Monday, March 5, 2018

"Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 3" Review

Nostalgic, fun, the best, and ultimate childhood kicks. Never in my life have I played a game that so deeply and thoroughly touched upon my youthful yearnings. The music swells inviting me to another place, another time, another body. A world where magic and freedom exist and evil and purpose and destiny are clear as crystal. Everything about Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 3, aka DQMJ3, is pure joy. The artwork is vibrant, abundant, animated, and raw eye candy. The variety and quantity of monsters is enough to delight every catered personal aesthetic. I personally have always been drawn to demons, dragons, and birds. I was a bit devastated to find they had not included three of my favorite monsters from the original Dragon Warrior Monsters Game for the Game Boy Color which I played in 2000 when I was 11 years old, in the 6th grade. Sky Dragon, Coatal, Zap Bird, Dracolord, Servant, and Big Eye were nowhere to be found and that’s really upsetting. Those monsters are just so memorable and you really care when you get them. I let this sin slide though as it seems every other facet of the game was desirable and actually had me appreciating the game design AS I WAS PLAYING IT! I can’t remember playing a video game and being like, “Dang this is good!” while I am actually playing it. Maybe perhaps one other time during the ship battles in Skies of Arcadia which are just immaculate.

            My absolute favorite part of Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 3 is of course the monsters. The game is all about scouting the strongest monsters and synthesizing them together to make even stronger monsters. I freaking love collecting monsters mechanics. I love training monsters. I love fusing my best monsters together to create Herculean hybrid creatures. And you have to sacrifice losing the two parents to make one child. It’s hilarious how in the original Dragon Warrior Monsters they called this synthesis process ‘Breeding’. I’m certain the term was changed to synthesis to make it more politically correct somehow.
             I love Akira Toriyama’s artwork with a firey passion. That’s right Akira Freaking TORIYAMA, the mastermind behind Dragon Ball Z. Oh yeah you better believe that man has done other stuff. You can travel past the moon riding on a list of his credits at this point. Toriyama has been designing the Dragon Quest series monsters and characters since their initial conception in 1986. The monsters in DQMJ3 look nothing like anything you saw in Dragon Ball Z, but share the sharp and distinct appeal of Toriyama’s craftsmanship. It’s not until you see humanoid monsters with their bare, bulky eyebrows like Freeza that you feel that twinge of sweet DBZ nostalgia.

