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Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

by Mike Gamin - December 29, 2007, 11:02 am EST
Total comments: 13


More like Dragon Quest Monsters: Grinder...

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is the latest game in the Monsters series from Square Enix. It takes the Dragon Quest universe and adds a monster collecting twist. On paper that may sound like a recipe for success, but it comes up short in quite a few areas.

The battle system of Joker is closer to standard RPG's than it is to other monster collecting games like Pokemon. You have a group of three monsters that fight. Prior to every turn you can either directly command them, or allow one of five different AI styles to control them for you. The AI is a welcome option, as it drastically cuts down the number of required button presses when fighting lower level monsters. Sadly though, most options involve the monsters burning through most of their magic points, so using this feature makes it difficult to save magic for the boss battles. Besides that, the battle system is extremely classic and turn based. It will most likely feel quite dated to many players, so only huge fans of the style will be able to enjoy it to the end. I got quite sick of it after only a few hours.

Monsters themselves level up in a similar fashion to the characters of the PS2 game Dragon Quest VIII. They receive experience points at the end of every battle; after a certain amount of points, they gain a level. New levels bring statistical increases in all of the standard RPG categories. Some levels will also reward the monster with skill points, which can be applied to two or three special categories. These skill categories are where the true dynamics of the monsters comes in. While some are just statistical bonuses, others yield new abilities that are key to survival, such as healing techniques.

So the real question is, how do you get monsters with these essential abilities in your party? There are two ways. Firstly, you can capture them in battles through a scout command. When scouting a monster, each member of your team will attempt to intimidate the foe. A percentage meter displays your probability of success. After each attempted intimidation, that meter will rise. The amount it rises depends on your monsters relative strength when compared to the target. Damaging the monster first doesn't appear to have any obvious effect on the scouting, but occasionally a critical hit will trigger that will cause the meter to rise significantly higher. After all three monsters have had their chance, you will know what your odds are. Then there is a slight teasing pause and the game tells you whether or not the monster will join your team. This is a clever system, as it can be used unlimitedly across battles, but only a certain (random) number of times in any given battle. An attempted scouting only sacrifices one round of the battle, so players are encouraged to grow their teams as fast as possible.

The other way of obtaining new monsters and abilities is through Monster Synthesis. This is a strange mash-up of the breeding and evolution features in the Pokemon games. Firstly, you need two monsters; one positive and one negative (apparently the developers didn't want to give the monsters a sex). Those monsters can then be used to synthesize a new and different monster. As could be inferred from the word synthesize, the original monsters are gone entirely. The player can then select up to three skill categories to apply to the new monster. These are chosen from a list that combines all of the original monsters' categories with new categories available through the synthesis process. While this system gets some credit for being clever, it is actually incredibly frustrating in practice. The new monster goes all the way back to level 1. Therefore, you will be forced to sacrifice much stronger monsters in hopes that the result will eventually be a more powerful addition to your team. To help you determine whether or not the synthesis will be worthwhile, each monster in the game is given a letter rank (e.g. you'll at least know that your two F rank monsters are making an E rank monster). Still, re-leveling monsters is a major pain in the neck.

Difficulty in role playing games is arguably the most important part of the overall game design. In an easy RPG, just playing through the main story causes your characters to level up fast enough to be one step ahead of their enemies at all times. If Joker used that approach, the main story would probably be around 7-10 hours of gameplay. An RPG of that length would be frowned on by most fans of the genre, so the game is lengthened by forcing the player to grind (battle for the sole purpose of leveling up). Unfortunately, Joker goes way too far, extending the main story to around 35 hours. The amount of grinding required to progress through the game is astronomical. Sadly, there are no clever side quests (besides the relatively bland monster hunting) to fill this gap. You will find yourself killing the same monsters for hours on end before finally being strong enoug to push the story forward. What makes this grinding even more frustrating is that even a high level monster with a low rank cannot compete against some of the end bosses. Therefore, monster synthesis is required and, since this resets the level to one, forces you to travel back to low level areas in order to power up your team again. Overall, this monotony reminded me of my tragic days playing Final Fantasy XI, the MMO known for being a huge time sink.

Although Joker supports Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, its online aspects are very limited. Just like the random matches in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, your team is uploaded to a server, and your game downloads a team for you to fight. After that, you are back to playing the computer. It even announces that you are disconnected from Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection right before the battle. While it's interesting to battle against some of the top teams, it will usually play out as an exercise in showing you how much more other people play the game than you do. Every time I played this mode I battled against huge monsters I had never seen before that killed my entire team in a single round.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is more frustrating than fun. Production values are high, but the game just isn't that entertaining. Extreme fans of the Dragon Quest series will probably enjoy being able to build a team from the over two-hundred monsters available, but there just aren't enough rewards for the average gamer.


Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
9 6 7 6 6 6

It's one of the best looking DS games. There are a few bizarre collision issues when navigating the overworld, but they are few and far between.


Repetitive and relatively boring. Sadly, the music and sound effects are what you'd expect out of most middle budget RPGs.


It's hard to mess up a game based mostly in menu navigation, but deciphering and adjusting to some of the odd organizational choices takes a while.


