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Love Pokemon but you've already "caught 'em all?" Looking for a change of pace from the tried and true (yet tired) formula? Maybe you just need something to hold you over until the next Pokemon eventually comes out? Or maybe you've always been interested in what the monster collecting genre is all about but think that those kids playing Pokemon on the bus are dweebs? If any or all of these things apply to you then Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is the game you need!

SlimeLet's face it: Pokemon is a huge franchise with a ginormous rabid fanbase and while it may or may not have created the "catch a monster to raise and battle and eventually evolve" formula (Digimon was cool too), it definitely made it popular and has continued strong. So what franchise could possible hope to stand up as a contender? Well, Dragon Quest has decided to throw down the gauntlent, not once but twice.

These games are all the same though, right? Start out with a monster and use it to battle stray monsters in the hopes of weakening them to the point that you can catch them to add to your team (or sit in storage) until eventually you've caught them all and have defeated the final boss, right? Maybe compete in tournaments to try and prove that you're the greatest monster trainer that ever lived, right? Well, um, yeah. That pretty much covers the similarities of these types of games, and the formula.

Now that we got that out of the way let's discuss what sets DQM:J2 apart from it's main competition. Obviously, the terminology is going to be a bit different: you don't "catch" monsters, you scout them and are therefore a monster scout, not a trainer. But that's a superficial difference and the least compelling.

3 vs 3 BattleI haven't played a Pokemon game since Platinum so I don't know how far the series has adapted but a major difference that Monsters offers is in the battle system. Battles will be fought with up to three monsters to a team, but it gets a bit more creative than that. There are three "spaces" in your party and three in your substitutes, allowing for you to adventure with a maximum of six monsters. Each monster has a size, determining how many spaces they will occupy. Most monsters only take up one space, but some like the green or red dragons, take up two, and some like the Wormonger, take up all three spaces. The bigger the monster the harder they hit but you will also limit the diversity of abilities that your team will have since your team is a single monster.

If you haven't played the recent Dragon Quest offerings on the DS (IX and VI) then you may not be familiar with the battle mechanic of assigning tactics to your team and letting them decide what's best in certain situations. Basically, you can set someone, a monster in this case, to be a tank and "Show no Mercy," a healer and "Focus on Healing," a buff and "Mix it Up," or simply not to use magic. Of course, direct orders can be given like in standard (J)RPGs but there are some benefits to letting the monsters decide what to do: 1) There are some special abilities that let monsters attack multiple times if they aren't given direct orders; 2) moves aren't decided until they happen, allowing for real time adaptability (i.e., healing the just damaged team member); and 3) battles go much faster.

BjornScouting monsters is accomplished by "trying to impress" them. When the scout option is selected from the battle menu your monsters will attack the selected monster, but instead of dealing damage a gauge will fill up to a certain percentage with each strike. The higher the percentage the better chance to scout the monster. Certain abilities, like psycho, allow monsters to psyche up in order to deal more damage. Psyche up four turns in a row and the tension for that monster will be at 100. While damage increases, so does the percentage that monster adds to the scout guage when scouting. Get three monsters to psyche all the way up and you will greatly increase your odds of successfully scouting a monster.

Abilities is another unique feature as certain landmark levels (5, 8, 11...) reward ability points to spend. These ability points can be dumped into any of a monster's skills which are almost like a set of skills defining their role. The Healer skill provides spells for healing while Attack Boost provides attack and HP raises the more points you dump into it.

SynthesisThe mechanic that really stands out though is synthesis. Similar to the amazing PS1 title, Jade Cocoon, players can combine (synthesis) two different monsters to create an entirely new one, and that's where DQM gets its charm. The battles can become a grind and the story isn't too terribly engrossing but trying to scout new monsters to see what they can create is a real timesink.

Here's how it works:
A monster is scouted.
It has either a positive, negative, or neutral charge.
Raise monster to at least level 10 to be synthesized (level 11 gives ability points...).
Opposites attract and as such synthesis requires one negative and one positive charged monster. Neutral can stand in for one but not both charges.
A list of three possible outcomes is presented.
Player selects the new monster they want.
Player selects up to 3 skills (4 for bigger monsters, 5 for biggest) from parent monsters to carry over to new monster.
Any abilities that had pionts invested retain half those points. Half of unassigned points also carry over.
Player names monster.
Monster has either positive, negative, or neutral charge.
Begin the process again.


Each monster also has a rank. It becomes an addiction to try and get every possible monster through synthesis and there is a joy in creating a monster that is a higher rank than the previous monster.

While you can't determine what charge a monster will have before you scout it there are certain items that will guarantee that a monster with a certain charge will be present in your next battle. Similarily, it's impossible to determine the charge of a synthesized monster in the beginning of the game, though later it is possible to designate the charge by equipping one of the monster parents with either the plus or minus sceptre. And no, equipping each monster with a different one will not result in a neutral charge. I tried it.

Main Character

There is a point where synthesizing new monsters gets tricky. Eventually you run out of combinations that yield new results on there own. Then it's revealed that the "grandparents" of synthesized monsters matter. One example I'll use is the monster by the name of Mumboh-Jumboe. There are four seperate monsters that go into the creation of Mumboh-Jumboe: Mum; Boh; Jum; and Boe. Only two monsters can be synthesized at a time however, so it's necessary to synthesize two of the four to make a monster (that you may already have), synthesize the other two, level the two resulting creations up to at least 10, and then synthesize those two to create the all new Mumboh-Jumboe. With over 300 monsters in the game, this will eventually become a puzzle to solve.

That's probably enough about synthesizing and since it's the real draw of the game you should now know whether it's something you want to put *cough* 50+ hours *cough* in to. The game really doesn't take that long to get through the story, I spent a lot of time leveling and synthesizing monsters and was through the story at the 18 hour mark. But in classic Square-Enix style there is plenty to do after the game. Instead of a New Game+ mode DQM:J2 opens up new areas with new bosses to fight and new monsters to scout. Oh, and it grants the ability to scout previous bosses that were unscoutable before. After putting in 53 hours and still only having 201 monsters, I can attest that this game is well worth the money and definitely worth the time. If I had to pick a handheld game of the year - this is it.


Post Wed, 26 Oct 2011 05:23:47
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