            I’m really stupefied by how they made the game so utterly engaging in every way and even BETTER than all it’s predecessors. It’s almost like the designers at Armor Project studios conducted a survey amongst their players asking how they can make the game better, and then successfully went on to deliver absolutely ALL thos things! Every time you enter a location a whole slew of shiny new and useful items and treasure chests spawn all throughout the map. And now you have a sweet ‘Reactor,’ an eye scanner like the one in which Vegata coined his legendary line, “It’s over 9000!” You use this Reactor to check out the specs on potential monsters running around, discover secret doors, and even locate those glorious portals into other dimensions, which are so classic in the Dragon Quest Monsters series, and lead to extremely rare monsters and items. Another particularly awesome mechanic, which the game designers added in the first Dragon Quest Monsters Joker game, is how monsters physically exist in the 3D space. So in order to fight them you have to physically collide with them as you explore locations. I prefer this method of monster spawning 100x more than the random encounters in tall grass like you see in Pokémon. So all you gotta do is use your eyes to hunt down the monsters you want and learn where they live on the various maps rather than spend countless hours trying to find a god forsaken Kangaskhan!
            Oh, and lets’ talk about that way too mysterious synthesis chart! Hate how in previous DQMJ games you have to go check the internet all the time to see how to get that BAMF monster you want? NO LONGER! They added a "Monster Library" inside your Reactor’s menu, which lists the monster required to synthesize those you want so long as you’ve unlocked their class level. This is a pure genius addition to a game that's core mechanic is monster synthesis. They added a number of time saving features like this. Like now it’s much simpler to get a monster you want because for every 2 monsters you pair together you’re usually given 5 different child options to choose from. Picky note: convenient as this was, it kind of took away the logical charm of combining monsters to get a child that at least loosely resembles the parents. Like now you can synthesize two dragons to get a slime monster. How does that make any sense? Suspension of disbelief compromised! Another lovely feature is Zoom, which allows to you teleport immediately to key locations on every map at any time. SO CONVENIENT! Speaking of the maps, who doesn’t love revisiting old locations later in the game with new skills that allow you to explore more of the parts you haven’t seen yet! Well you get that in spades with DQMJ3 as you learn to swim with your monsters and ride them through the skies!
            Back to the convenient stuff, you no longer have to waste all your monster’s MP healing after battle cause there’s a Full Charge skill you learning in the beginning which replenishes your monster’s HP and you can use it after ever battle! Yeah you still have to go back to town to rest at an Inn to restore MP, but hey I’m glad they didn’t make it too easy for me! It’s also worth mentioning that healing your monsters during combat is uber hard early on in the game. The healing spells don’t get any good till way later in the game. No spell like Revive or HealUsAll exists that I saw and Zing—the common resurrection spell--is utterly unreliable. I like how they balanced making certain tedious facets of the game easier while this combat mechanic more challenging.
            Rather than having your three monster sprites follow you around like in the original Dragon Warrior Monsters game, which I loved to see personally, now you can freaking ride all of your monsters around! Yes, any of them. And yeah they’re scaled appropriately if they’re massive and jump and fly like you hope they would. And when you ride your monsters in battle they get an uber stat boost because having your hot buns on their head gets them amped! How rad is that!?
            Bummed you left a monster back at the kennel? Not to worry! They’re all digital now like Digimon and can be accessed any time anywhere via your Reactor Menu to save you the trip back to the kennel. And in the post-game you can even select the traits your newly synthesized monsters inherit from their parents like a Mega Body or not and all those hard earned traits you’ve fought for. And the freaking 3D models scale to the size you made them! So a normally Giga Body sized dragon can now have an adorable little Normal Body size! Speaking of big monsters, did you love those giant monsters introduced in Dragon Quest Monster Joker 2? Well now there’s a crap ton more roaming around in every single map in DQMJ3! They’re hecka hard to scout, but don’t worry about that either, you just keep feeding them tasty treats till their full and boy oh boy their SO much easier to scout. Thank you Armor Project!
            As for the story, I’d say this is the strongest narrative I’ve seen thus far from the franchise. I literally can’t remember any of the storylines from the other Dragon Quest Monsters Joker games. The story in DQMJ3 isn’t Ocarina of Time caliber, but it quite smoothly serves its purpose as a plot device to get you to go fight bigger and badder bosses. Sub par narratives that simply drive players to face stronger opponents somehow work in video games, but rarely in pretty much every other storytelling medium.
            The music  of DQMJ3 is *MUAH! Tons of swelling trumpets and catchy, subtle looping tunes that you’ll listen to for endless hours and never get bored of. I’m particularly fond of the main Dragon Quest theme, which always manages to wring tears out of my eyes in the end game credits. And I adore the little sound effects like when a monster grows a level! It’s literally the sound of happiness. They’ve pretty much kept the same melodies from all the previous games, just given them higher quality renders, and I’m TOTALLY fine with that. Koichi Sugiyama, the composer, is the kind of guy that has created the soundtracks of countless peoples’ childhoods. Apparently he was the first composer to ever record video game music with a live orchestra!
            This game is so freaking good that a team of individuals known as “Team Joker” spent untold hours hacking into and translating the game into English! And I cannot even fathom how many hours the actual game developers and artists spent to make this puppy. Definitely over 100,000+ accumulated man hours. “Wait,” you ask, “Why did an independent team have to hack and translate DQMJ3?” Why indeed! Why in the LIVING HECK was an English version of this game not released by Square Enix in North America??? How is the Dragon Quest Monster Joker series not a riot her in the Americas like Pokémon?  This series is so good that I actually started learning Japanese this year just so I might one day be able play DQMJ3. Imagine then my heart wrenching joy in finding out in February 2018, two years after the games Japanese release, that the angels of Team Joker gifted the Western Worl with a translated version! I’ve since dropped over 90 hours of my life into the game and pulled a dozen all nighter’s drooling over it cuz I just couldn’t stop myself. Leveling up my monsters, unlocking new abilities and locations and skills, and of course scouting progressively stronger monsters to synthesize even more powerful monsters just gets me high as heck on dopamine. Playing this game just feels SOOOOO good.
            Oh my god, and the animation is flawless! Because I played a hacked version of the game on my MacBook Pro utilizing an emulator called Citra (which is freaking FREE to download by the way) I had to play a lot of DQMJ3 on reduced speeds that sometimes lowered to 30% play rate in particularly render heavy scenes. The slowed down playback rate certainly annoyed me when moving about the maps, but boy I had no idea that it would allow me to appreciate how well the monsters animated while attacking. They really evoke a sense of weight and power with their swings, jumps, and punches.

