Compare & Contrast: Dragon Quest Monsters

Pokémon isn't the only monster-training game
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  • Saturday, June 2, 2012

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This column has been written by System Error. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.

Welcome to the third edition of this horribly-stalled feature known as Compare & Contrast, where we look at various other monster training games and compare them to Pokémon and each other!

Box art for the Game Boy version

Ever since Pokémon came around, it seems there's been a boom of monster-training games. In our previous C&Cs, we looked at two that came before the popular franchise came about. Today, we're not only going to be looking at one that came after, but we're also going to be looking at our first formal monster training game, AND our first series of it. It's the Dragon Quest Monsters series.

We established everything about DQ in our previous C&C, correct? We know it's like, the most popular thing ever in Japan. Even if Dragon Quest VIII of all things is pretty much the only game where the Japanese got the short end of the stick (the US and European releases included an enhanced soundtrack and voice acting that’s actually good!). So when Pokémon came out, the creators of DQ were licking their chops, and decided "hey, we've done monster-training before, we can do it again!" And that is exactly what they did. With not one, not two, but five games in total, and that's not counting additional versions or re-releases. The latest in the series, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, has been out in Japan for over a year, got an expanded "Professional" version a year after that, and was released stateside on September 19th, 2011. Unfortunately, it's the former's release, not the latter's. What the hell, man? Is this revenge for DQM:J1 being improved in the US release?

But let's go back to the beginnings of the series. Back when the game was still known as "Dragon Warrior" stateside due to a copyright conflict. Back before the apocalypses of 2011, when we had recently evaded the apocalypse of 1992, and the most recent death of the world was to be in 2000. Back when Pentium was the hottest processor, and Netscape Navigator users roamed the web. Back when The PokéMasters was debatable as the biggest Pokémon fansite. Back when some of us were in elementary school, some even doing the backstroke in their dad's... well, you get the idea right?

The game

Box art of the Japanese remake, Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry's Wonderland 3D

The year was 1998, the month September, and the date the 25th. That's when Enix unleashed Dragon Warrior Monsters upon Japan—with subtitle Terry's Wonderland. It'd find its way to Europe four months later, but America got screwed, and got it a year after that. It's compatible with the Game Boy Color, and was later stuffed into an enhanced remake on the PSX, along with Dragon Quest Monsters 2. A remake for 3DS came out on May 31, 2012. In Japan.

Reception towards Dragon Warrior Monsters was surprisingly good. Being one of the first games of the genre released after the Pokémon games, it was indeed labeled as a clone, but its merits were recognized. And rightfully so for reasons that we will get into later! This game is a prequel to Dragon Quest VI, which otherwise was unreleased in places not named Japan.

So that 3DS remake. It's going to take features from the Joker series of games and implement them into it. It may turn the entire game on its ear! Therefore, any number of the mechanics information you read here may or may not apply to it, should you get interested and for most of us—if gets released in the Western world (I'd put in a Capcom/Ace Attorney comparison joke here, but that's already been milked to death). In other words, this article is written with the original GBC release in mind.

The plot

Dragon Warrior Monsters puts you into the shoes a young Terry from Dragon Quest VI. You're in your bed one night just minding your own business, doing whatever it is kids in video games do in bed. Note that he's wearing what look like pajamas, which is acceptable and makes sense given the context, but they look like a different version of the clothes he wears as an adult in Dragon Quest VI. Which does make you wonder.

Anyway, so this grey bear-like thing called Warubou comes in and takes your sister Milayou (which is what you get when you transliterate "Milly" out of Japanese) away, and a blue palette swap of him known as Watabou comes in and asks for your help. What do they mean? Hell if I know. You meet up with the King of GreatTree, who explains his situation and rivalry with the nation of GreatLog, and gives you the Slime Slib to start you on your monstrous adventure. An adventure to win in the minor tournaments to earn the right to represent GreatTree in the Starry Night Tournament. The reward for winning? A wish! You can like, wish your sister back!

Conceptual art for the Eyeder monster

The plot from there on out is fairly straightforward. You go from Traveler's Gate to Traveler's Gate, fighting through pseudo-randomized areas to become stronger in order to win at the tournaments. And… that's pretty much it, really. At the end of each Traveler's Gate is a boss monster, many of whom are references to previous DQ games (such as the Dragon from DQ1). Some of these join you automatically upon completing them. Some of them can join if you feed them enough meat, and others won't join at all.

