Available On: Switch

To call Dragon Quest Monsters a Pokémon clone is a disservice, as the spinoff creature battler was developed alongside Pokémon, and was inspired by the creature capturing from Dragon Quest 5.

The Dark Prince is the first mainline DQM game since 2016, and the first to release outside Japan in over a decade. Like Pokémon, its stubborn refusal to evolve over the years is endearing, but also its most frustrating trait.

Sins of the Father

The titular prince refers to Psaro, the main protagonist, and the villain from Dragon Quest 4. Fans of the long-running RPG series will enjoy the extra insight into DQ4’s story, as Psaro builds up his power to take on his evil father.

But unlike Dragon Quest XI, I was never pulled into the story, world, or characters.

The cheesy writing and grating voice acting are terribly distracting. It’s not a good RPG if I dread every moment of dialogue and cutscene.

The colorful and cartoonish Dragon Quest art style remains lovely and iconic, but the 3D exploration looks like a Nintendo 3DS game from a decade ago. Even stranger, the Switch has some performance issues with large outdoor areas, especially with draw distance and animating roaming monsters.

On the plus side, each of the Circles of Nadiria are portals to completely different biomes, including forests, icy mountains, polluting garbage heaps, and towering desserts (no, that’s not a typo!). The Dark Prince adds constantly shifting seasons to the world, slightly modifying the look, monsters, and exploration for each area — though it’s also a thinly veiled excuse to use the same areas in slightly different ways.

The repetitive grind to level up monsters slows down the already glacially slow pacing, with the only story advancements coming from finishing boss fights, or completing certain arena battle thresholds.

The familiar gameplay loop of reaching a new area, getting a quest, then tackling a dungeon and a boss has worked for generations of Dragon Quest games, but the lack of town interactions and the encouragement to grind creates a tedium that sets in almost as soon as it starts.

Gotta Scout ‘Em All

Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is all about the monsters: scouting them, leveling them, and synthesizing them to get stronger monsters.

Unlike Pokémon, you’re not meant to get attached to your individual monsters, at least not for a while. Once they reach level 10 (and you’ve progressed past a few hours), Psaro gains the ability so synthesize two (or later, more) monsters together, potentially creating more powerful monsters.

For further incentive, monster abilities can be passed from generation to generation (along with half their accrued skill points), making synthesized monsters much more powerful. The intricate system rewards experimentation (or looking up a guide), along with capturing as many monsters as possible as breeding fodder.

Seeing monster teams grow through the generations and pass on upgraded abilities can be fun and rewarding. Sadly, the same can’t be said of the actual combat system, which feels increasingly dated in the era of mobile gaming.

Monsters don’t directly receive orders, instead you assign them tactics, such as “focus on healing,” or “weaken the enemy.” Then, you sit back and watch.

Like a mobile game, DQM: TDP includes a x2 speed function, and an auto-battle. More often than not, I’m staring as the game plays itself once I enter a battle. It’s something I’ve come to expect from mobile auto-battler and free-to-play grind-fests. Not from a Dragon Quest game!

Grinding for higher levels and better monsters quickly makes me overpowered for my area, and my monsters are always synthesized and stronger than ones I find. The only time I need to assume control is when I want to scout a monster to add it to my pool. Even the boss battles don’t require much attention — much of the work is done in preparing for the battle with the right abilities and monsters, leaving combat disappointingly hands-off.

The Rating

Dragon Quest Monsters is rated E10+, with fantasy violence and mild language. It’s a fantasy RPG and creature battler with tons of combat, but no blood or gore, and the art style is very cartoony and exaggerated.

The Takeaway

I’ve been playing the Dragon Quest Monsters series since the first game in the late 90s (even before I ever played the main RPGs), and it’s shocking to see the series evolve even less than Pokémon. Part of Dragon Quest’s charm is its classic, trope-filled stories, and Akira Toriyama’s beloved art. But The Dark Prince relies too heavily on nostalgia, along with its crunchy, grindy, monster-fusing gameplay, keeping all but the most hardcore fans at arm’s length.

This article was written by

Eric has been writing for over nine years with bylines at Dicebreaker, Pixelkin, Polygon, PC Gamer, Tabletop Gaming magazine, and more covering movies, TV shows, video games, tabletop games, and tech. He reviews and live streams D&D adventures every week on his YouTube channel. He also makes a mean tuna quesadilla.