When Enix released the original Dragon Quest Monsters for Game Boy back in 1998, many quickly dismissed it as just another vain attempt to cash in on the Pokémon craze. But over the past 13 years, the Monsters series has developed quite a following and become more in-depth and multiplayer-friendly with each new release. Where the first Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker on DS introduced a completely new look and feel to the series, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 spends most of its focus making minor improvements here and there to the gameplay system rather than completely overhauling everything.
In Joker 2, much of the core gameplay from past Monsters releases remains intact. At the beginning of the game, you find yourself thrown into an adventure that has you capturing and breeding a staggering number of monsters. As you travel from place to place, you do battle using your party of three monsters, take the time to intermittently scout and capture new monsters that you are then able to breed into even more powerful monsters.
Battle is set up in typical turn-based RPG fashion for the most part, although things have been simplified a bit. For those looking to just get the battle underway, there's a simple FIGHT command that will basically turn your group of monsters loose on any enemies you're currently engaged with. If you prefer a little more control then you can manually select commands for each individual monster to execute during a particular round of combat. As you win battles, you'll earn experience points and gold that will allow your monsters to level up and learn useful new skills.
While leveling up your current monsters is an important part of the game, you're not going to get very far unless you capture and breed new ones along the way. When locked in a battle, your party of monsters can scout one of the enemies. If your monsters are powerful enough, there’s a good chance the scouted monster will join your party. As you pick up a large group of monsters, you can then breed them to form even more powerful monsters, even retaining specific skills that have been learned through leveling. It's this careful breeding and leveling that will end up producing some rather formidable monsters that you can use not only during your adventure, but also in the game's various battle and tournament modes.
Though the adventure portion is the meat of the package, there is a wealth of additional modes to tackle once you’ve built up a decent set of monsters. These range from local monster battles with players who have their own systems and game locally, to sending your team of monsters into battle against players around the world via the World Monster Championships online where you'll have the opportunity to earn Victory Points and move your monster team up the rankings.
If monster collecting is your passion, you'll have plenty of opportunities to trade monsters with other players or snatch them right out of Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation or Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies via Tag Mode. Another unique feature of the game is the friend code system, which allows you to set up and customize your own rosters for those times when you want to keep your battles within your specified list of friends.
The adventure mode isn't going to set new standards for RPG storylines and, despite it being a bit short, is still quite engaging and does a great job of providing players with a number of opportunities to create and level up a formidable party of monsters. The controls are very intuitive and well-designed, much as they were in the first Joker title, allowing players to spend their time enjoying the playing experience rather than fumbling through complicated menus. There are even a few improvements to the system that make switching monsters in and out of your active party much easier. And with a nearly unending amount of monster trading and battling, Joker 2 delivers enough content to keep even the most finicky players coming back for more.
Since the game makes use of 3D cel-shaded visuals, you're not going to get a lot of detail at times, but there is a very smooth level of animation in the various scenery, characters, and enemies. The developers have done a rather impressive job of varying the scenery, so you certainly won't find yourself tiring of the same old backdrops as you progress through your adventure.
Fans of the Dragon Quest series, especially the Dragon Quest Monster line, will find a lot to love with the soundtrack as many of the tunes are pulled directly from earlier entries. There are some new tunes, some of which are quite melodic and catchy, but it's the familiar compositions that give the game its attractive Dragon Quest charm. Even the perfect mix of old and new sound effects show that the developers not only tried to give the game a fresh sound but also to retain some sense of nostalgia for longtime fans.
The great thing about Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 is that once the story ends the real fun begins. With an almost limitless number of monster and skill variations, you'll find plenty to do even after the credits roll. Once again, Square-Enix has concocted an enjoyable adventure and bundled in a wealth of local and online monster fighting and trading functions for players to sink their teeth into. While you can't help but wish the adventure mode was designed with a little more ambition, it's difficult to fault given the nearly infinite amount of replay value the tournament aspects bring to the table.