- Granblue Fantasy: Relink Review – Flawless Like the Sky - February 2, 2024
- Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince All Mini Medals Location - December 22, 2023
- Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince Review – For Diehard Fans Only - December 20, 2023
Do you know what a guilty pleasure is? In short, it’s something you enjoy despite deep down knowing it’s bad. It’s like watching the Kardashians. Well, I believe Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince lies within the guilty pleasure realm. And to add, within a subgenre that is somewhat already downplayed in the gaming industry, which makes all the guilt twofold from some perspective.
Well, not mine, since JRPG is my favorite genre. Thereby, I gladly plead guilty to my pleasure of playing Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince despite its prevalent and gripping shortcomings.
There’s a certain mystic allure to monster-catching games that makes you forget all its flaws to keep capturing more and more, filling that gigantic roster with creatures with the same skills and strengths that only vary in appearance. The dopamine rush every time I added a new monster to my roster was incredibly addicting.
But I would be doing a poor review job if I failed to mention other aspects of the game, such as the visuals, the framerate, or the story, which, honestly, is really subpar compared to other entries into the monster-taming genre. The battle system is amusing, though.
Want to know more? Then join me in my Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince review played on the Nintendo Switch.
The Monsters of Dragon Quest
Dragon Quest is no stranger to monster recruiting. The fifth mainline game did it four years before Pokémon was released, so it would be remiss of me to compare it with the worldwide famous Pocket Monsters. I will try my best to discuss this game as it is, but there will be some minor correlations.
The Dark Prince’s main gameplay difference lies in your party size. We can bring up to four monsters to battle – less if they are larger since they occupy two slots – and four more into the reserve, which we can change at any time before issuing orders. This party size completely changes the dynamic of the combat, allowing us to create a versatile and synergistic group. It’s good, it’s engaging, and it’s the game’s strong point.
RPG players know the drill: battle with your monsters, kill the opponents, amass experience, level up, and learn new skills. Learning skills is done through a talent system that reminded me a lot of Dragon Quest VIII. Each monster can have up to three talents; within these, there’s a set of skills.
By distributing points in the talents, monsters learn new skills after reaching a threshold, be it a passive increase to attributes or a new spell. A simple but efficient system that initially enticed me because I like to control the customization of my monsters and create distinct builds for each one.
In battles, while you can manually dictate how your monsters will act, I felt that the game encouraged me to use auto-battle and premade tactics. You can choose five tactics for each monster that range from “kick the enemies’ ass quickly” to “heal as necessary.” I played 80% of my battles on auto-battle because tactics are more decisive than manually putting commands.
I couldn’t predict if my party would get hammered with a big bang area-of-effect spell, leaving all my pet friends on their last legs, but auto-battle could. A monster playing in auto can heal after an ally is attacked within that same turn, while attackers will always strike an enemy with their respective weaknesses or debuffs that stick. While powerful, auto is not perfect, and I had to take the reins in big boss battles.
Scout them All
There’s a dedicated command called Scout to acquire new monsters in the game. After using it, each party member tries to strongarm the enemy being scouted and returns a numerical percentage value that records the probability of successful recruitment. The higher the ATK or WIS compared to the enemy, the higher the value produced and the easier the recruitment.
Again, a very straightforward but functional mechanic. But I still got frustrated when my Scout hovered around 90%, and I failed, angering the enemy and having to kill it in the process.
But where Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince really shines is in the synthesis of monsters. Creatures that reach level 10 can be combined, generating new forms or retaining the same, but sharing talents. The new monster can choose any of the talents the parents had, up to a maximum of three.
The best part is that if the parents shared the same talent or these were at the maximum level, they could evolve and present a more potent form. For example, the Talent Attack Booster I increases the ATK attribute. In synthesis, the new monster could start with Attack Booster II, which increased the ATK even further.
This evolution of talents through synthesis motivated me to keep scouting new monsters, evolving the current ones, and synthesizing new ones. There’s a minor hassle towards the end of the game because, after synthesis, the new monster returns to level 1. But still, one battle was enough for it to reach level 10, and I would return to getting my hands dirty in the monster forge.
But there’s a massive caveat in the design of this system that betrays the game’s proposals. The Dark Prince has a generous roster of 523 monsters separated into different types and ranks from G to S. While technically, monsters of higher categories are better, it isn’t easy to synthesize all the way up there, and a bit unnecessary if you only aim to finish the base game. I killed the final boss with monsters mostly of rank D, C, and B in the party.
This happened because I was carrying my talents in each synthesis until they reached the maximum level, so to speak. So one monster had the best healing talent, another had ice magic, another had explosion, and so on. Since the beginning, whenever I synthesized, I carried these same talents to the next monster.
