A classic spinoff of the Dragon Quest franchise makes a return with its addicting gameplay, but the flawed presentation may be a turn-off for some players.
The Dragon Quest franchise is one of the biggest in Japan that can overshadow the likes of Final Fantasy, though it may not be as big outside of Japan, Dragon Quest still garnered fans that loved its traditional gameplay and tropes. So, it’s no surprise for it to have its fair share of spinoff titles, from sandbox style, hack ‘n slash and even monster catching. I had my first exposure to the Dragon Quest franchise through a spinoff title, I already played several spinoff games but still haven’t gotten the chance to experience an actual Dragon Quest game, but enjoyed the spinoffs because they built up my interest to try one of the mainline titles when I get the chance. Dragon Quest Monsters is one of the longest-running spinoffs that is more on collecting monsters featuring iconic creatures from the franchise, and after seven years a new Dragon Quest Monsters game has arrived. Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince (sometimes called Dragon Quest Monsters 3 by DQ fans) is now available on the Nintendo Switch, but can it provide enough fun to get you to sink dozens of hours to collect all the monsters?
The Dark Prince isn’t just a spinoff title per see, it tells the story of Psaro in parallel with the plot in Dragon Quest IV, the intro provided a good setup on how Psaro ended up in this situation and became a Monster Wrangler and how he can rise to build his reputation to achieve his goal to defeat his father Randolfo the Tyrant who is the current master of monster kind. Story progression is very straightforward as you only need to head to the designated marker on the map to open cutscenes or fight specific bosses, but despite the streamlined progression, the story can be disjointed as it has problems with how it builds its narrative such as scenes whenever it asks you to choose a response, regardless of what answer you provided, the result will always be the same, it would’ve nice to see a unique action or cutscene even if it wouldn’t change the narrative. Another is the development of the main character in the story, certain scenes don’t make sense and do not reflect how Psaro views humans and monsters.
There are more than 500 monsters to battle and collect, with some recolors of specific monsters. Each is categorized by species and their designs range from bizarre to funny, and it’s all thanks to Akira Toriyama’s monster designs, if you are familiar with his other works, you’ll feel at home with the designs. Let’s not forget the localizations of the monster names, giving most of them pun-infused names that’ll either make you laugh or cringe if you are tired of dad jokes.
The soundtrack features the familiar tunes that you would always hear in the Dragon Quest series, but it felt that only a few tracks were composed for the game and there are cases where it has no music or has the same track for certain areas, so it felt like a letdown. The level design was not promising either, despite having unique themed levels for several circles in Nadiria, how they designed each map for exploration was messy, some certain pathways and gaps have invisible barriers that force you to do a detour when exploring with some textures that feel outdated.
Game performance was a big ouch with this game, there are cases of framerate dips when entering a new area and frequent occasions of game stutters when you explore large maps, load times may vary as the longest that I encountered was during the opening part of the game when transitioning from one cutscene to another that takes a couple of seconds before a new cutscene can load up, in which can be an annoyance when you try to get a grasp of the game’s story, but on the plus side, loading during a battle is very short and it wouldn’t be an issue when grinding.
Voice acting is the winner for The Dark Prince’s presentation, the English dub had some great performances and gave some characters more personality, the localization for the English dub felt like it went on its style as opposed to the Japanese version and I think it was a great decision and I’d recommend for everyone to try the game in both dubs, though as a Dragon Quest tradition, they still kept the protagonist silent.
Fighting and collecting monsters is the main attraction for Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince and boy, it delivers. It features the classic turn-based combat where you choose commands for your monsters from buffs, debuffs and special attacks. You can alternatively let your monsters do their actions by letting them battle automatically and you can tweak their behavior by role and which skills should they use more often. With collecting monsters being the main aspect of DQM, it’s nice that it has a fast-forward function to lessen the time grinding, and speaking of grinding, expect more of your game time doing this over as you acquire new monsters. There are small-sized and large-sized variants for monsters, with the large type occupying 2 slots in your party but having a chance to perform two actions per turn. You can bring 8 monsters to your party with the first four as your main and the rest are your backup.
