After almost a year since its Japanese release, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker finally makes its U.S. debut to appease many fans of the series since its original Gameboy outings. Dragon Quest Monsters in general can be seen as Square-Enix's modern day answer to Nintendo's Pokémon games, namely Diamond and Pearl. What differs Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl isn't so much its gotta catch'em all complex but rather its ability to take what's best about the Pokémon games and combine them with what's always been a trademark about all Dragon Quest games to date; the journey being more important than the destination, grinding and turn-based battles, and witty humor that always manages to charm the game through completion. Of course fans of both games will have no trouble enjoying this title, but those new to either the gotta catch'em craze found in Pokémon or the oldschool charm found in Dragon Quest need not worry about whether they'll enjoy this game. Unlike previous Dragon Quest Monsters titles, Joker features no random generated dungeons.
The premise of the game is fairly simple and typical of a Dragon Quest game. You play the role of a son whose father is the head of an organization called CELL, and you are released from your prison cell to speak to your father about this outlandish dream of yours to enter the monster battle league. Your father dislikes the idea but figures he could use you to carry out any deeds the organization requires of him, so he kindly agrees to let you go out and entire the battle tournament while completing a secret mission for him. From there you receive your very own Scout Ring, your very first monster, and then travel the world to different lands, completing different missions, battling different opponents, and creating the best possible team of monsters you ever gazed eyes upon.
Unlike Pokémon or any other catch'em all game (Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner comes to mind), Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker's recruitment system is all percentage based. When entering battle, the hero uses the Scout command to let his monsters attack the desired recruit; and based on how strong your monsters are, the odds of recruiting the monster of your choice depends on just what percentage you end up impressing the monster with after all your monsters have attacked. While it does sound complicated in theory, the same doesn't really translate in practice. Obviously the higher the percentage rate the better your odds, but sometimes you can get lucky by having a low impression rate on a monster. It's all luck. Once you've recruited the monster of your choice, you can either choose to place him in your main party, replace him with one of your current monsters, or mark him as a Substitute or send him to Storage.
At its very core, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker's battle system is good ol' turn-based. Three of your many monsters are able to enter battle and do your bidding; and before you actually issue commands to your monsters, you're given the opportunity to let the main character do some necessary healing or monster's you've placed in Substitution, which is always a good thing if one of your monsters is weak. A good feature in battles is the Fight command which allows your monsters to attack on their own letting their AI be the judge in what to do and what not to do in battle, and this feature actually ends up having good outcomes most of the time. Of course you can manually choose to select your monster's commands in battle, but the Fight command almost always chooses the desired actions you planned on doing in the first place. You can also select strategies for your monsters that allow them to perform certain actions you've limited them to doing.
In traditional RPG fashion, your monsters do gain levels and every so often are awarded Skill Points that allow you to strengthen certain aspects of a monster and let them learn skills and spells that may prove very useful in battle. When your monsters are level 10 or higher, you are then able to return to any Scout Post throughout the various lands and fuse them together. If you're familiar with the fusion technique in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne or even Persona 3, then you kind of have a general idea of how fusion in Dragon Quest Monsters: Jokers work. Basically you can fuse two monsters together to create a stronger monster and also transfer a few learned skills from both your previous monsters to the newly created monster.
If you'd rather not bother with fusion you can always just go recruit more powerful monsters in different lands, but performing fusion does allow you to have a stronger party and sort of alleviates the necessity of leveling up your party as some encounters and boss battles can border on challenging if your party isn't up to par. What's good about Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is that you can equip weapons on your monsters that strengthen their melee attacks. This works very well as equipping weapons to strengthen your monster's attacks can also increase the impression rate when scouting monsters.
The best feature about Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, though, is the Wi-Fi play and the ability to challenge anyone from all around the world. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl's greatest replayability is this feature to do battle with anyone, and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is no exception to the rule. Wi-Fi battles not only allow you to test your skills against anyone, but they also allow you to win rare prizes which almost always include receiving a rare monster not found in the game depending on what the prize of the day is. Of course a problem with Wi-Fi battles is the random matchmaking. Obviously its important that you've devoted a lot of your time in the single player campaign to leveling up your monsters or fusing them to create more powerful monsters with powerful abilities to stand a chance against your fellow human opponent, but simply going into Wi-Fi battles underleveled and with somewhat unimpressive stats is very risky. While you may get lucky and defeat a few of your opponents, there are plenty of other opponents out there who can demolish your party in one turn. If you're the kind of person who doesn't mind investing a lot of time to create a powerful team, then you'll have tons of fun with Wi-Fi battles.
There's very little use for the stylus as most of the game's commands can be selected with the d-pad, and the touch screen is basically a map that outlines an island or dungeon. Regardless, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker plays like a traditional Dragon Quest game without the large amount of time required to get through it all. Though its single player game is short and can be finished in at least 2 1/2 days, the Wi-Fi battles are more than enough recompense for those who love to get their money's worth when purchasing a game. If you do plan on venturing into the world of Wi-Fi battles, be sure you have a powerful team that can get you through most battles. After all, the best offense is a strong defense.