What starts out as interesting gets old fast. Collecting and battling with Dragon Quest monsters is a clever concept, but there just isn't enough variation.


It seems that the designers thought that collecting monsters was enough to keep people playing, and it is true that for those who enjoy the grinding and monster synthesis, this game will last a while. But for most players, there just aren't any good reasons to keep playing.


Its extremely nice to see this level of polish in a DS game's graphics, but the same can't be said for the rest of the game. The online mode is lacking. The actual gameplay is monotonous. Synthesizing erases players' hard work. This is the kind of game that you will think is great for the first three to five hours, then wonder why you are still playing.


  • Great graphics
  • Lots of monsters
  • A weak story fails to reward the player
  • Synthesis forces even more grinding
  • Too much grinding
Review Page 2: Conclusion


KDR_11kDecember 29, 2007

Sounds like the perfect game to proclaim you're a "true hardcore" RPG gamer...

NinGurl69 *hugglesDecember 29, 2007

niche drowning fringe gamer

ShyGuyDecember 29, 2007

I've noticed a lot of the "hardcore" dismiss most, or all, of the RPGs on the DS, saying they're crap. What's up with that?

NinGurl69 *hugglesDecember 29, 2007

Because the RPGs weren't made for PlayStation, that's all.

And the DS destroyed gaming, so they have to direct their frustrations somewhere.

GoldenPhoenixDecember 29, 2007


Originally posted by: ShyGuy
I've noticed a lot of the "hardcore" dismiss most, or all, of the RPGs on the DS, saying they're crap. What's up with that?

It is because they aren't hardcore, the Zork Esque games are true hardcore RPGs.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusDecember 29, 2007


Originally posted by: KDR_11k
Sounds like the perfect game to proclaim you're a "true hardcore" RPG gamer...

No, you're thinking of Etrian Odyssey!

nitsu niflheimDecember 29, 2007

I loved DQM:J, but I love Dragon Quest games in general and like the grinding that is more or less required for leveling. Sure it could be easier, but the charm of the games is that it's not giving you a free pass to get to the next level like most other RPG's do.

I have to say I'm not sure if some of Pale's complaints in this review will apply to fans of DQVIII. Obviously there are serious problems with the synthesis based on the description, and it does sound like there's *too* much grinding, but complaints regarding the turn based battles and grinding in general apply equally to DQVIII....

KDR_11kDecember 29, 2007


Originally posted by: ShyGuy
I've noticed a lot of the "hardcore" dismiss most, or all, of the RPGs on the DS, saying they're crap. What's up with that?

Well, most if not all RPGs on the DS got reviewed badly, mostly for using outdated game designs like severe punishment on death, randomized dungeons, long, boring grinds and crappy stories. I.e. most of them are roguelikes with more graphics and less gameplay. Considering most "hardcore" RPG fans want something that's light on the gameplay and heavy on the story they don't like it.

I think this discussion makes one thing clear: everyone has a different definition of "hardcore" for the RPG genre. I've always considered a "hardcore" RPG to be a turn-based battle system that is difficult (usually using grinding). To me, "light" and "hardcore" have nothing to do with story or lack thereof, because neither game design precludes lots of text, cut-scenes, and whatever else they throw into these games. A game's popularity / number of obsessed fans is not really relevant to my definition of a "hardcore" game.

KDR_11kDecember 30, 2007

Oh I'm just guessing which type of self-proclaimed hardcore RPG player he was talking about. Personally I don't think requiring grinding is really difficulty, it's just wasting time. Difficulty means low tolerance for errors, play slightly suboptimal and you lose. Grinding does not qualify because it doesn't require much ability except maybe knowing the best grinding grounds. Larger setbacks at loss qualify somewhat since they mean you have to go longer without a fatal mistake to progress but they are very hard to balance, if the setback requires a lot of by then easy actions it's just frustrating.

PaleMike Gamin, Contributing EditorDecember 30, 2007

Just to be clear, I've only played about the first 10 hours of DQ 8... enough to know the similarities but not enough to know if I would be as equally frustrating with the grinding in that game.

I just finished FF XII, and that game requires grinding but there are SO MANY side quest options that it's a pleasure to play. That's the primary difference in my mind. I don't want to level for the sake of leveling, I want to go do other fun stuff so that I get strong enough to do the main fun stuff.

RizeDavid Trammell, Staff AlumnusDecember 31, 2007

Difficult RPG's seem to require grinding because they're so hard (and grinding makes them easier). The best RPG's are the ones in which you can mostly avoid grinding IF you plan your battle strategy carefully. Or if you must grind a bit, that you have something else to do while you're grinding.

Of course, if you run from half of your fights, you may have to pay for it later since your levels won't be right.

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Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker Box Art

Genre RPG
Developer Square Enix

Worldwide Releases

na: Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker
Release Nov 06, 2007
PublisherSquare Enix
RatingEveryone 10+
jpn: Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker
Release Dec 28, 2006
PublisherSquare Enix
RatingAll Ages
eu: Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker
Release Mar 14, 2008
PublisherSquare Enix
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