Whether you want to call it "fashionably late" or "missed the party," Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker has finally hit North America. During Q4 and its incredible torrent of releases, DQMJ still manages to stick out as one of the highest-profile titles releasing on the system this year. Is it the real deal, or just another imitator? Read on and find out!
As the game opens, you find yourself on the tail-end of a nice bit of jail time. Why? Well, because your dad, the warden, decided it is appropriate punishment for his son, as he's been a bad boy recently. Wonderful dad, eh? And to make things even worse, he promises to release you, so long as you guarantee to enter into the Monster Scout Challenge as a CELL recruit, with CELL being a super-secret organization he himself belongs to. Think the movie Varsity Blues and that whole "I don't want your life" line.
Once you undertake this task, you soon discover the universal truth of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker: nobody gives a damn about their wave runners. Taking place in a cluster of islands, you'll find each of the islands has their own distinct flavor. And, traveling between them is as simple as nabbing one of the readily-available wave runners and trekking to your destination.
Once there, you'll find yourself battling monsters. Lots of monsters. You'll battle monsters with your own line-up of monsters. You'll use your monsters to try and scout (or recruit) other monsters. Basically, the word monsters isn't in the title for nothing.
So, you'll encounter other monsters you find out in the game's many environments, so none of this random encounter stuff. Once you engage a monster, they toss their crew in and you toss your crew in and they tough it out. It's fairly cut and dry, with your troops pummeling the enemies down attack after attack, or choosing to go the route of scouting them.
Scouting enemy monsters is also fairly simple, where your monsters showcase their talents in the hopes of impressing the enemy monster. If you're successful, you'll have a new soldier on your hands, free to rename and toss into battle at your whim. Successful recruitment depends on the percentage your monster is able to impress the other monster, meaning that there is always a slight chance they'll be successfully scouted, no matter how small of a percentage your guy impresses them.
Inevitably, the parallels between this and other monster-capturing kingpin Pokemon must be drawn. Pokemon is clearly the better title, since its approach to control (Pokemon has stylus-based controls to navigate its menus, where DQMJ does not) is more deliberate and precise. Ultimately, they're both the same game with a different skin, just in the end it comes down to Pokemon having the better control scheme.
Square Enix didn't focus entirely on the single-player mode. They actually put a lot of hard work into the game's online mode, known as Wildcard World Cup. Here, players can take their monsters into some pretty tough encounters and have their stats tracked via leaderboards. It isn't a picnic, however, as you have to fight without giving orders to your monsters or using items. So, while it may appear to be lacking any kind of features, it actually ends up being pretty fun.
Visually, the game shines, however it isn't without its flaws. The pop-up is pretty bad, at times, with whole rooms looking vacant for a handful of seconds before a couple of NPCs just appear out of thin air. The character design and animations are crisp and clean (most notable in the crazy variety of monsters in the game), however, as they bring a lot of life into the title. Some of the environments could've used a bit more detail, as they seem to be designed in a hurry. Each island is distinct enough, though.
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is a large game that you can genuinely sink some time into. As we've said, in the end we couldn't help but compare it to Pokemon, which has ruled the genre for quite some time. It does a lot of the things that Pokemon does well, but fails to do them all. The controls could've been better, the camera can be a nuisance and the constant battling can really start to drag you down.
It's still a good game, though and mainly brought down by the fact that the genre is just too saturated.
Final score: 7.5/10