Dragon Warrior Monsters Impressions
Dragon Warrior Monsters. With Dragon Quest IX coming to DS this year, and possibly even to North America this year if time permits, my desire to catch up on old Dragon Quest games increased. Rather than moving on to the ever-incomplete fan translation of Dragon Quest VI, I decided to take a detour to Dragon Quest Monsters. After all, the fourth in that sub-series has also just come out for DS. Right now my game clock is at about 12 hours.
What I knew of this game before was that it was modeled after Pokémon, but with the monsters of Dragon Quest. Good idea. However, the execution does not seem nearly as compelling.
To start off with the positive, monster breeding is a neat idea. All monsters have a level cap (though it's high), and can't possibly become the best without being breeded. If you breed two monsters, they disappear. But their new baby starts off at level 1 with mid-level stats (half the average of the parents when they bred) and the possibility to learn the skills of the parent monsters, though if you end up with more than 8 you'll need to drop some. This is the key to making powerful monsters, and it's pretty fun. Monsters you leave out of the party can still gain experience, so it's not a huge problem that you have to build up a level 1 creature again.
Battle system... standard. You can give your monsters specific commands or have them auto-act based on a few simple commands like "Charge" or "Cautious". Three with you at a time, none in reserve traveling with you. Music is pleasant enough, though the best bits are when I happen to recognize something as being reused from another Dragon Quest game. Graphics... well, it's pretty standard for a GB/GBC RPG. The rest... seems quite lacking compared to Pokémon.
As in Pokémon, part of your goal is to capture many monsters. However, while Pokémon lets you really pack the monsters away (in different boxes), DQM is much more limited. At the monster farm there are two groups of monsters: awake and asleep. Those awake gain experience, those asleep don't. Each group contains about 20, so if you're just catching all the new monsters you can, you'll soon end up with space problems, and need to start ditching them or breeding them amongst each other to clear out room. If you're in the field, a monster tries to join you, and you're full, your only option would be to release a member of your party. Basically, it makes me not want to bother collecting monsters unless I have a really good reason to.
The worst, though, is the design of the world and dungeons. In Pokémon you travel around the world, gain skills to enter new areas, and generally must explore. DQM is a single town-based game. You enter gates to go to the dungeon areas, travel through them, and come back either by completing it, using a WarpWing, or by dying (and coming back with most of your money and all of your items gone). That by itself would be a pretty dull change, but what's worse is that the levels are random. There are a few different types of landscape, and maybe a dozen pieces of land for each. Whenever you drop down to a new floor it picks a landscape type and randomly uses these pieces to form a level. This makes things really monotonous really fast. Going through a later dungeon feels like going through an earlier dungeon, except that the monsters are tougher, each level is bigger, and you have to go through more of them to reach the end. It gets old fast.
I'd been using this as my in-bed level-grinder game, but even for a game whose role is supposed to help put me to sleep, those random dungeons don't give me much reason to continue playing. For now I've moved on to Final Fantasy V Advance. It seems I'm 2/3 through Dragon Quest Monsters, though, so I'll probably finish it up. I hope the further games in the series have improved a bit.