By Spencer . September 18, 2011 . 5:30pm
Who would ever have thought a stowaway was destined to become the world’s greatest monster catcher? The hero in Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 begins his scouting career hiding inside an airship crate with nothing, but a scout ring and a pocketful of dreams. Countess, a spotted nuisance, owned by a stuck up trainer discovers him. Captain Rex Mayday lets the hero stay onboard and puts him to work, but before he starts his job the airship crashes on an uncharted island.
The hero awakens alone and (after a brief tutorial) puts his newfound scouting skills to use to find the other passengers. With a tamed Goodybag under his control, the caped boy wanders into Treepidation and sees a snake that takes up two screens. Later, you’ll be able to control monsters that size. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 introduces large and giant monsters that players can use during battles. Usually, the hero can control three slimes or other similar sized monsters. Large monsters, like different colored dragons and treants, take up two of those slots. Giants take up three. Having different monster sizes adds a bit more variety and strategy to battles since players have to decide whether they want three attacks (one per small monster) each round or one less move, but have a more powerful large monster in their team.
Speaking of variety, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 has over 300 monsters to collect. Many of them are palette swaps, but Square Enix gave each monster a unique set of abilities and attributes to make each one useful in combat. You can further customize monsters by talking to Dr. Lump, a blob that knows how to synthesize monsters. You need to have monsters with the opposite charge (positive and negative, I suppose drackys don’t have genders) to merge them. Synthesized monsters inherit a few skill sets from their parents, so it’s possible to create a jailcat with midheal or a healslime that knows how to cast frizz. You need to bring monsters up to level 10 before you can synthesize them and newly synthesized monsters start at level 1. One way to level up monsters quickly is to pair them with stronger ones and take on tough enemies with newbie monsters that barely deal any damage. I found myself making batches of synthesized monsters all at once, so I revisited old areas to hunt squishy blue slimes and platypunks to get them in shape.
The in-game weather system gives players another reason to go back to old areas. Different types of monsters come out when it rains and that’s your chance to scout (read: catch) them. Select scout and all of the monsters in your party clonk the target. While these hits don’t deal damage, scout slaps boost the success rate of getting that monster to join your party. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 gives players two ways to fight monsters. You can pick combat styles like "show no mercy!" or "mix it up" and let the monsters decide which moves to use and who to attack. More strategic players can order monsters to use specific skills. Pre-set tactics are good enough for most regular battles, though. The hero can get a move in too by using items like herbs and pinballs to damage metal slimes. Monsters are visible on the field and the hero is agile enough to outrun them, if you want to avoid a fight. Weak monsters move out of the hero’s way, so you don’t have to waste time defeating blue slimes when your group dominates them.
With a team of six monsters ready, I approached the sleeping serpent. Instead of springing a surprise attack, the hero crawled inside the snakes mouth and found Rory guarded by the game’s first boss. Rescuing Rory opened the Doubtback, the second field which has Dragon Quest’s version of Deathgaze – a flying tiger who rules the skies and can take out one of your monsters with a single hit. Some areas have light puzzles like Iceolation where you have to carry torches to light up bonfires. These drawn the attention of Baby Bjorn who charges like a bull and smashes ice walls, so the hero can move forward and find Countess.
Like other Dragon Quest games, the story takes a backseat. The heart of Dragon Quest Monster: Joker 2 is scouting new monsters, bringing them up to level 10, and synthesizing them to create a brand new (hopefully) stronger monster who joins your party level 1. You can test the effectiveness of your team at the arena where a mole challenges you to fight higher and higher ranked monsters. New for Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is an online mode where you can enter the World Monster Championship or battle friends and strangers over Nintendo Wi-Fi. I think this is the feature that will extend the game’s life long after the credits roll. Right now, the online community seems to be just getting started.
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 doesn’t have the extra content made for Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 Professional, but there’s still plenty to see and catch in the first iterations of Joker 2. Also, a localized copy costs about two thirds of the price of Professional, which retails for 4,440 yen ($58) in Japan. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 from the Nintendo/Dragon Quest deal retails for $34.99.