You can capture monsters by scouting where it increases the odds when the monster is weakened, or your monster party has a higher attack rate. The game also features a unique day/night cycle with a seasonal cycle, each of the four seasons will have different monsters spawning in certain areas and can open new zones to explore or secret areas to find rare items.
Scouting monsters isn’t the only way to complete your collection, you can fuse two monsters by synthesizing them to create a completely new monster. This is one of the big highlights of DQM: The Dark Prince that makes it addicting to play, the never-ending goal of getting the most powerful high-tier monsters in your roster. Synthesizing is also the only way to inherit or evolve talents that can make your monsters stronger. It requires some experimentation in synthesizing, but the search function allows you to see which new monsters you can unlock with your current collection. Getting new monsters is a rewarding feeling, the majority of your time will be put into grinding to unlock more monsters.
There aren’t any sidequests in DQM: The Dark Prince, but there is a colosseum for you to participate in and compete against other Monster Wranglers. You can fight 3 matches per rank and all battles are automated, you lose one match, and you fail the entire attempt. Sadly, once you cleared each rank, there’s nothing more for you to compete with.
You can find monster eggs scattered around each area and depending on the Echelon rank you found the egg, the higher the chance the monster will be a higher rank, and egg hunting has its perks with some monsters that can only be found from these eggs.
There are six different zones to explore with each having 3 different echelons or ranks and these will unlock as you progress from the story. Fast traveling is your mode of travel to different zones via the Rosehill Tower which is your base of operations. Too bad you don’t have the option to customize the tower to add some side content that would let you take a break from the long grinding.
It’ll take you about around 30 hours if you focus on completing the story, but it can double or triple the game time if want to get the strongest monsters or complete your collection. There’s a new area for post-game that adds a new dungeon and secret boss and unlocks stronger monsters to challenge yourself.
It has very few online functionalities with an online battle where you can challenge other players and the Quickfire battle where you are pitted against 30 players in an auto battle. You can earn rewards by registering a download code where you can find these codes from special promotions or special edition products, sadly some codes such as the McDonald’s Japan collab region locked, so any DQM promotions from Japan are very likely only exclusive to them, and currently there are no codes available for the English version. There is also an online shop that sells accessories and direct access to the Nintendo Eshop to purchase DLC.
Speaking of DLCs, DQM: The Dark Prince already had a couple when it launched and some of them, such as the Mole Hole, should’ve been an included feature in the base game rather than a separate paid content. The Mole Hole lets you scout monsters that you already or previously added to your collection, it cuts out the long grind of finding specific monsters in different areas and seasons. Coach Joe’s Dungeon Gym is a randomly generated dungeon that feels like post-game content rather than being DLC. I’m perfectly fine with having DLCs for a game to add new content and I was hoping that the DLC would be adding more monsters and dungeons or even some supplemental story content, but locking an essential game feature in a paywall feels like a slap to the face for players considering the game is priced at USD 70 and some of these DLCs cost around USD 10, it feels like players were cheated.
At its core, the game is focused on collecting monsters, Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince can still provide a fun and addicting gameplay experience that will keep you hooked for hours just to get that strongest monster to your team. However, there are a lot of hurdles that you may have to endure, from poor game performance to a bland presentation, any newcomer to the spinoff series may have a hard time enjoying this.
The performance issue could be remedied with a patch update and perhaps adding free content updates may help ease the content issues, but how the direction of the game right now, where they have a couple of DLCs already available on launch day, this could be an expensive investment if you want to maximize the enjoyment of the game.
Fans of the franchise and even the spinoff series may enjoy this and is a welcome addition to their library. However, it could still be a dealbreaker with these issues. But if you don’t mind these cons and you just want a new game that is into monster battling and collecting, then you’ll be able to sink dozens of hours in this game with fewer worries.
We give Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince a score of 3 out of 5. The game is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch.