I’d been looking forward to Dokapon Kingdom, Atlus and Sting’s board game/RPG hybrid, for quite a while. Normally, neither genre that the game mashes together are really my kind of game. But nonetheless, I was very intrigued. I always love to see new, original game ideas (a rarity these days, it seems), and Dokapon Kingdom certainly fits that bill. However, my experience with the game was far removed from what I’d hoped it would be.
I had been told that Dokapon Kingdom really shone in multiplayer. But I figured that I’d check out the single player mode first, just to get a feel for the game and how it played. Once I got past the initial game setup menus (which are narrated by a pixie with a voice that sounds like nails on a chalkboard), my opponent and I were thrust into the Kingdom of Dokapon. You can have up to four characters playing simultaneously, be they CPU or human controlled, but I figured since it was my first time playing I’d go easy on myself and just go up against a single computer controlled opponent.
Now, before I go any further, let me clarify something I mentioned earlier. While RPG’s aren’t really my thing anymore, I do like them. My favorite game of all time is Earthbound, after all. I just don’t play as many of them as I used to. Anyway, back to Dokapon Kingdom. The game’s basic flow is much like that of Mario Party or other similar party games. Players take turns moving around the map and taking various actions determined by the space they land on. Acquiring money, searching for items, casting magic, and battling are just a few of the things you’ll be spending your time with in Dokapon. Land on an item space, and you’ll be presented with a roulette of sorts that determines the item you get. Same with gold and magic spaces. Herein lies one of the major complaints I have with the game. For a game that relies so heavily on RPG elements, entirely too much is left to chance.
I should probably take this opportunity to explain one of the most important gameplay mechanics of Dokapon Kingdom, battles. Battles work largely like traditional turn based RPG battles. Players and their opponents will take turns either attacking, casting magic, or defending. If you’re the attacking player, you can choose between attacking, striking (a more powerful attack that also leaves you open to countering), using magic, and using an ability. On the defensive side, you can choose to defend, counter (effective against strikes), M Guard (lessens damage from magic attacks) or give up. Each participant in the battle can only make one move per turn, and after both have taken their action, the turn ends and the battle is resumed upon the character’s next turn. This kind of makes battles drag on a bit, especially when you or the enemy are one attack away from dying, and you just want to get it over with, but you’ve got to wait through three other players turns to do so.
To be honest, my experience with the single player portion of Dokapon Kingdom was…well, it wasn’t what I was hoping it’d be. My biggest problem with it, and with the game in general, is the AI. It seemed like every turn, my CPU opponent got the exact number on the spinner (Dokapon Kingdom’s version of the dice in other party games) he needed to get. For example, the first part of Story Mode puts you in the outskirts of the actual kingdom of Dokapon. To actually enter Dokapon, you need to land on a certain space on the board. Within ten minutes of the start of the game, my opponent was in Dokapon. I, however, was stuck in the outskirts for another twenty-odd minutes, futilely spinning the spinner, trying to get the number of moves I needed. Which leads me to another problem I have with the game. You must move the exact number of spaces that the spinner lands on. Say you’re three spaces away from the entrance to Dokapon, and you spin a four. Well, too bad, no Dokapon for you this turn.
Once you DO get into Dokapon, however, the main part of the game begins, and you’re tasked with liberating several cities around the map that have been taken over by monsters. And once again, the AI comes into play. By the time I’d even gotten to Dokapon, my opponent had already liberated two cities. And over the next ten or so turns, he liberated two more. While I putted harmlessly around the board, fighting low level enemies. Not once did I land on a city in need of liberation. Now, I don’t want to sound like an angry seven year old from 1990 who just lost his last life in Super Mario Bros., but the AI in this game is just unfair. Not since Puzzle Quest have I encountered a game with AI as unbalanced as Dokapon Kingdom. By the time I decided to save and end the game, my opponent had liberated roughly five cities, while I hadn’t even landed on one, and was many levels ahead of me as well. Aside from the city-saving, you will also occasionally come across side-quests. One in particular I remember is having to seek out an antidote for the Princess of Dokapon’s poisoned dog. Complete these sidequests and you’ll be rewarded by the King.
But I still wanted to like Dokapon Kingdom at this point. Perhaps I was just going about the game the wrong way. After all, it’s supposed to really shine in multiplayer mode, right? So I got on the phone and I called over my friend Matt to play the game with me. And this time, instead of Story Mode, we elected to try Normal Mode, where you can set the number of “weeks” you’ll play. Each “week” is made up of seven turns, so we chose ten weeks, or 70 turns. Oh, and I should mention, the way you win in Dokapon Kingdom is to have the most money at the end of the game.
So, was our multiplayer experience any better than my single player one? To put it bluntly, no. Matt and I decided to go up against two CPU characters, therefore making it a full four player game. But, just as happened when I played single player, the CPU trashed us, while Matt and I continually got killed, got our money stolen, and experienced other assorted misfortunes.
Also, while Matt and I played the game, the biggest conundrum posed by Dokapon Kingdom came to light. The game is supposed to be primarily a multiplayer game, right? Could have fooled me, since there’s really very little interaction between players at all. The majority of the interaction you’ll be doing with other players consists mainly of stealing gold or items, or inflicting status ailments on them. Oh, and there’s also player versus player battles, but these happen only if you land on the same space an opponent is currently occupying, and they play out just like battles against normal monsters. When I jumped into Dokapon Kingdom, I was expecting a party game with RPG elements. Dokapon Kingdom turns out to be more RPG than party. I know there’s a certain stigma that comes with a game having minigames these days, especially on the Wii, but Dokapon Kingdom could have really benefited from having more things (or ANY things, for that matter) for ALL players to do simultaneously. All too often it feels like you’re sitting around doing nothing while waiting for other players to complete their turns, because that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Dokapon Kingdom is, at least, very polished. The game’s ultra-cute cel-shaded anime style works very well, and all of the various subsystems in the game, like moving around the game board and the RPG style menu driven battles, are well done. But the ideas simply don’t mesh together well. Combining the fast pace of a party game with the slow, methodical pace of an RPG just doesn’t seem to have worked out for Sting. By the time we were done playing, Matt and I both agreed that Dokapon Kingdom was a very good idea, conceptually, but it’s execution is flawed. Too flawed for us to enjoy it.
Images courtesy of Atlus.