This practice made the whole process a bit tedious because, no matter which new monster I got, my abilities were the same. The most significant change was only in design and the numerical value of their attributes.
Midway through the game, I realized that no matter how many creatures I scouted or synthesized, my talents were set in stone, and it would be a strategic mistake to alter them. Why would I drop the best healing Talent I get 15 hours in the game in exchange for a worse one? Simple, I wouldn’t. This meant I was stuck using the same set of skills for about 20 hours until I finished the game.
I know this sounds like a weird complaint, but this system made this 500-monster roster seem unnecessary and is just there to bloat the game’s playtime.
Monsters also have traits, which are passive bonuses that set them apart from others. However, it’s the kind of mechanic that can be overlooked by the player without facing difficulty in the campaign, similar to Chained Echoes or Xenoblade Chronicles 1 crystal feature.
That being said, these reservations are only for the main campaign. If you want to venture into multiplayer mode, which even has a ranking system, then you’ll have to carefully craft and synthesize your monsters, considering the smallest details of traits. I didn’t play many online matches because, in addition to the mandatory Nintendo Switch Online subscription, there are no restrictions whatsoever on monsters, so even the lower ranks had insanely strong competitors.
Seasons May Change
To distribute 523 monsters throughout the game, The Dark Prince needed either a) gigantic maps or b) innovation. Fortunately, they chose the second. Each map is just the right size, filled with monsters wandering everywhere and mechanics that allow you to expand your exploration. One of these mechanics is the glorious seasons system. From spring to winter, after a certain period, the season changes, along with the landscape, interactable objects, and monsters.
In spring, I could hop on a flying flower and reach unreachable heights; in winter, the lakes were frozen, allowing me to visit that previously isolated island. Monsters also change according to the season, allowing the same environment to harbor several different types. It was pretty fun and caused a sense of freshness as I explored the same map in search of elusive mini-medals or new catches.
The problem was that the game started repeating its own environments. There are only a few original zones, separated by Lower, Middle, and Upper echelons. As the echelon advances, so does the challenge. So, if an area was themed like a volcano, all its echelons would be rocky, full of magma and hellish creatures.
It got dull after a while, and I felt myself rushing towards the end of the game. At some point, this back-and-forth between scouting new monsters, leveling my party, exploring the same designed maps, and synthesizing creatures to get the same talents led to a bittersweet repetition and a bit of boredom.
But how the hell can The Dark Prince still be incredibly fun? I don’t know what drug they put into a monster-collecting game, but the dopamine rush every time we add a new one to our roster is so addicting. I no longer cared about battles, finding the best talents, or creating the perfect team. I just wanted a checkmark indicating that I added a new monster to my bestiary. Luckily, being a JRPG, The Dark Prince still had a narrative to keep me entertained, right? Oh boy.
Here Comes the Dark Prince
The story of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is about Psaro, the soon-to-be villain of Dragon Quest IV. He is the son of Randolfo, the demon master of Monsterkind, and a human. After his mother dies, Psaro wants to avenge his father, but he is cursed by him. His curse prohibits him from facing monsters.
To circumvent this disadvantage, Psaro becomes a monster wrangler and trains his monsters to face others, starting his trainer arc. That’s a reasonable justification for why an overpowered half-demon doesn’t spank the monsters with his own wicked hands.
For this, Psaro needs to visit various regions of hell, defeat the big hitters of the area—with a minor subplot justifying our aggression—and become the current big hitter. This quest for fame and power would make Psaro grow, enter the spotlight, and show his father that he is worthy of a challenge.
If the game stayed only in this unpretentious but charming plotline, it would be much more interesting than it turned out to be. However, Dragon Quest Monsters tries to alternate between two storylines: Psaro becoming a monster wrangler and ascending as a villain of Dragon Quest IV. His trainer arc happens in real-time as we play, while the villain one is in the background, occurring in a rushed and lazy way.
Sometimes, I dabble with some scriptwriting freelancing. And while I’m nowhere near a professional level, I do my best to stay up-to-date with some writing techniques. One that I’m fond of is directly from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park.
They say your plot has to be tied with a “but” and “therefore” to create a cause and consequence for every beat. Most stories are just connected by an “and then” structure, which takes the story to the subsequent development, but in a blunt and uninteresting manner.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is filled with “and then” story beats. The narrative is filled with plot devices to move the story forward, no matter how farfetched or out of nowhere it may seem. You’ll see progress but in a somewhat sloppy and uninspired way. As someone who’s been enamored by RPGs due to many of Square Enix’s games, I felt disheartened more than once playing The Dark Prince.
