E3 '07: Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker Hands-On

We check out the next Dragon Quest game, which combines monster hunting with traditional RPG elements.

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Earlier this year at Square Enix's 20th anniversary festival, Japanese fans clamored to watch a live tournament on stage of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker. Some of the best players in the country battled it out to prove who had the best monster-taming skills in front of a nearly packed house of fans cheering for the contestants as if they were pro athletes. It was a testament not just to the very different space video games inhabit in Japanese culture, but to the overwhelming popularity of the DQ series in that country. Soon, American fans will be able to see what all the fuss is about, as Square Enix is set to bring this Nintendo DS game to American shores in November of this year. We had a chance to get some hands-on time with the game at Square Enix's E3 booth to see just how the localized version of this monster-hunting RPG is coming along.

While purists might be wondering why the next game in the fabled Dragon Quest is coming to the DS, let's get this out of the way right now: This game has an amazing look. Using a cel-shaded look based off the Dragon Quest 8 engine combined with series creator Akira Toriyama's familiar character designs, the game features a gorgeous look that really seems to be getting the most out of the DS's hardware. Draw distances, for example, are far longer than you might typically expect from the handheld, and there's a nice amount of detail to the enemies and environments alike.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

DQ Monsters will tell the tale of a lone hero who starts the game in a jail cell. Luckily for him, the jail is run by the hero's father, who secures his son's release just in time for him to enter a monster-battling tournament. Once freed, it's up to the hero to explore the lands that make up the game's various levels, battling and collecting monsters to use in the tournament in the process. The game will run on a day and night cycle, so that some monsters will be available only at certain times of the day. The monster roster in DQ Monsters will run the gamut from standard enemies such as slimes and crabits and a new breed of high-level monsters that will likely be a tough challenge to face.

Battles in DQ Monsters plays are fairly straightforward RPG combat in nature, though there are some twists to the formula that keep things interesting. You can have three monsters in your party at any given time, and you can either issue each monster individual orders for who and how to attack the enemies you encounter, or you can issue general tactics for each of your party members and then let the battle play out in a slightly more hands-off fashion. The available tactics are show no mercy, mix it up, focus on healing, and don't use magic, all of which will have their specific uses depending on the situation. You can reset your tactics after each turn, or go back to issuing individual commands if you need to micromanage the fight a bit more.

Because DQ Monsters is a monster-collecting game, you'll have the ability to scout enemy monsters and potentially add them to your stable. To do so, you choose "scout" from the menu, which will have your character enable his scout ring. The goal here isn't to defeat your opponent, but rather impress him by showing him your battle skill. Land a good spell on your target and he might be impressed with your acumen; screw up a move and he'll be left decidedly unimpressed. In addition, the type of monsters involved in the combat will determine your success at successfully recruiting an enemy--some monsters are more compatible than others. If you manage to impress an enemy enough, he'll be able to either join your party immediately or be sent back to storage for later use in the game.

Of course, there's more to DQ Monsters than the single-player story. You'll also be able to synthesize new monsters by "mating" a male and female creature. The new monster will be utterly unique in ability, if not appearance, and you'll be able to trade monsters with friends. There's also a head-to-head battling using the DS's wireless connection, which, as we described in the beginning, is apparently an incredibly popular pastime in Japan. There's even a "chance encounter" feature that will alert your DS if another DQ Monsters player is in the area and looking for a battle. While it's not certain the game will gain the strong foothold it has overseas, DQ Monsters certainly looks to provide plenty of fun for fans of the DQ series and monster-hunting genre. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is due for release in November, and we'll be bringing you more information about the game in the coming months.

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