There are a number of levels of the qualification tournament, ranging from G to S. The more tournaments you beat, the more Traveler's Gates you unlock. You don't necessarily have to do them in order: you may enter into any tournament up to D at first, and after beating that, you can enter into any tournament up to S. Incidentally, those two are the only ones you must beat. The only downsides to skipping around are missing out on a few interactions in GreatTree. After D, you get a visit from the King of DeadTree, and after that go to the Gate of Anger to investigate a disturbance. After you beat S, you're officially the representative for GreatTree in the Starry Night, and head to the Room of Reflection to see the future. Specifically, whether or not you win the tournament. Does it work? Eh, not really.

So once you get to the Starry Night, things start to hit the fan. Plot twist, yadda yadda and whatnot, then the final battle. If you win? You beat the game!!! Then, in the post-game, you can go on into several extra dungeons which house the final bosses from past Dragon Quest games. If you lose? Nothing happens. Seriously. Losing the tournament that only comes around once every some odd full moons just results in being able to try again—no harm, no foul, not even any damage control text. Isn't being the protagonist great? In the post-game, you can also challenge the Master himself in an extra-hard fight. There was also supposed to be a Gate with 100 floors, but it got axed.

There's really not much to it, as you can see. But the gameplay is where it's at.

The battles

This is where things get interesting. Dragon Warrior Monsters has a fairly unique battle system. See, every monster has a personality. For the most part, your party of up to three monsters will be acting on their own (you can give direct orders, but the interface is clunky), and similar to the Battle Palace in Emerald, personality determines what it likes and doesn't like to do. There's also the wildness stat, which goes down as you use the monster in battle, but steadily raises if they are kept awake on the farm.

Unlike the Battle Palace, however, monsters don't have to act on their own—rather, you can set what your monster is do. It's similar to the AI feature in other Dragon Quest games, but much more simple in practice. In a battle, you have various options. Telling it to CHARGE will make it focus on offensive moves. CAUTIOUS will make it defend and use healing and buff moves on itself and allies. MIXED you think would be somewhere in between, but it actually makes your monster focus on buffs and debuffs more than anything else. Yes, unfortunately, there is no option for general actions. Depending on your monster's personality and wildness stat, it may not like what you told it to do, and will do something else.

There's a trick you can use, though. Unlike Pokémon, your monsters' personalities aren't set in stone, and you can change them. Monsters' personalities are determined by three hidden stats, sometimes called their bravery, prudence, and caring. These can be changed with some effort. First off, directly telling them to take a specific battle plan in battle will adjust the values. Telling them to CHARGE will increase their bravery, but lowers their prudence a bit. Making them take a MIXED action will increase their prudence, but lower their caring a bit. Giving an order to be CAUTIOUS will increase their caring, but lower their bravery. RUNning from a battle will lower their bravery greatly. Take an action enough, and their personality will start to shift, and they may perform better (or worse) in-battle. The catch? It becomes harder to change these stats at higher levels, so it's better to get it done sooner rather than later. There also exist books which can raise or lower an individual stat, and not only are they rare finds in the Gates and only purchasable late-game, but they burn holes in your pocket.

Besides that, you can also choose to FIGHT. This simply takes the (CHARGE/MIXED/CAUTIOUS) orders you set for a monster in the menu, and use them. This is also what they will do if you choose to use an item. Besides meat, you may also use healing items, and staves (which will do damage). Note that either of these won't affect a monster's personality, nor will direct orders. Finally, you may choose to RUN from a battle.

One last thing—unless you give direct orders, targeting by your monsters is semi-random. They'll tend to gang up on one monster at a time, which you can't really complain about. Thank whatever deity or scientific theory you believe in though, your monsters seem to put attack priority on those you've recruited already. Unfortunately, this also means you'll have trouble getting what you want if there are a lot of monsters you've yet to recruit in a battle. That's about all there is to be said about the battle system, but not all there are about battles.

"And I look like the old guy from Zelda, too!"