In one instance, I had an almighty someone ask for my help. And then, I went to see this someone who sprayed me with some lore about the world. And then, he asked for my help, but apparently, my silent protagonist refused since there was no chatbox. And then, this someone banished me forever from their home, leading me back to my monster wrangler training arc. That entire exchange was 5-minute long, added nothing substantial to the overall arc, but worked as a plot device to keep things rolling.
Some plots also developed entirely off-screen. The only context was someone exclaiming that “an entire kingdom disappeared overnight.” So, I did some quick research and learned that these events reference something that happened in Dragon Quest IV.
Look, I’m a fool for playing direct sequels or spinoffs that call back to the original source, but this is too much. Yeah, it was amazing to see Solo (the hero’s canon name), Torneko, and other Dragon Quest IV members in their full 3D glory paired with voice-acting, but it felt more like fan service rather than a service to the narrative.
The Dark Prince manages to grab some iconic moments reminiscent of the franchise. The writing is awkward, but they maintain that incredible regionalism in monster speech. Each monster has its peculiarity in dialogues, diving into creative puns at every moment. In the end, that was just what I wanted from the game.
To see the story of a rising trainer becoming the best while collecting monsters and surpassing his father, the current Master of Monsterkind. It’s too bad they tried to take the game too seriously and got lost in the plot.
Visuals and Performance Issues
It’s no news to anyone that the Switch is a dated hardware. Games usually opt for a visually endearing approach and avoid realistic graphics. Sometimes, ports of games from other consoles come with questionable quality. I reviewed Sword Art Online Lycoris in the past, and it was one of the most horrendous ports I’ve ever seen.
Except for anomalies like Nintendo or Monolith Soft, which can work magic with the hardware and deliver colossal games, some developers slip up when trying to use the Switch’s total capacity.
That was the case with Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince. I won’t mince words. The game sounds, looks, and smells like low-budget. It can be both beautiful and ugly simultaneously. Characters and monsters have the entire graphical budget, while the scenario and cities are straight out of a premade engine template.
You can spot the delineation where they placed all the assets, and I’m almost sure they forgot to tick the box that says “loop background music” because once a BGM plays in full, it stops and never replays until you fast-travel back to the area.
And even so, the frame drops are egregious. It was common for my FPS to drop to 20 or even less while exploring a dungeon. In battle, however, it’s seamless. The game also crashed about eight times for me in various instances, whether changing monsters, opening a menu, fast traveling with Zoom, or just strolling around. Since the auto-save pops every 0.3 milliseconds, I only had to reset and return, but it’s still unjustifiable.
If you like monster-taming games, there are a lot of those spread throughout the gaming industry. Some even have good narratives!
- Pokémon Scarlet/Violet
- Monster Sanctuary
- Digimon Next Order
- Shin Megami Tensei V
The Verdict – Score: 7/10
Considering the game’s overall quality, I would give it a lower score. But for some reason, as I discussed in the text, despite its flaws and the lack of care the game received, I still had a blast. There came a point where I couldn’t take it anymore and rushed through the end. But the post-game, which introduced four secret bosses, encouraged me to think, synthesize, and assemble an efficient monster setup to overcome the toughest challenges. When I did, it was very satisfying.
I can only recommend Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince for the diehard fans of the monster-taming genre. Those who like Dragon Quest may appreciate the references to the fourth game, but those alone don’t sustain all the repetitiveness and an incredibly prosaic story. Now, if you are competitive and would like to test your mettle online, The Dark Prince offers the perfect battleground.
- Boss battles are fun and require strategy
- Seasonal changes are a creative innovation in maps
- Subpar graphics and constant framerate drops
- Uninspired and rushed narrative
- Many monsters but few technical variations between them
- Fodder battles are annoying and tiring
Murillo played for 46 hours. It took 38 hours to finish the main campaign, plus 8 to strengthen and face the secret post-game bosses. He collected almost all the mini medals, 55% of all monsters, and took over 20 beatings in online matches.
Question: What is Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince about?
Answer: It tells the tale of Psaro, son of Randolfo, the Master of Monsterkind, on a journey of revenge against his father. Given a curse, he is forced to become a monster wrangler if he wants to face other monsters. Thus begins his journey to scout monsters for his team.
Question: Do I need to play Dragon Quest IV before Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince?
Answer: Not necessary. If you do, you’ll find and understand some of the references in The Dark Prince, which can make all the obscure parts of the story a bit better and more sensible. But if not, it won’t hinder your experience.
Question: How long is Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince?
Answer: The official Square Enix statement says the main campaign lasts between 30-40 hours. I did 38 hours while focusing on my journey to mini-medals and going out of my way to scout one or two monsters in previous zones. But to complete all the post-game content took me 46 hours.