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Dragon (Warrior) Quest Monsters II
Note: This review will cover both versions of this game. This game was released as Dragon Warrior Monsters II: Cobi's Journey and Dragon Warrior Monsters II: Tara's Adventure due to copyright issues with the Dragon Quest name in the '90s. In the article I will use the title Dragon Warrior Monsters due to greater correctness, but rest assured that it's part of the Dragon Quest series (albeit a spinoff).
Dragon Warrior Monsters II was released in 2001 in Japan and North America by Enix. In this game you take on the role of Cobi or Tara (depending on which game you have), who have recently arrived on the island of GreatLog along with the rest of their family. The game starts out innocently enough, with you running a simple errand for your mother (fetching a pie from the nearby town vault). However, that quickly turns ugly as the resident guardian monster of the town (named Warubou) and the prince of the town (Kameha) steal the pie from you. They are both quite mischievous in their own right. As you chase them into a well, you find them fighting for the pie. One forceful push later, and you find out that the town's tree is bleeding energy. The plug preventing this from happening was destroyed by their in-fighting. Way to go guys! -_-
Your adventure starts at this time as Warubou tasks you to travel to several different worlds in an attempt to find a replacement plug for the tree.
In this game, as with all the Monster spinoff games of the Dragon Quest series, you control your main character. However, he (or she) does not attack. Instead, you must breed or entice monsters to join you so they can fight for you. You can have up to 3 monsters in your party at any one time. However, you only get one monster to start, and must go to other worlds to get more.
To reach other worlds, you require Magic Keys that allow travel to those worlds. During the course of the plot, you will acquire the keys necessary to travel to the plot-critical worlds. However, you will also get other, random, keys that allow you to travel to likewise random worlds and capture different monsters. This is a feature that adds great re-playability to the game.
Battles occur randomly, and in turn-based fashion, while you're traveling on the world map or while you're inside a dungeon or cave. Once you encounter a group of monsters, you can throw meat at them to entice them to join you. However, since the game doesn't have an indicator of how enticed the monsters are, you have no way of knowing if you threw enough. Also, the last monster to be defeated in a battle is the only one you have a chance of recruiting (all other monsters will just scurry off).
Alternately, if you don't want any of the monsters in the battle, or you're fighting a boss (bosses will never join your cause via meat; they may join of their own accord if it is plot relevant though), then you can use your character's turn to give your monsters precise orders. Each monster can learn up to 8 skills (although they won't hit that upper limit until you start breeding, since each monster only has 3 innate skills), and can also attack normally (ironically, if your monsters have a lot of Attack, they'll probably be doing more damage with a normal attack than with a skill).
Breeding and Monster Families
In Dragon Warrior Monsters II, all monsters can be classified into one of 11 families (including a Boss family of monsters that have to bred to be obtained). At the start of the game, you're not allowed to breed, but will soon get the option. Once you do, it's just a matter of finding two monsters with opposing genders. Most initial breeding setups are weak, but easy to do (as they tend to be Family + Family breedings). As you breed stronger monsters, you may start needing specific monsters to get even stronger ones (Family + Monster or even Monster + Monster). At the end of the act, the parents leave you forever, but the child inherits the abilities of the parents, making him/her potentially more powerful than his/her parents ever could've been.
Each monster family has different strengths and weaknesses. Take for example the Demon family. Demons tend to be resistant to damage effects, but weak to status effects. The only family that's somewhat random all around is the Boss family, and that's because it's more of a grouping of top-level monsters than a family defined by common characteristics, so perhaps one Boss is a Slime, but another is a Dragon.
On breeding, your monster may acquire developed skills. Developed skills are those that derive from other, more easily, attainable skills. For example, by combining several skills that cure status effects, you can get Surge, which cures all status effects. Breeding is essential for beating the game; you won't finish the plot line with the monsters you find in any world, as monsters you find in the wild reach their maximum level much faster (and have lower stats as a result) than monsters you breed.
Each monster has its own personality. The best personality is Hotblood and the worst is Lazy. You can get a monster to change its personality via books and via allowing it to do its own thing in battle (you set a general command for it; like "use support skills" for example, and then stop commanding it directly so it can work on its own). As a monster goes up in levels it becomes harder to change its personality so you should start early in its development. Personalities affect what a monster will do if left to its own devices, and is essential to get right for fights in the Arena (you can't directly control your monsters in the Arena; just give battle guidelines).
If you have a copy of one of the Dragon Warrior Monsters II games and you have a friend with another one (or you have both of them, and two Game Boy Colors), then you can connect them using the Link Cable and trade Magic Keys and breed monsters. This is crucial if you want to unlock special worlds only available to the game you lack. After the plot is complete you will also unlock a third tower challenge if you possess (and have cleared) both of the previous tower challenges (each version of the game only has 1 tower key).
By breeding monsters with a friend, you can also help each other get stronger monsters faster. After all, nothing like two humans who have a good idea on how to raise their team working together. ;)
Take note however that some monster personalities refuse to breed with others if you try to do it via Link Cable (not too sure why the developers added this in; perhaps as a fail-safe for cheap abuse?)
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The gameplay is pretty fun. Monster collecting is an extremely addicting concept, and this game does it brilliantly (even better than DQM: Joker, the DS game made several years later). You will find yourself wanting to play "one more minute" to get that next level up for your monsters.
The sound is about average, but it has neat little touches like a different sound when one of your monsters attack and when enemy monsters attack, as well as unique sounds for many skills.
The graphics are pretty standard-fare for the Game Boy Color. They're not impressive, but they're appealing enough that it shouldn't be too annoying to look at.
I believe that this is the best Dragon Quest spinoff game ever. I wholeheartedly recommend getting a copy of this game if you still have a Game Boy Color or a Game Boy Advance. :)
Until the next time, take care and have fun! ;)