Exploring the Varied World of Dragon Quest Franchise
The Dragon Quest franchise is quite varied across its mainline and spinoff outings, with the latter branching off with distinct gameplay identities. From Builders to the Musou Heroes titles, there’s at least one genre tackled that caters to a JRPG fan’s interest. One of the most prominent spinoffs, especially back in the day, is Dragon Quest Monsters.
These Pokémon-like entries are usually fan favorites, so seeing a true return to form with Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince was quite the thrilling notion. Of course, the natural question that arose from this release was how the series would manage itself after so long and whether it would appeal to new fans, veterans, or both. As for the answer, it’s a bit of both, but let’s delve into the “how.”
Delving into the Story of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince follows the demi-human protagonist Psaro. His aberrational existence, made of a human mother and monster father, has caused him to be a natural outcast. After suffering greatly in his youth by his ailing mother’s side, he becomes vengeful after she passes away. Aiming his rage toward the father who abandoned him, Randolfo the Tyrant, his motivation is scorned. Randolfo ends up cursing his son with the inability to harm those possessing monster blood. This doesn’t deter Psaro, though. He decides to continue pursuing his revenge, except now as a monster wrangler.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” size=””]The Dragon Quest franchise is quite varied across its mainline and spinoff outings, with distinct gameplay identities.[/perfectpullquote]
Throughout Psaro’s adventure, he makes allies, such as the caring elf Rose and the nefarious human Toilen Trubble. They aid Psaro’s efforts as he explores the vast world of Nadiria to bolster his monster-collecting capabilities to eventually confront and take down his father once and for all. The narrative of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is somewhat of a strange one. For those unaware, Psaro is a key character in Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen, making this entry more effective if one has played through that mainline game.
The story of The Dark Prince tries to play both sides by being standalone enough to complete newcomers wholly ignorant of Psaro’s character, and connected enough to compel veteran fans. This sounds like a recipe for disaster that could result in horrid focus, yet it actually works out surprisingly well, especially given that Psaro is silent. In all honesty, I would have much preferred Psaro to be a protagonist who spoke, yet the team abided by the typical Dragon Quest conventions here. Thankfully, Psaro’s personality toward himself and others is displayed prominently despite his lack of dialogue throughout scenes, so you’ll undoubtedly understand him the further you progress.
This emotive connection to Psaro, while terrific no matter what level of knowledge the player has, is likely the catalyst that will draw newcomers in. The narrative eventually draws in elements that established fans will understand and connect the dots with, leaving the new arrivals out of the loop at points. So, the balance certainly isn’t perfect as it sometimes lacks cohesion and refinement, but it’s respectable given the ambition of the intentions. As a fan, at least, I was pretty satisfied with the later developments. You can anticipate character cameos and references to further fortify that connective tissue, too.
Unpacking the Gameplay Dynamics of The Dark Prince
The real meat of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince, though, is the gameplay. This turn-based adventure has a fair amount of content to enjoy, primarily revolving around the acquisition of new monsters joining your combative efforts. In battle, Psaro himself doesn’t actively participate since he can’t harm monsters. Instead, he stands on the sidelines, stating directions and throwing items should you deem it necessary. You can have up to eight small monsters with you at a time, with four in the front row and four in reserves. If your front row falls in battle, the reserves take their place. Larger monsters take up additional slots.
There’s freedom in how you can inherently approach most fights, with the option to either let the AI take over with general directives per monster or for you to give specific move orders from a monster’s move pool, though the latter isn’t possible during arena bouts. Still, this usually available choice in how to operate in combat on the fly presents simultaneous convenience and in-depth strategy, impressively catering to many types of players. It also serves to make grinding a less tedious and time-consuming affair, which is practical due to the extensive playable cast.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince features over 500 useable monsters, each distinct with their own affinities, move pools, and stats. This intimidating roster is equally addicting to gradually fill out, with there being two main methods of acquisition. The first and more to-the-point method is scouting a monster mid-battle. Various factors influence the likelihood of a monster deciding to join you, and your success rate is transparently displayed via percentages. Granted, if you fail, the monster grows furious, making the rest of the battle more dangerous. But this potential danger is moderately squashed as you make certain narrative strides. Essentially, the plot of a particular region will make the monsters of that area more likely to join you, so you don’t have to worry about recruiting every monster type the second you reach a new map.
This sense of risk versus reward never grows dull, even if frustration can still crop up if luck isn’t on your side with the percentages. In contrast, the other method of gaining monsters, synthesis, is far less stressful. Akin to your Shin Megami Tenseis and Personas, you can synthesize or fuse multiple monsters together for more powerful creatures. Those who become really invested in min-maxing as much as possible will have a joyous time here, as the parent monsters’ Talents influence what the child receives, making each result, even identical creatures, unique to themselves.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is an incredibly satisfying title to get caught up in the gameplay loop of. Reaching new areas, recruiting and fusing monsters, defeating the boss, then rinsing and repeating never grows old. Admittedly, the low level of difficulty in the game’s first third or so doesn’t exactly incentivize making the most of what you have, but it eventually pays dividends. Taking advantage of status ailments and stat-boosting moves also pays off in spades, with synthesis capable of producing monsters in leagues of their own. The skill tree-like menus for each monster, filled via skill points from level-ups, add even greater player individuality. Simply put, the plentiful avenues of player freedom and customization give what you put into it, literally, instilling progression with a consistent sense of reward.
Addressing Performance Issues in The Dark Prince
Unfortunately, there is a significant issue I constantly faced in Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince: the performance. Regardless of whether you play docked or via handheld mode, the framerate of this title can become pretty terrible, chiefly in the exterior areas. The game tends to run fine if you’re in houses and other interiors, but it can chug considerably when you wander outside. It’s never a practical issue since the combat is turn-based, and the exploration is always straightforward, yet it can make it all feel unpleasant. I’m sincerely hoping that a patch arrives to make the framerate stable because if you’re especially sensitive to framerate drops, this can be a dealbreaker, even for the Switch.
Regardless of whether you play docked or via handheld mode, the framerate of this title can become pretty terrible.
As for the exploration itself, it’s not really much to write home about. It’s a standard Dragon Quest with transparent main paths and objectives with occasional side areas containing treasure chests and such. The implementation of fast travel from basically anywhere makes it all immensely convenient, as well. Still, the graphical quality of the game is certainly lacking. Perhaps the regularly inconsistent framerate has impacted my perception, but the environments in The Dark Prince look less defined and pronounced than in Dragon Quest Treasures. It’s a minor point that didn’t detract from the experience personally, though still worth noting.
One last facet collective, the audio, is exactly what you’d expect from Dragon Quest. The music is quintessential of the franchise, so you know what you’re in for. If you dislike the Dragon Quest soundtracks, nothing here will change your mind. Regarding the voice acting, you can swap between Japanese and English. The latter is expectedly cheesy and charming, which is all especially accentuated by the monsters’ diverse backgrounds. Like the soundtrack, it’s standard fare for Dragon Quest.
The Dark Prince: A Resurgence of a Beloved Series
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is a worthy resurgence for this beloved spinoff series. While the messy narrative pacing and poor framerate bring the adventure down a few notches, the addictive and rewarding gameplay loop with player freedom at its core more than offsets those flaws. You can spend countless hours making your ideal team to your heart’s content and engaging with the post-game content after clearing the main story. Further, Dragon Quest IV fans will get more out of this journey than most, but newcomers who exhibit patience can still find themselves invested and enthralled. Ultimately, Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince proves that this series can prosper, and with the promise that they’ll continue, we’re excited to see where it goes from here.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.