Dragon Quest Monsters II was waaayyyy better than Pokemon

My love for Dragon Quest knows no bounds, although I can’t say I’ve played a good game in the series for a long, long time.

During my childhood, Dragon Warrior, the series’ localized name, certainly wasn’t the well known series it is today. It was an outlier title that few appreciated, but it would soon turn the tables with a little help.

Ditching the Dragon Warrior monicker after the fourth entry in the series, Dragon Quest V emerged with some added clout to its franchise. At the time of the original game’s release, all of the Manga-style artwork from the game had been replaced by the standard kind of fantasy illustrations seen in the West.

Created, most likely, by artist Shuji Imai, the box art reflected a pre-Dragon Ball world, but after we got a taste of Toriyama’s Monkey King-inspired manga and anime, our opinion of the video game series’ original artwork changed.

In subsequent re-releases of games like Dragon Warrior III, we saw the Toriyama characters on the boxart rather than the Westernized versions we once knew. It was a time when anime and manga were coming to the fore in popular culture, but also a time when Pokemon competitors and clones were starting to appear.

The place and time many Pokemon lovers grew up in was one of extreme competition. In Japan, Pokemon and Dragon Quest were going toe-to-toe, but in Toronto the pocket monsters dominated with trading cards and toes everywhere. We never saw a Slime or a Dracky on the store shelf, but we did have the games at the local EB Games.

At Yorkdale Mall, I picked up my copy of Dragon Warrior III, but secretly pined for a copy of Dragon Warrior Monsters II. That Holiday season, my dreams came true and I had my very own copy. I had ignored the original game in the series, but I was determined to make this a memorable experience and was it ever.

In the game, you play as Cobi, the son of a monster breeder who has crossed the ocean to the town of Great Log to put down their roots. After an encounter with the town’s prince and his trouble-making companion, the town has its lifeline unplugged, literally, and will sink unless another magic plug can be found to help keep the city afloat. So it’s up to you to travel to a number of different worlds to find stuff and breed monsters.

There was also an alternate version of the game that featured Cobi’s sister Tara who was put onto the same quest. Anyway, the games were very different than Pokemon in that your monsters weren’t confined to a single evolutionary tree. Through breeding, you could take the best parts of your favourite monsters and transfer those traits across generations. However, it’s not a process that you can just haphazardly slap monsters together.

It was a damn hard game that required you not only to strategically breed and capture monster, but also do most of it without a strategy guide. Well… there were guides you could buy and they would have been an awesome investment considering how expensive they are no online, but for me it was mostly just brute-force figuring that helped me through the game.

According to the file I have on my original game:

These guys: Akubar, Dracularge, and Dark Drium who were horribly over powered, but it took a lot of effort to grow them into the creatures that they were. Akubar came about after having to find and capture two rare demons whose names escape me and breeding them together. The tough part was finding a male and female version of the monsters. Dracularge actually began life as a Crespent, one of the earliest Dragon monsters you can get. Through a series of breeds and eventually meeting up with a Great Drak, we ended up together. Dark Drium is the result of a lot of risky breeds and losing out on some other seriously overpowered boss creatures.

It took a lot of time and effort to get these guys on my team, but eventually they formed a team that would take me through to the end game and beyond. In the game there’s a difficult series of tournaments you have to beat. Although it was a bit of a cakewalk with these guys, the tournament takes away direct control of the monsters from you. Instead, the player gets a three different types of commands. Luckily, I bred these guys to have different specialties. Akubar would heal, Dark Drium was the magic user, and Dracularge was the bruiser.

In Pokemon you can do much of the same thing, but you never have to sacrifice your creatures. Breeding in the Dragon Warrior Monster was a real leap of faith. You took a tried, tested, and true monster that had accompanied you on a journey and mixed it with another, but you never knew what the result was going to be. Maybe a skill would get lost or the new monsters would be completely useless. It was risky. Pokemon was safe.

As cool as the game and its breeding mechanic was, the game was extremely limited. Unlike Pokemon, Dragon Warrior Monsters II’s world was constructed of a number of different areas connected by portals. It was fairly dilapidated and the game’s story was pretty meh. You’d travel to a number of areas, complete a series of quests, and move on, but the feeling of progression was tangible.

Akubar, Dracularge, and Dark Drium were the ancestors of a battleworn monsters who fought to the last and were defeated more times than I could count. They have toughness bred into them and each have the star rating to show their pedigree. And the best part is if I wanted to, I could breed them even more and make them even more powerful, which is an awesome feature of the game.

Some other awesome monsters below, oh man so much nostalgia:

***

There have been a number of new releases in the series with Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker II for the DS, and a remake of the Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 on the 3DS. I’ve played Joker, but was never really impressed with the games. Something about the complexity thrust onto the series made it way less fun than the original games.

Maybe the games on the Gameboy Colour were just part of a time and place, a perfect storm of manga, anime, and video games. Going back and playing the game, I can still feel why I was so drawn to the games. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was so damn hyped up for Pokemon and I wanted an alternative that’d make me unique. I was an OG hipster, but you can’t say I had bad taste in video games.

Dragon Warrior Monsters II was an awesome game and picking it up again brought with it a wave of nostalgia. I just hope the batteries in the little Gameboy Colour pack survive the test of time and my three main monsters are able to stick around.

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