It goes without saying that the Dragon Quest series has enjoyed phenomenal success around the world as an RPG series over the years, so placing the name on any game is going to automatically heap certain expectations onto that game, no matter what type of game it might be. Thus is the case with Dragon Quest Wars, a game that takes the Dragon Quest theme and somehow simplifies it down into a unique grid-based strategy title that proves to be easy to pick up and play for gamers of all ages, yet still manages to offer up enough depth to keep strategy game fans interested.
When you begin the game, you're presented with a tutorial that will help you come to grips with the way the game is played. And while you don't have to complete the entire tutorial in order to move on to the game's Battle Mode, it will help you better understand the intricacies of the game's battle system, something that will prove quite useful once you begin taking on some of the more talented online players around the world.
At the beginning of a battle, you'll be able to select from a group of six monsters. Each monster has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Some monsters have the ability to strike at multiple opponents, whereas other monsters have special healing abilities. Some are faster than others and some have better defensive characteristics. It's up to you to decide how you want to approach each battle and with what set of four monsters. After you've chosen your group, you'll then have to arrange them on the grid in the marked spots that are available to you, and once in place the battle will ensue.
When it's your turn in battle, you must click each monster and move it to the desired square on the grid, after which you'll be shown all available moves as you drag the monster to the desired spot. You're then allowed to assign a magic card to the monster which will determine its actions during the turn. These include everything from offensive attacks, to wait-based attacks that can be used to counter an opponent's attack during their turn; you can even use certain monsters to heal other monsters on your team. It's this strategic turn-based method of battle that gives the game its unique feel and keeps you constantly guessing as to what your opponent is going to do next.
While the tutorial mode is a good chance to learn the mechanics of the game, the Battle Mode is really the meat of the package and clearly the mode most players will make the most use of. There are three individual types of battles in this mode that include: local wireless battles, worldwide Wi-Fi battles, and Free Mode. Local wireless and online Wi-Fi battles play out very similarly, it just depends on whether you want to play with other DSi owners locally, or players around the world. You'll be able to select to join a group already set up or create your own group and have other players from around the world join in. If you'd rather take the game on as a single-player experience, you can also choose the Free Mode and do battle with the CPU. And while the solo experience is enjoyable enough, you won't get the full experience out of the title until you take on the multiplayer battles where every opponent you face has their own unique style of play to keep you guessing.
There are basically two modes of play in each of the Battle modes. Versus allows you to lead your group of monsters against another player's group: your goal is either to get one of your monsters to the other side of the grid and into the other player's home area, or to defeat all of your opponent's monsters. Of course, if you'd like a bit more of a challenge, you can choose to take on the Survival mode. This is basically where four groups of monsters all take each other on in a free-for-all type of battle where you try to be the last one standing, so-to-speak. Both types of battles are fun in their own way, it basically all depends on your personal preferences.
The simplicity of the game's mechanics makes it easy to get into quickly, but the stylus-only control can be a bit clunky at times until you get a handle on it. The monsters won't always stick where you want them to if you're not fairly precise in your pointing, but given the basic movements needed in most cases, it's not overly detrimental to the overall gameplay experience itself. It also might have been nice to have had a broader range of monsters and abilities, but at the same time this might have taken something away from the game's widely accessible feel.
Since the game is basically just variously-themed battle grids, you're not going to get a lot of flashy eye candy. Then again that's not what this game is about anyway. The six monsters are all well constructed and will be immediately familiar to fans of the series. The variety in the grids is a nice touch, but you'll generally spend most of your time planning and strategizing and very little time admiring the scenery.
Dragon Quest fans can rest easy with the fact that you will get to hear some of the classic tunes from the series in this DSiWare release. It's also nice that the developers didn't try to force the music into the experience and allowed it instead to blend in almost seamlessly with the game's battle sequences themselves. Toss in a few solid sound effects and you have a simple, yet very effective musical score that fits the game rather perfectly.
If you can somehow curb your expectations of Dragon Quest Wars being a typical Dragon Quest-style RPG experience and accept it for the simple, yet enjoyable strategy title it is, then you're likely to find a very fulfilling and playable DSiWare title that will provide you with many hours of fun. Sure the stylus control could have used a little tightening up and the single-player experience can be a bit bland, but the local and wireless multiplayer modes more than make up for the game's few shortcomings. Couple that with the very reasonable 500 Nintendo Point price tag and you have yet another DSiWare offering that further proves the adage that sometimes less is more.