As a kid who loved Pokémon, it was inevitable that other Monster Collecting games would eventually catch my eye. The first to do so was Dragon Warrior Monsters (yes, before we were allowed to call it Dragon Quest) which had all the wacky monsters and battling I could ever dream of. The series stuck around for a little while with a sequel and some DS games, but there’s been a massive Dragon Quest Monsters shaped hole in my heart for many years now. That’s no longer the case though, because Dragon Quest Warriors: The Dark Prince has arrived with more slimes than you can shake a stick at.
In this brand new entry in the series you play as the son of the big evil in charge of all the demons, and you don’t get on with daddy dearest. Using your dark powers you try to take down this paternal lord of darkness, and since the game has only just started you lose spectacularly and are stripped of all your powers. It seems like stopping the baddies is no longer within your grasp, when a wise old man introduces you to monster taming. Now with the power to raise and breed your own army of goofy monsters, you begin your quest to obtain a badass group of dragons and demons to finally overthrow pops and make the world a better place.
If you haven’t played a Dragon Quest Monsters game before, the gameplay loop is simple but incredibly compelling. You’ll go off with the monsters you’ve gathered and beat up other monsters to make them stronger, then you’ll fuse them with each other and hopefully end up with something even more powerful, and start the process all over again. Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince doesn’t change a whole lot in this regard, but even in 2023 it doesn’t feel broken and thus doesn’t need fixing.
Fighting with the monsters hasn’t changed a whole lot either, with each of your team of four monsters able to attack or use one of their special abilities to take down the enemy team. It’s classic turn based stuff, with plenty of recognisable spells that Dragon Quest fans will instantly feel at home with. There are some great modern touches though, like the option to allow your monsters to pick their own moves (with a variety of pre-set options like “focus on healing” or “conserve your MP” to choose from) and doubling the battle speed.
Getting wild monsters to join you is also fairly easy. On any of your turns you can show off the strength of your party to a particularly exciting slime or gopher, and based on how high their level and stats are you’ll fill a percentage chance meter and then see if they want to join you. This uses up a turn but there’s no real punishment otherwise, so you can just keep trying to show off to tree stumps until one joins you even if there’s only a ten percent chance of them doing so.
Once you’ve gathered enough high level monsters you want to fuse together you’ll need to head back to your home base to do it. When you pick two you want to synthesise you’ll have a few options of new monsters to choose from that you can turn them into, and you can choose to inherit the skills that the previous monsters had as well. This also means every new monster you make will have more skill points at level one than the last one, and if you’re lucky they’ll also be a higher rank which means their base stats will be better too. It might sound a little complex, but really as long as you just keep fusing your monsters you’ll get strong enough to beat the next boss standing in your way.
The world of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is split into different themed areas, and each one has tougher monsters that you need to fight (and usually a boss) before taking on the next. What’s really cool about the worlds though is that they contain different critters depending on the season, which slowly changes based on a dial in the top corner. Alongside this different areas are opened up based on the season too. For example in winter you might be able to walk across a frozen lake to get to some loot, or in summer some vines might have grown up a wall that you can climb up.
Traveling between worlds might be an important step on your monster raising journey, but to show your dad that you’re getting stronger you’ll also need to compete in monster fighting tournaments. Tournament fights differ from regular ones pretty drastically, because in these battles you can’t tell your team what to do. Usually this is easy enough to manage by just setting a monster or two to heal mode and letting the rest go all out, but it’s a nice twist that makes this side of the game feel different to the world exploring.
You can probably tell at this point that I’ve really enjoyed revisiting my childhood and diving into the world of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince, but there’s a side of the game that really is disappointing. The performance on the Switch is completely unacceptable, with a framerate that is never really good enough, and in certain areas made me feel physically unwell. I had to rush through portions of the game without exploring at all just so I didn’t lose my lunch, and there’s no way this game should’ve been allowed to ship in this state.
A smaller complaint is the story, which is completely throwaway and constantly gets in the way of the fun. Especially early on in the game you’ll be greeted with cutscene after cutscene of completely naff and predictable narrative, and if I hadn’t been reviewing the game I’d have very quickly decided to skip the lot of them and ignore it all together.
Fans of the Dragon Quest Monsters series will find a lot to love in The Dark Prince, with monster raising and turn-based battles that’s as fun as ever. The performance really lets the rest of the game down though, and isn’t even close to acceptable. If you’re able to get past the framerate though and love collecting adorable monsters, you’ll find one of the best examples of the genre in this unexpected return.
The loop of raising and combining monsters is so compelling
Turn based combat is a blast, and has nice mod cons
Monster designs are goofy and endearing
The worlds are really varied and the seasons change them up more
The performance is flat out unacceptable
The story is bland and intrusive