Randomly, you may encounter what are called "Foreign Masters" in the Gates. These guys are fellow masters, who if spoken to, will thrust you into a battle. If you win, they'll give a service to you, and if you lose, they'll take a lot of items, give you a WarpWing, and revive your first monster with 1HP. What's really cool about them is that you can actually steal their monsters! That's right, where Pokémon doesn't dare tread (unless you're trying to save them from corruption) you can do to any poor sap you find. The monsters they have depends on the total combined levels of the ones you are carrying at the time, and the masters you encounter vary depending on the layout of the last floor you were on.

Why in the world would you want to do something immoral such as stealing the monster of a faceless fictional character in a video game? Well, for one, the monsters they carry are often rare for the stage of the game you are in. In addition, their stats are also higher than normal, and they also come with attacks that normal monsters of that species wouldn't normally carry! They don't even acknowledge it after the battle—they just do their thing for you as normal. So go ahead! Do be a thief! Note that you can also randomly encounter other masters in arena-areas in the Gates—you can take these for yourself as well, but they won't have the unique moves.

Finally, there is the subject of the tournaments. Here, your monsters are on their own. You can't use items and whatnot there, sort of like a Battle Tower or link environment. This is where personality training pays off, and those who suffer through the clunky interface of manual attack selection are just screwed.

The monsters

A battle in the GBC version

Similar to Dragon Quest V, capturing monsters consists of going out, beating the hell out of them, and finishing off the one you wish to potentially obtain last. Unlike those games, however, you have some tools of the trade to assist in this, instead of being stuck with set odds. Feeding the monsters meat will increase the odds of them joining you after a battle. There are different classes of meat. In order from worst to best, they are BadMeat, BeefJerky, Porkchop, Rib, and Sirloin. You'll more than likely be getting a lot of BeefJerky early on. Sirloin is the best—one is good, but three of them will almost guarantee anything that can join you to join—but it's rare until late in the game. BadMeat is interesting—it's uncommon and doesn't help your capture much, but it will poison the enemy when used.

As before, once you have a monster of a certain type, getting another will be difficult, requiring a lot more meat to be convinced to join you. Meat is very important in this game, as the recruitment odds are otherwise on the low side in this game. A lot of monsters just plain won't join at all unless you feed them meat. On the other hand, another difference between DQ5 is that there are no limits on what species you can get. Thus, anything in scope is fair game.

Where Pokémon has a PC Storage System, and Dragon Quest V has Monty the Monster Monitor, Dragon Warrior Monsters has the farm. Let's get the most important thing out of the way first: whereas the former two games give you enough room for every monster in the game at once, the farm in DWM has a limit of just 38 monsters—19 of which can be awake at a time.

Pokémon has the Pokédex, and DWM has the Library. Both serve similar functions, the differences being the Library having non-portability, and presumably serving the public instead of a scientist's attempt to exploit a young child to get famous. The Library does have some neat functions in exchange though—it gives breeding combinations for most monsters in the game, as well as their three base moves. The Library also has flavor text like the Pokédex, the difference being the former is somehow more logical and doesn't defy the laws of physics and reality as much. If you want a small laugh on that subject, check the Additional Information out.

However, the biggest part of the game is the breeding system. You may be thinking, "Hey, Pokémon has a complex breeding system too! How can it be better than this?!" And before I played it, that's probably what I would say too. Zealousness and whatnot. Now I see that Pokémon's breeding system is archaic compared to the one in DWM. First things first, to breed a monster, you must have at least completed F-Class in the arena. However! If you're familiar with how breeding works with Pokémon, prepare to forget everything you know for DWM. And I do mean everything.

The breeding system is what made DWM stand out from the Pokémon series in the eyes of the critics. First off, the male/female system really only determines what is able to breed with what in the game—you won't get a monster of the female's class just because. Instead, you choose one monster to serve as the "Pedigree" for the breeding. The Pedigree can be male or female, but the other one has to be of the opposite sex, of course. Hm? Egg groups? What egg groups? In DWM, anything can breed with anything. All you need is a mommy monster and a daddy monster, and everything's good to go. Besides breeding monsters yourself, you can also breed with others via a game-link cable, or foreign Masters who hang around the arena.

There are different families of monster. This isn't anything like the families of The Final Fantasy Legend, and are only there for three things: sorting, breeding, and attacks that do additional damage to one family of monster. In regards to breeding, generally speaking, the family the Pedigree belongs to will determine the family of monster you get.

