Pokemon X/Y comes out tomorrow. So today I am going to talk about my favorite monster collecting game. No, it’s not Pokemon. In fact, my favorite game in the “collect, raise, and battle” genre is a spinoff of the well-known series Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest. The game is Dragon Warrior Monsters (DWM), and while I have not played it through as many times as I have the original Pokemon, I have loved it a great deal more, and spent more energy on it. It is rare for me to actually write stuff down in a notebook for a game, but for DWM I found myself recording my findings in a notebook for future use. This is due to its unique take on how you collect and battle your little monster minions, even if you raise them just like most other RPGs (yay grinding!)
The story for the first game (yes! There are more than one!) begins with your sister getting kidnapped by a strange monster. Immediately after another monster shows up and offers to help you get your sister back. He takes you to another world and introduces you to a king. Apparently there is a tournament soon, and the prize for winning is a wish. Before you can participate you must train up and qualify, and so begins your journey (which includes other stories as well). I am honestly terrible at plot-synopses because I don’t like to give anything at all away (I believe part of the joy of a story is going into it completely blind). So as per usual I am going to focus my reviews on mechanics.
Most “collect and battle” roleplaying games/RPGs present the player with three core mechanics: Collecting, Raising, and Battling. In most both the act of Collecting and Raising are done via battle, but enough games have mechanics that operate outside of Battling that I will keep all three split.
Collecting in DWM is based on befriending monsters instead of capturing them or obtaining them as gifts. In order to befriend a monster you must defeat it completely in battle (none of that low health stuff like in Pokemon). Once the battle is done there is a chance the monster will “get up” and request to join you. During the battle you can give various kinds of meats to enemy monsters in order to increase the chance that they will join you after, though you also need to be careful as only the final monster to fall will have a chance of joining your party. In this way obtaining new monsters doesn’t feel like capturing them with a lasso or a trap, but more like taming and befriending by offering treats to calm down a wild beast. There are also over 200 monsters to collect, and their designs vary greatly as you can collect more than just animals and dragons, but also zombies, demons, and animate objects.
Just as in most every RPG your monsters gain experience after successful battles, and with enough experience they level up to gain increased stats as well as new abilities. What is truly special about DWM when it comes to raising monsters though, is the act of breeding. Once you have both a male and a female of appropriate levels you can breed them together to produce a – more often than not – completely new monster (which means this mechanic is also important to Collecting). Certain generic combinations exist, but the real fun comes in discovering the special combinations. When you breed monsters together the offspring starts off with an average of the parents’ stats, and have the potential to learn every special move which their parents knew in addition to the abilities native to their monster species. This is where true progression comes from as you will need to level up breeding partners to comparable power levels in order to get the most out of their offspring. The breeding mechanic is also why I started to record data in a notebook; since the game tells you one way to obtain a certain monster, but in fact there are often several hidden ways.
You can bring a maximum of three monsters with you on your journey (and they all follow you!). In battle you can give your monsters direct orders (ala Pokemon), but this option is removed whenever you enter a tournament, so it’s in your best interest to instead use the other fighting mechanic, which is to assign each monster one of three possible personalities/roles. One focuses on pure offense and damage, another on healing and defense, and the last on more strategic support abilities. When you assign these strategies to your monsters you revoke all control and just watch as they fight enemies according to the predispositions you assigned. I think is this actually really cool as it feels more like you have trained a monster to be an effective combatant, and then you’re just releasing it against your opponent. There is no magic voice-activated remote implanted in your pet. Sometimes it can be frustrating if your monster(s) continue to use a useless/ineffective move, but that’s just part of the fun.
So while I plan on buying a 3DS for the purpose of playing the new Pokemon, I also found out that there is a sequel to DWM on the 3DS, and part of me is actually tempted to play that first. I miss breeding zombies and devils together to create a supreme unholy beast to fight alongside my puddle of slime and squidman.
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I played DQM2 around the time it came out, and while I enjoyed the beginning, I ended up not getting very far (the same thing happened with Lufia: Ruins of Lore). I think my main issue with DQM2 is that I had trouble both catching new monsters, and breeding them. I can’t tell how much of it was a lack of understanding, but I felt that if I didn’t constantly swap my monsters for new ones, they would lag behind, but I wasn’t successfully doing so. I stopped because at some point my team was so weak that I was considering restarting the game, at which point I thought I may as well try a new game.
From your description though, I might have less trouble with this kind of experimentation if I picked it up now than I did 12-odd years ago, but of course now I have a lot less time (and pokemon is currently eating that up).
Yeah, as a kid I definitely had the same problem of my team just not performing as well as I thought it should. The issue really came from not breeding properly. Pretty much, if you have a monster in your team that came from 3 generations of breeding and you want to breed it, then it’s best to mix it with a monster that also came from 3 generations of breeding. Thus the potential time sinks in the game for having to grind up monsters in that way. Though, at least in DWM1 I found that he stat-caps were low enough that you ended up not having to work too hard (especially with the Metabble level offering SO MUCH EXP).
I really want to try out DQM2 just to see where the series has progressed, but that would require I also invest in a new handheld system, and I don’t feel extremely comfortable with that expense at the moment. Same reason why I haven’t played the new Pokemon yet…
The monster “catching” in DWM/DQM is also actually rather frustrating at times since you can’t rely on random numbers for a single catch like in Pokemon (where you can throw as many pokeballs as you can carry), but instead have to throw meat at the monster in hopes that 1) the one you want dies last, and 2) that it actually responds to the delicious treats and joins you. Though the system does have the nice bonus of monsters just randomly deciding to join you, which can help fuel your breeding supply.
