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Dokapon Journey (DS) artwork

Dokapon Journey (DS) review

"Perhaps the most disappointing difference this time around is that winning against your rivals is no longer an opportunity to serve a huge dish of delicious humiliation. One of the best things about Dokapon Kingdom was the number of ways in which you could poke fun at a rival after besting him in battle. Here, things seem more straight-forward. You can still rob a liberated town or steal a purse full of gold, but that's not as exciting as—and you'll pardon me, I hope, if this sounds juvenile—giving someone a poo-shaped hairstyle."

There was a word for Dokapon Kingdom on Wii, and that word was "awesome." When Atlus announced that it would be localizing the DS installment in that same franchise, then, I was thrilled by the notion that someone--the people at Sting, who developed the previous title--would be taking all of the big-time fun I remembered and cramming it into a tiny little cartridge so that I could take the experience with me on road trips. Unfortunately, something went wrong.

Just to be clear, Dokapon Journey isn't a bad game. There are frequent moments when it's very enjoyable! Just do yourself a favor if you decide to give it a shot: don't play Dokapon Kingdom first.

The way Dokapon Journey works is pretty simple and right in line with what returning warriors would expect: you create a character and you set him or her loose on a fantasy world. You have the opportunity to marry the king's daughter, but first you'll have to rid the land of monsters so that your future father-in-law will be favorably impressed. This premise is carried across each of three modes: "Story," where you will watch events transpire as you slowly satisfy one objective after another; "Greed," where you compete against your rivals as if playing a Mario Party title; "Battle," where you have an objective and you race everyone else to accomplish it first. Personally, I like the no-nonsense "Greed" mode, which--not coincidentally--is much like my favorite mode from Dokapon Kingdom.

Regardless of the mode you choose, you'll be busy for awhile. As expected, the world map takes up quite a bit of real estate. Each time you move, you'll either land on town and shop spaces (where you can rest, upgrade equipment or battle monsters that have taken up residence), or you'll land on a treasure chest or you'll find an event. This last option comes into play most frequently and usually amounts to a one-on-one duel with a vicious beast of some sort. You then trade blows in rock/paper/scissors fashion over the course of however many turns it takes for someone to emerge the victor. If you survive, you gain experience points and may advance a level, at which point you can assign points to your character attributes. This is important because it allows you to face tougher critters or computer-controlled opponents without perishing.

In Dokapon Kingdom, luck played a huge role in combat. Suppose that you chose to launch a 'Strike' attack. This could quickly decimate your rivals, but they might choose 'Counter' as their option and then you would be well and truly screwed. The same was true if you decided to cast a spell and they chose to block it with defensive sorcery. Dokapon Journey hasn't made significant changes to this dynamic, but it seems to me that the randomness of it all has been toned down quite a bit. I won more consistently and found myself facing fewer situations where my loss seemed predetermined. That's excellent.

Other changes to the gameplay setup are less welcome, however. Perhaps the most disappointing difference this time around is that winning against your rivals is no longer an opportunity to serve a huge dish of delicious humiliation. One of the best things about Dokapon Kingdom was the number of ways in which you could poke fun at a rival after besting him in battle. Here, things seem more straight-forward. You can still rob a liberated town or steal a purse full of gold, but that's not as exciting as--and you'll pardon me, I hope, if this sounds juvenile--giving someone a poo-shaped hairstyle. The closest you get is when you can rename an adversary, but somehow it's not as gigle-worthy on the small screen. It's the finest of life's details that matter the most.

Another disappointing change relates to the various events that you sometimes encounter, whether by random luck or by choice. For instance, you might choose to rob a store. Previously, this meant playing rock/paper/scissors with the vendor. Now, you just press a button as a vertical arrow moves about and hope that you come out higher than your opponent. Somehow, it just doesn't feel right, even though your odds of winning haven't really changed. Elsewhere, you'll find yourself playing one of several skill-based mini-games. This isn't always fun, though. For example, in one you're asked to spin the stylus in a circle to imitate the movements of a bicycle pedal. It's far too easy to mess up here and lose horribly, even as your dim-witted AI opponents have no trouble whatsoever (perhaps not a surprise, since they're not actually compelled to use a stylus). Other diversions fare little better.

While I'm harping on flaws, I should also mention that Dokapon Journey is lacking some of its predecessor's creativity. I still chuckle when I think of the magic shop owner from the previous game and the way everything he said was so... feline. Or I think of the lively character portraits and their reactions to certain events (such as robbery attempts). The feeble king comes to mind, as well. Those things really lent the game a good deal of its flair, so finding them replaced here by static text and uninspired--some might say 'generic'--character portraits does sting a bit. There's still funny stuff like the pig-shaped monsters (called 'Porcs'), but it's much more subdued overall.

Of course, the natural argument that someone might raise to defend the DS version is that the developers were working with more limited hardware and that some sacrifices were inevitable. Normally, I'd entertain such comments. In this case, though, hardware doesn't seem to be at fault. There are times when Dokapon Journey is actually the prettier game! No, the real issue is that someone in charge of design decisions just forgot about some of the finer points. The result is a solid on-the-go experience that still leaves me feeling that I deserved something better. Then I remember that I've already had that something. It was called Dokapon Kingdom and it was awesome. Even if it wasn't portable...

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 19, 2009)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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