If I had a hat, like a proper Stetson or even a fez (fezzes are cool), I would be eating it right now. I waited over a year for this?
Well, okay, the game wasn’t bad. Everything good about it can be summed up in two words: “Dragon Quest”. Pretty much everything I like about Dragon Quest was present in Joker 2. Turn based battle system, slimes, fantasy-style soundtrack: check, check, and check. However, I think the series is beginning to slip. You see, Dragon Quest has always been known for a punishing difficulty curve. Oh sure, the ninth instalment of the main series was easier than any other Dragon Quest I’ve played to date, but given its length, I would say it was easily the most balanced, too. Even still, the series has a reputation for gleefully putting your characters in mortal danger at the drop of a hat, and I felt no sense of insurmountable odds while playing Joker 2. Maybe at the beginning, when the game threw a very long snake at me, I thought I was going to die. But the size of your enemies mean nothing when their stats are low.
While the Dragon Quest Monsters games generally haven’t been as challenging as the main series (for example, you can get about halfway through the tournament in the first Monsters game within the first six hours, and with your starting monsters), I don’t think I’ve played one as unchallenging as Joker 2. And no, I refuse to believe that I’m getting better at them. I mean, what skills do you learn when you play Dragon Quest? The ability to select commands from menus while the enemy patiently waits their turn? No, these games are getting easier.
Case in point: the giant monsters in Joker 1 were a harrowing experience that easily caught unprepared players by surprise. In Joker 2, I found that I could challenge just about any monster to a fight and I had no problem winning. I think I only died once, and that was during the final boss fight, and only because I wasn’t as prepared with items as I should’ve been. Even so, I certainly gave it a fighting chance before I died. Then I stocked up on items and gave it another go and kicked its tail.
In fact, the “I’ll give this fight a go” approach seemed to work extremely well for me. I would save my game and then decide that I would see what the next boss was like before sleeping. That way, I would be prepared to take on the boss for real the next day, right? Nope, most bosses didn’t even last long before being defeated, and then I’d have to save again before sleep.
Even the typical task of grinding was simplified. You didn’t have to go out and kill tons of monsters to level up newborn party members anymore. Well, you could if you really wanted to, but in Joker 2, you could visit the Metal Menagerie instead and gain practically instant levels!
Oh crap, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna... kick its ass? What?!
You see, the main feature of the Dragon Quest Monsters series is that you could breed monsters as you went along. First, you caught them by intimidating them in battle (and if it worked, they would agree to join your party). When they were levelled up sufficiently enough, you could use them to breed more powerful monsters. Although the offspring began life at level 1, they got to benefit from some of the skills and abilities of their parents.
Unlike the main series, monsters tended to level up faster due to shallower experience curves. Sure, they had been able to do that since the first Monsters game, but it seemed like Joker 2 didn’t want you to waste any time grinding. You see, the Monster Menagerie I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago made a comeback from Joker 1, and access was much more strictly limited than in Joker 1. At least, that was the impression the game gave you from the beginning. In practice, though, you could visit it pretty much whenever you wanted. Access to the Metal Menagerie this time around depended on Metal Tickets that you could get randomly during the game. Instead of being a rare drop like the game claimed they were, I at one point had accumulated a decent quantity of them.
Once inside the Metal Menagerie, you could battle between two and four Metal Slimes and then you were automatically kicked out again. It became a time saving strategy of mine to just take my newly minted level 1 monsters into the Metal Menagerie and clobber a few Slimes. Then, I took my suddenly level 14-16 monsters back into the main quest for a while until I felt ready to do more breeding.
I doubt you're going to need any of that healing in this battle.
So Metal Slimes were nothing more than an easily acquired Ticket away. Each area was full of new monsters that didn’t take long to acclimate to. Bosses seemed to collapse easily when I attacked them. The only difficult thing about this game was that it was difficult to put down. It took me barely three days to finish it, not counting all the bonus content after the end. I suppose that’s what matters the most. It was not as difficult as previous games, but it was still very fun. Let’s put it this way: it’s bubblegum.
There was something I noticed about the story. If any of you have played the original Dragon Quest, you’ll recall that you had only two objectives in that game. Rescue the princess and defeat the Dragonlord. You had to discover the story yourself. You were expected to explore, figure out where to go next, and defeat small challenges along the way. The story was your own. That’s almost like what this game was like. I explored around, discovered various aspects of the world, defeated small challenges in each area, and eventually made right something that had gone wrong a long time ago. There was a greater emphasis on story in Joker 2 than in the original Dragon Quest, but far less than in Joker 1; it was more a middle of the road game, where a story was presented to you like in Dragon Quest II and III, but you still had to look around yourself and find it with hints from the characters.
Sure, Joker 2 was a weaker entry in the series than I’m used to, but it was by no means a bad entry. It was just disappointing that it lacked difficulty. In fact, it was so easy to play, I would consider it baby’s first Dragon Quest. If you want to introduce a young gamer to the series, give them either this game or Dragon Quest IX, they’re both a good starting point.
All images found on RPGFan.