My main gripe with DWM and its sequels is that the system breeding more powerful monsters. The whole average of the parents stats things, is, frankly, pretty stupid. The max stats most monsters can have are hundreds higher than they’ll ever reach unless you train up and breed then train up and breed then train up and breed, etc, etc. The game had a vs. mode, but the system is not conducive to competition against other players because getting a powerful monster is simply a question of spending dozens (or hundreds) of hours training and breeding. Player A will always vastly outmatch player B if player A is simply willing to spend more time at the repetitive and uninteresting task of producing a +99 monster.
A better design, in my opinion, is if breeding were more focused on getting rare monsters and giving them abilities they wouldn’t otherwise learn. Perhaps they would start with higher stats as well, but not end up stronger at level cap. That way, you can reward players with especially good monsters with especially good moves if they’re willing to go through a reasonable process of finding some relatively rare dudes and executing a reasonable chain of breeds, but another player wouldn’t be able to overmatch that good monster by simply breeding it more. In other words, you can spend 10 hours on the game to produce a really good monster, but you can’t simply spend more time to do better than that. Giving players an advantage in competitive play that is directly and sharply proportional to hours spent playing ruins any chance at a competitive community. Players who have played a lot should win because they are more skilled, not simply because they have more power. Imagine if you could unlock resource bonuses in online Starcraft by grinding on the 1-player mode. Wouldn’t that be stupid? A good competitive game makes it easy to come to the table, then lets the battle be decided by skill.
Now, Pokemon has its faults in this area too–most notably in the zone of IV’s–but they are not as extreme. If I spend what I deem a reasonable amount of time producing my six-poke roster–breeding for moves (if necessary) and nature, EV training, grinding for TMs back before TMs were reusable (which was a good idea for the exactly the point I’m trying to make)–I will be at a disadvantage against someone who has obsessively bred for good IV’s. But not a huge disadvantage. It’s at most about a 10% stat disadvantage, probably more like 5%. I can still compete. Probably not going to win, but I’m not going to anyway because there are people who are much more skilled than me. The people with better IV’s are likely also the people who are more skilled, but that’s beside the point. The point is that in the Pokemon paradigm it takes orders of magnitude more time to get dudes with the right IVs, but it’s only a small advantage. It’s easier to reach an almost level player field, where strategic skills will decide the victor.
I guess the broader point I’m making, outside all these little quibbles, is that in any RPG game with competitive potential (especially a monster collecting game), preparing for competition should be fun, not work. Breeding the same monster literally 100 times is work. Hatching hundreds of eggs to get a poke with half decent IV’s is work. It should feel like part of the gameplay. It should feel like I’ve defeated the toughest opponents in this region and now I’m gearing up to take my show on the road, which will involve some breeding and a special training regime, but is still part of the game. There’s room to make that fun, not tedious; to make it seem like part of the RP, not some hoops you have to jump through to max out some numbers on a screen. It should make you feel like a monster master, a connoisseur, knowledgeable in methods of breeding and training, using this knowledge to create a powerful team. There should be a stronger emphasis on strategy when putting your dudes together than on the relentless grind.
I know devs aren’t going to spend too much time making this a reality since, other than LoL and maybe Starcraft, there aren’t many games out there where developers give a crap about competitive players since they make up such a small portion of sales in the long run. Still, one or two simple decisions that will leave casual players more or less unaffected go a long way. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Pokemon, and I understand all their design choices. The game is geared towards casual players, but leaves the door open for competitive play. DWM does not. The average-of-parents-stats thing was actually pretty confusing to me when I played that game as a kid. I expected a level 1 monster to be weak, even if it was a Sky Dragon. I expected a good monster to gain stats faster as it leveled up, not start (seemingly) arbitrarily strong. I don’t understand the advantage of that design decision. What positive part of the gameplay experience are they reinforcing? The only thing I can think of is that if you spent a lot of time leveling the weaker monsters you encountered earlier in the game, you have something to show for that work because even if the monsters become obsolete, you can pass on their stats. AIt the very least, the cap on how far you can go stat-wise by training and breeding repeatedly should have been much lower. Like, 10 times lower. I think it could have been a great competitive game if making a powerful team was about cleverly combining skills on naturally strong monsters rather than about spending an obsessive amount of time performing the most repetitive of gameplay tasks.
I agree and I disagree. As a kid I didn’t understand the stats system, so I never bred optimally, so I never reached stat-caps. Breeding an awesome monster with a junker was just no good. But when I played it again later and actually paid attention to the part where they tell you that the stats of the offspring are linked to those of the parents, I did much better, and I did so quickly.
You say you had to pour in hours upon hours to get a good monster, but when I played I did not find that to be the case. This is mostly because in DWM1 there was a Traveler’s Gate to a level filled with Metabbles, which gave tons upon tons of experience. This made grinding actually go fairly quickly. Yes, each time you wanted to breed your super monster up you had to make sure you had another one that was comparable, but again, that wasn’t too difficult with this level to abuse (this is also partially why I prefer breeding in DWM1 over DWM2).
There was some “secret knowledge” involved in that in order to get Giga Slash, Surge, and an offensive move that I can’t remember you had to have a monster know a whole series of moves. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Comparing to Pokemon I can agree that the DWM sequels take much longer to grind up a “competitive” team, and that’s an issue. But I like how much more transparent DWM is about all of the competitive statistics. In order to max out a monster in Pokemon you need to do a lot of homework into the black box mechanics of the game. DWM has a little bit of that with the personalities, but those mostly affect stat progression instead of maximum stats.