When you breed two monsters together, you will lose them forever, but you'll get an egg. So it's sort of like combining them. The species of the resulting monster varies. In most instances, breeding boils down to Class A + Class B. What you choose as the Pedigree matters: Slime + Bird = WingSlime, but Bird + Slime = Picky. However, specific combinations of monsters—either breeding a class with a certain species or a certain species with a certain species—can result in very different monsters from breeding just any two of their family. For instance, Metal Slime + Metal Slime = Liquid Metal Slime (called Metaly and Metabble, respectively). Most notable, while you can't recruit the final boss monsters traditionally, you can breed for them. Indeed, many monsters can only be obtained, or are much easier to obtain, this way.

But the main reason to breed monsters is for stats and skills. In regards to stats, the average of each of the stats between the two parents is taken, and is divided in half. That will be the stats the resulting monster starts out with. Yes, at Level 1. For example, if the parents have an ATK stat of 700 and 300, the average would be 500 (700+300=1000, /2=500), and half of that is 250. The monster's natural stat gains take over from there. You might be thinking this is ridiculous. And yes, that's an extreme example, but these kinds of stats are actually nigh-mandatory to beat the higher level tournaments. Breeding can also increase a monster's maximum level. Depending on the parents' levels, the offspring may have up to five +s. Each of these adds two more levels to the maximum.

You are always having a bad hair day.

You're probably already familiar with Egg moves in Pokémon. DWM has a similar, but much, much more powerful system. When you breed two monsters and end up with a new monster, the baby will automatically be able to access the three skills every monster of its species is capable of learning. It is also capable of learning the three skills from both of its parents! This applies whether the parents learned the skill before you bred them or not. It effectively equals a total of 9 different skills on the monster instead of 3, although there is a maximum of 8 known at a time. In addition, any abilities not natural to the parents will be passed down for potential learning, if and only if they were known at the time of breeding. Even better, skills can be upgraded or new ones obtained if the monster has high enough stats and the proper abilities respectively.

A whole book could be written about the monster system in Dragon Warrior Monsters. For the sake of keeping this article short, some of it has been relocated to the Additional Information section you can access by clicking my profile page. And even there, it's still not quite as big as it could be.

The rewards

Completing the game allows you to use Watabou as a monster. One thing that has to be said here: in recent years, Pokémon goes easy on the player. Legendary Pokémon return after defeat and whatnot, and with trading, it's basically impossible to get into a situation where you can't catch 'em all. DWM1 is more hardcore. To get Dark Drium (the secret superboss of Dragon Quest VI), you need to breed Deathmoor's third form with Watabou. Not to mention all the steps leading up to it are nightmares in themselves. The question is... is it all worth it?

Well, considering people have caught all 649 (which I guess is not Canada's official lottery anymore and now the total number of Pokémon), I guess it's not going to stop some people. But for the maniacs who do go through with it... you get a couple messages, and that's about it. Catching 100 monsters—any 100, even of the same species—in DWM gets you access to a special Traveler's Gate.

The summary

This is the first game we've covered that truly is a monster-training game. Dragon Warrior Monsters went on to become a successful series that's changed quite a bit from game to game. But what does this game—this particular game in the series—have in common with Pokémon?

  • Monsters have psuedo-random actions in battle, like the Battle Palace in Emerald
  • Monsters have personalities, as in Pokémon
  • Monsters follow behind you, as in a couple of games in the series (though your whole party does in DWM)
  • Battles in tournament-settings disallow item use
  • Psuedo-in-game trades in the form of in-game breeding
  • Decent rewards for catching certain amounts of monsters, and a garbage one for getting them all

Other games?

  • Tons in common with DQ5's setup
  • Different monster families, as in FFL
  • Attacks which do additional damage of certain families of monsters, as in FFL

There you go. Look forward to more of these in the coming weeks. Hopefully.

"System Error" is a Canadian who has a habit of letting laziness snowball out of control. He originally intended for this to be out in like August of last year, and here we are in June 2012. But hey, at least he got it done.

COMING UP NEXT: Music is the weapon (and no, I'm not talking about Revolution X).

Compare & Contrast
By System Error
The Final Fantasy LegendDragon Quest VDragon Quest Monsters