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Dragon Warrior Monsters (Game Boy Color) artwork

Dragon Warrior Monsters (Game Boy Color) review

"Nintendo - a name synonymous with the video game industry. And with good reason, as they manage to make even the most downright odd gaming concepts work so well that the games instantly become legend - Mario, for example, revolutionised the platform genre (both in the 8-bit and the 64-bit eras) despite being a game about a fat plumber with porno-star facial hair. Similarly, Pokèmon managed to turn a simple, near plot-less, tamagotchi-inspired idea about raising monsters into the videogaming phen..."

Nintendo - a name synonymous with the video game industry. And with good reason, as they manage to make even the most downright odd gaming concepts work so well that the games instantly become legend - Mario, for example, revolutionised the platform genre (both in the 8-bit and the 64-bit eras) despite being a game about a fat plumber with porno-star facial hair. Similarly, Pokèmon managed to turn a simple, near plot-less, tamagotchi-inspired idea about raising monsters into the videogaming phenomenon of the late 1990s. They took the concept and added their special, patented Nintendo magic to it to make it something really special. In Dragon Warrior Monsters, Enix tried to do the same, but ultimately only ended up showing us what dull stuff Pokèmon would have been without Nintendo's special brew poured in.

Dragon Warrior Monsters (a spin-off from the hugely popular Dragon Warrior, or Dragon Quest, series) tells the tale of Terry, a young boy who witnesses the rather distressing sequence of events in which a monster comes out from the shadows of his bedroom to kidnap his sister. His mind still reeling from this undeniably alarming twist in his life, another monster appears and whisks our Tel off to the land of Great Tree. Blimey! Upon meeting the king of Great Tree, Terry learns that the land is preparing for the Starry Nights Tournament, a face off between Great Tree and Great Log (their bitter rivals) in which the two most promising trainers in the respective kingdoms send their team of three monsters into battle. And, you guessed it, the King wants Tezzer to be their trainer. If our young hero meets with victory, then the King will help find his lost sister. Needing no other motivation, Terry steps out into the lands of Great Tree to gather forth a winning team for the tournament. While hardly the work of a literary genius, the plot of this game is admittedly far superior to that of Pokèmon (the fact that there is a plot all but guarantees that much). However, while a great foundation, a game needs more than a good plot to stand tall - it needs good gameplay, and that is unfortunately where Dragon Warrior Monsters falls apart - it's just so uninspiring.

The monsters that reside in Great Tree all live in the areas beyond the various portals scattered throughout the palace (and later the town of Great Tree). As he explores the portals, Terry encounters the creatures in random battles, the staple of so many RPGs. As veterans of the monster raising genre will know, it is the captured monsters that do the fighting, and in this case you can have up to three monsters in your team. Throw scraps of meat at the monsters you encounter, and there is a possibility that the last one you defeat (you encounter up to three per battle) will want to join you in your quest. While it's slightly more realistic than trapping the monsters in a ball (although in any game that involves capturing monsters you'd have thought that realism wasn't an issue...), this method is unbelievably clumsy - there doesn't seem to be any consistency in what quantity and quality of meat will result in the capture of a creature, and the fact that only the last one defeated stands a chance of capture causes many screams of frustration when that elusive creature that you've been hunting for simply ages passes away leaving you with another worm wanting to join you. While I certainly wouldn't like the monsters to be handed over on a plate, and welcome a method of capture that makes obtaining a monster feel like a real achievement, there must have been a better way than this.

One of the main selling points of this game was that the lands beyond the portals were randomly generated, making them different every time. Again, this is a great idea - in theory it makes for a game with near limitless variety, although again this is flawed in it's execution. While the maps are constantly changing, the backgrounds don't seem to offer much variety - it seems that there is only a cluster of different types of environment, and so each area ens up looking woefully similar to the last, making the whole exploration aspect very tedious. This may sound like an odd thing to say, but the environments have no soul - the overall impression is that very little effort has gone into making the different areas really feel different, and as such wandering around the maps is a very hollow experience. The random map idea is great, but in future it must be delivered with more style than is seen here, as unfortunately it's effect is the opposite to that which Enix intended.

The monsters, too, seem to lack any character - if you're going to be spending a long time with these little dudes (and... erm.... dudettes) then they have to be likeable, but unfortunately they almost all appear very dull and generic in design. There are a few exceptions (for example Gulpple - an creature resembling an apple with a mean set of teeth), but on the whole it's hard to be inspired by the creatures in this game.

Where this game does score over Pokèmon is in it's breeding system - it would be fair to say that the breeding aspect of Pokèmon Gold & Silver owes a lot to Dragon Warrior Monsters. It's wonderfully simple to use - there's a chapel in town where you can take your monsters. Hand over a male and a female, select which one will be dominant (not like that, you filthy-minded little beggars) - for example, selecting a member of the Dragon family will make the baby a member of the dragon family too), and let nature take it's course. Unfortunately, this process means that you lost the parents, but that's okay as the child should be the sum of their best qualities. You can even choose the sex of the baby, for a price. The breeding aspect is the most involving aspect of Dragon Warrior Monsters, and manages to save the game from absolute mediocrity.

In terms of presentation, this is one of the finest games the Game Boy Color has to offer. The sprites in the field move smoothly and quickly, and the fact that you can see your team of three monsters following you around is a very nice touch. Although the colours in the portal realms have an odd, washed-out and faded look about them, this contrasts well with the vibrant colours seen in Great Tree itself, making for a very nice effect. The battle graphics are fairly static, although the monsters are presented quite well here. Taking up a fairly significant part of the screen, they are colourful and quite often very detailed but, as mentioned previously, with only a few exceptions they are fairly forgettable. Still, they're nice while they last. The sound is of a similarly high quality - this is one of the few handheld games not made by Nintendo themselves to actually make use of the GBC's power to make some quality music. The tunes are all catchy, and the music in general is one of the most memorable aspects of the game. The sound effects don't fare quite so well, being the standard beeps and whirrs, but they manage to hold their own reasonably well.

But beneath all the gloss and the attempt to cash in on the Pokèmon craze, there is very little about Dragon Warrior Monsters that is above average. The breeding aspect of the game is great, and probably the only reason to keep playing. As for the rest of the game, it's all very repetitive, and with a plot twist that anyone with an age that's in double figures will see coming a mile off, this game is only really recommended to die hard fans of either Dragon Warrior or Pokèmon. Everyone else should probably rent first.

tomclark's avatar
Community review by tomclark (March 07, 2004)

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