            My favorite monsters of game hands down were Guardian Lazuvann, Ziggy the Wicked, Darknium Slime, and Marine Knight.  These suckers all held their own in a fight and packed a serious punch! Plus they all just look dope as all heck. Just LOOK at Lasuvann! He’s literally an exquisite demon master who kind of reminds me of Freeza mixed Dabura, the king of the demons brainwashed by Babidi in DBZ. And guess what! As if the monster designs are already great enough, now you can they actually customize the color of your monsters in case you want to see them in red or green or gunsmoke black! God dang and you can even colorize your own character’s model’s outfit colors. The main character’s outfit is so rad that I actually bought the whole thing on Amazon and with be cosplaying in that thing at the next nerd-vention I attend!
            Marine Knight is cool as heck cause you can aquire him early in the game and he learns Aquathecary, which is like my favorite monster Skill in the game with such Abilities as MP Generator and a strong attack Skill like Tidal Wave, AND even the powerful healing spelling, Blessed Rain. Back to more Lazuvann fanboying, his Act 2x Ability allows him to cast back to back mega spells like Hellfire followed up by Frizz-Flurry to freaking slay enemies. And don’t worry about running out of MP because to get Lazuvann you have to synthesize Kabalna the Divine who passed on his MP Regenerator AND HP Regenerator skills! It’s stupid satisfying to watch your tricked out monsters lay waste to your opponents. And then there’s the Darkonium Slime. Just like in all the Dragon Quest games the metal slimes like Darkonium are totally broken in my opinion and stupid hard to kill. They absorb all magic like candy. Not just nullify magic. It heals them! And their Hard Metal Body Trait cuts all damage by three fourths. Sure these skills appropriately removes loads of these monster’s potential HP stats, but good luck causing any damage to them cuz outside of their godlike resistances, their Defense and Intelligence Stats are well over a thousand! Thank Christ for Boshock, the only boss actually capable of killing my Darkonium Slime. Otherwise I would have been so ticked and called the game broke. The Darkonium Slime still is TOO GOOD in my opinion though. We have a love/hate relationship.
            Now a comment on the meaning of it all: I’m a 28-year-old-man and just dropped over a hundred precious and productive hours of my life on Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 3. Not to mention the hundreds of hours I’ve devoted to the earlier games in the series. Who the heck introduced the Time Tracker function in video games, which shows you the number of hours you’ve spent playing them? I both love that they did this to keep me honest with my time and cry myself to sleep knowing how big of a nerd I am. And all these hours of gameplay I did in solitude. Just me time with all these digital pixel monsters. I didn’t build or create anything that will render lasting value in any foreseeable other aspect of my life… at least not to a subjective bystander. In my opinion the value of playing Dragon Quest Monsters Joke 3 is discovering the joy of the video game art form masterfully crafted. Did I learn any useful new real life skills? Probably not. Did I make any real-life money off playing this game? No. Have I made any new friends or job connections? Nope. But did I completely and utterly lose myself in another world and experience all the joy and confidence building pleasures of hard dedicated mental work to conquer evil? Uh, yup! Did I enjoy the bliss of high adventure exploring uncharted worlds and building an empire of companions who live me enough to follow me into battle with unquestionable trust and loyalty? Yes. I did. What is the value of a video game? What is the value of storytelling? What is the value of entertainment?  That’s what this game really is, entertainment, a product in which one engages in order to experience emotions. Sure as heck you can bet that being an artist myself, this game inspired me to the Nth degree to create my own art that strives to deliver the level of emotion that I received DQMJ3. I feel likes it’s my sworn duty now to pass on this inspiration like a baton. Imagine every human went about getting inspired every day and spent their waking hours creating experiences for their fellow man that served to gift them with the happiness the original art gave to them. We’d all just be running about giggling, making cool stuff, and sharing the love.
            Yeah I’m sure there are kids starving in Ethiopia who I could be somehow helping. Yeah I’m sure the time I spent playing Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 3 could be viewed as pointless and irresponsible. Sure, I can see why someone would think that, and why part of me certainly thinks that about myself. But for the love of God, I’m only human. And I’m an artist. I create art with the goal to evoke feelings from my audiences. That’s what I do, that’s who I am. In order to accomplish that goal I require constant inspiration and stimulation to motivate and remind me why I put up with all the uncertainty every day. And YOU’RE a human too! You need this inspiration as well! So yeah, go watch 7 seasons of Game of Thrones. Binge 150+ episodes of an anime. Play every single Pokémon, Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy game ever made. But don’t lose sight of why you do it. Take care of the kid inside you so you can spread your joy to the next person. Don’t judge yourself, love the gifts of entertainment you give yourself. Appreciate them, and above all else balance. Cause if we all did that, man, I think we’d all be a lot happier. I’m gonna go make something cool now.