During Gamescom in Cologne, I played a preview build of the upcoming Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince on Nintendo Switch and experienced the next iteration of the popular sub-franchise of the Dragon Quest series.
While the game belongs to a spin-off series veterans of the franchise will immediately recognize the Psaro as the villain of Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen. This isn't the first time he's appeared in Monsters, but this time he's the hero, which is a nice touch.
In Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince he's much younger in the new game, in line with the younger target of the Monsters sub-series.
Dragon Quest Meets Pokemon
If you're unfamiliar with the series, it can be pretty much defined as Dragon Quest's answer to Pokemon. The main point of the game is that your character cannot fight, so you have to recruit monsters to do it in his stead. Does that sound familiar? Good, because it is.
The previous games of the series were on 3DS, so the visuals have evolved considerably. While the Switch isn't exactly a powerhouse nowadays, the graphical jump from titles like Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 is still extremely noticable.
The world looks colorful and almost festive, but also rather complex, with plenty of elevation changes and extensive areas to explore. To amplify the colorful look is the dynamic changing of seasons, which radically alters the feel of the map.
The character models are charming and cartoony, each 3D model does a great job highlighting Akira Toriyama's absolutely unmistakable art style. You could consider it one of the most powerful elements that tie the Dragon Quest series together, mainline and spin-offs.
The design of monsters is also cute and full of diversity, with plenty of variation in shape, color, and size. Fans of the series will find plenty of returning favorites and won't be bored by all the monsters they're able to befriend and send into battle.
Combat Feels familiar and is Suitable for Playing on the Go
Speaking of battles, Square Enix doesn't reinvent the wheel here. They're turn-based as you'd expect, with the game retaining the traditional feel of the series.
There are a number of quality of life changes to the turn-based combat that can make extended grinding less of a chore. The auto-battle feature lets you set certain moves for your monsters to use and let them make judgements based on those, or you can speed up combat to breeze through a battle in the blink of an eye.
Your monsters progress independently from each other and if a monster is down at the end of a battle, it won't receive any XP. Each level up won't just increase a monster's base statistics but also provides the chance to learn new abilities.
New monsters can be recruited when you fight them in the field, and you can even combine them Persona-style. Newly scouted monsters can be named and, alongside the option to choose their abilities, this lets you make them truly your own.
I mentioned sizes, and monsters can be either small or large. You have four slots in your party and small monsters take one, while large monsters will require two slots. This adds a further tactical level to your party combinations. This concept isn't too dissimilar from Square Enix's World of Final Fantasy party system.
You can also have up to four monsters in your reserve pool, and swap them in for additional tactical flexibility. There are 500 monsters in the game, which should be enough for anyone to find their favorites.
Changing Seasons Are a Promising Innovation
Seasons aren't just a visual element to make the game prettier. They influence the monsters you'll meet in the field and your traversal options. For instance, in the winter you can walk on a frozen lake, but you'll need a boat to cross it in the summer. On the other hand, you may be able to use mushrooms to climb to a higher location only during the appropriate season when they actually grow.
Ultimately, Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince has promise, especially for fans of the Monsters sub-franchise, which always had its own specific fanbase, encouraged by its Nintendo-specific nature and the Pokemon-style gameplay.
While the similarities with Game Freak's franchise are pretty obvious, the Dragon Quest Monsters series always had its own distinct personality and quirks, and The Dark Prince certainly is no exception. Fans of monster taming games will feel right at home, but this game doesn't feel like it's just another Pokemon clone.
It'll be interesting to see whether it'll manage to draw in more enthusiasts of the mainline series, and the chance to take a look at Psaro's young years may certainly be an attractive factor.
Those who prefer a more classic adventure with a human party or action gameplay may want to take a look at our preview of Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince was previewed in person at Gamescom 2023 with Square Enix.