Iru and Luca’s (or Tara and Cobi’s, if you prefer) adventure first graced the world with its presence thirteen years ago on the Game Boy Color, had a very brief fling with the PlayStation (Japan only, of course) in 2002, and then lay dormant for over a decade before Square Enix dusted it off and gave it an excellent modern 3DS remake, recently launched in Japan.
The first thing that you’ll notice is that the game doesn't support the 3DS console's 3D effect at all. It also leaves the lower screen completely blank during cutscenes and at any other time it’s used for nothing more than displaying menus or maps, both of which have very limited touchscreen functionality.
The second thing you'll notice is that you won't care in the slightest, as the reason for these missing features is down to the development team focusing on making what they do show as impressive as possible, and the game does not disappoint in the slightest. Sweeping vistas, enormous monsters roaming across fields that are already littered with smaller creatures and scenery, expressive and well animated... everythings make Dragon Quest Monsters 2 a visual treat for even the most JRPG-weary gamer. This attention to detail even goes down to monster placement on the field – in just a few hours you'll have noticed that caterpillars only like hanging out in the long grass, slimes enjoy cooling off in a little pool and you'll even seen an octopus chase a starfish, kill it, and then wander back into the water feeling quite pleased with itself. The game doesn't just feel special when it’s showing you fancy set pieces or wide shots of the local landscape, but these small flourishes all come together to create a world that doesn’t just do interesting things when you're getting on with the story the writers wanted to show you.
Iru and Luca’s adventure is thankfully combined onto a single cart this time, both a boon for completionist gamers as well as a simple way of avoiding the lazy “Oh, so this is Enix doing Pokémon?” accusations that certain people threw into conversation the first time around. Getting started is straightforward, with the tutorial section at the beginning being helpful without being tediously restrictive for those of us who long ago worked out that you select "attack" if you want to hit things. The game soon cuts you loose, free to roam as far as you can go while hunting for hidden items or persuading as many monsters as possible to join your team – but it doesn't leave you without help if you want it, as there’s a very handy encyclopaedia accessible at any time that allows you to look up everything about everything, leaving it up to players to decide whether they want to ignore all elements other than the plot or dive deep into the game’s skill point system.
Skill points are occasionally awarded when a monster levels up, and can be invested in any skill set available to that particular creature. These skill sets all lean towards a particular areas – some favour stat boosts above all else, some focus more on techniques, while another might offer big MP increases – always a welcome bit of help on a support-type monster!
While we're on the subject of monster battling, it’s worth mentioning that Dragon Quest Monsters 2 does a fantastic job of cutting through the menu-clicking without actually removing any control from the player. The standard “Attack” option by default sends everyone off to hit whatever’s in front of them; but what if you'd like one character to hold back and heal, or save your MP for later? You can do that too, via a set of general AI commands that affect each individual monsters behaviour in battle — and if that’s not enough, there is of course the option to select every attack and every target by hand if you prefer total control of the fight. The ability to mix and match these different levels of control during a battle means you're never stuck with the tedium of mashing attack over and over and over if you want/need to gain a few extra levels, but it also means that if you're unfortunate enough to wander into a pack of extremely tough adversaries you aren't left with the desire to hurl your 3DS into a meat grinder as the AI continues mindlessly with the “hit things but conserve MP” routine you set up for the regular trash, either.
If you find yourself in need of a break from the main adventure, Square Enix has thoughtfully included online player battles, too. This can be done at any point in the adventure with whatever team you have to hand, although judging by the competition we faced we strongly recommend waiting until you've finished the game before really diving in. We can at least say that matchmaking was quick and stable, and the only issues we came away with after a few online bouts was with the make-up of our own team rather than the infrastructure itself.
Whether you’re a long-time fan of Dragon Quest or someone simply after a new RPG to play, Dragon Quest Monsters 2 manages to be both a fan-pleasing remake and a most excellent adventure in its own right. Let's hope that it gets a western release.