isn't all sunshinemon and rainbowchus. Why not? The grind. The story. The more confusing aspects of battling online. The grind. The grind. Did I mention the grind?

There's no denying that Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is a Dragon Quest game. Like Dragon Quest characters, monsters level up, and like Dragon Quest characters, monsters gain stat points and skill points to invest in different traits. What makes it different? In Dragon Quest, generally there is one set of characters, one unchanging group that may expand here and there as the plot requires, but it remains a small group of allies. In Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, there are no allies. There is no party of characters. The main character is a Monster Scout, who scouts for monsters. Forget about the feeling of camaraderie in some Dragon Quests. Monsters here feel like tools; when one reaches a point where it takes some time to level up, it is synthesized into a new monster, and things start all over again.

What's this mean? More leveling, more fighting, more grinding, more earning skill points. This works very well early on. At the beginning of the game, everything is new and fresh. After synthesizing a new team to replace the old monsters, players have reason to re-explore old areas in the game to find the new monsters that appear when it's raining or night time. As the game grows more difficult, as giant enemy monsters become better able to massacre a team of monsters in just one or two turns, more synthesizing is needed. More leveling and more skill points need to be earned to utilize the better skill-sets out there.

As I said, the game begins with some simple fun. Start with one monster left after an airship crash, head out to explore, locate the flight's passengers, who were spread throughout the island in the crash, and scout monsters, effectively gaining their power. Things work great until late into the game's story and postgame. Hideously difficult monsters begin to pop up and impede progress from saving all those on the island. This wouldn't be an issue, but at the same time, this demonstrates itself as a sudden shift. The boss monsters become much stronger than any before them without any smooth difficulty curve, and as a result, the lategame and postgame require tons of mindless grinding in order to advance.

To be fair, the game isn't all grinding, and these heavy grinding parts generally show themselves near the final boss. Before then, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is about exploring a strange island filled with giant, terrifying monsters, as well as dozens, nay, hundreds of smaller ones that dash off at the sight of their behemoth brethren. DQM:J2 is finding that one new combination that yields a stronger, better class of monsters, and learning how different traits and skills work. To this end, DQM:J2 is great. Learning and exploring couldn't feel more inventive and more varied.

This is where the online mode takes over. While playing offline yields a skimpy story that gives an excuse to explore an island loaded with monsters, playing online yields some incredible team strategies. The possibilities are practically limitless online, and the system used isn't bad at all. Hop online, register a team, have the team rated based on the quality of monsters, stats, and the like, then head straight into a fight with five other similarly-ranked teams all in a row. The caveat? No one gets control of their monsters. This way, all these fights actually occur offline, and for success, a party has to be made up of monsters and skills virtually immune to terrible AI. Depending on the daily match-up with players from across the world, these fights can be nearly impossible or strikingly easy. Either way, this online mode challenges players to be creative with teams in many cases, which works well, even given the questionable AI. By siphoning monsters based on innate and earned strengths, players can jump into a competitive online environment at any point in the story, but still have a fighting chance at winning some or all of their five daily matches. Those who do well are rewarded a few online-exclusive monsters and helpful items. The end result is an inventive, seemingly simple online mode that rewards well-crafted teams. Alongside this mode is the ability to play friends and random players online at any time too, letting cross-network competition with one's nemeses -- known or unknown -- carry on.

The online mode does have a few strategic flaws. Those in Japan currently have a major leg up on North American players. Because the ins and outs of the monster ranking system are hidden, the ability to produce an effective, lower rank team can be exceedingly difficult, as those in Japan (and even more crafty players from other regions) have had the game longer and had more time to learn what monsters and combinations are perfect for gaming the system. The impression I received is that many from foreign nations know how to bring in nearly impossibly powerful monsters that still reap bonuses for appearing to the game's system as the underdog, something serious US players are just beginning to work out. Worse, if a player does try to enter into a lower-ranked challenge in hopes of finishing the week ranked high enough to receive a special reward monster, he or she won't be able to play the game normally at the same time without risking raising their monsters' class. Experience earned in the main game is shared to a small extent to all monsters. This little amount could potentially boost up the levels of the Wifi-registered team, ruining plans to dominate the competition for a week.

Looking at the big picture, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is a very solid title despite some major hang-ups. As I said before, it bears similarities to a lot of games based on monster collecting, but it definitely has created its own niche when it comes to battling. The grind in the game can be unbearable at points, but at the same time, watching an original, well-made team can be very satisfying. Because of issues with a steep incline in the story mode's difficulty and a lack of new settings to explore when leveling, I just can't say this is as great a game as it could be. Beyond that, it is definitely a game many will want to take and play competitively with friends and against people online, provided everyone plays the game at a nearly even pace so that neither player outdoes the other. Is it the best monster fighting RPG to hit North America? Absolutely not. Is it worth checking out for those who enjoy the genre? I'd certainly say so.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Jason Ross Senior Editor

10/21/2011 at 01:17 AM

I want to note this game is only compatible with a WEP network and not a WPA one. For those who can't consistently control their wireless network encryption, I think that's a very important thing to say that doesn't directly affect the quality of the game.

Anonymous

01/20/2012 at 12:33 PM

Hi there, it's WebkinzFishTv here, telling you all that Dragon Quest Monster Joker 2's one of the best games that I've ever played!!! Out of a 10.0, I'd give it a 9.5!!!(: (: (:

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