Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince review for Nintendo Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix/Armor Project/Bird Studio
Medium: Digital/Cartridge
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes
ESRB: E10+

Despite the fact I’ve never played a mainline Dragon Quest game, I’ve somehow started racking up entries in the various spin-offs that populate the DQ universe. I played Dragon Quest-meets-Minecraft (Dragon Quest Builders) years ago. I played action-oriented Dragoon Quest (Dragon Quest Treasures) earlier this year. And now, thanks to Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince, I’ve played Dragon Quest-meets-Pokémon.

The common thread running through all three of those games – apart from being Dragon Quest spin-offs, obviously – is that all of them have been unbelievably easy to pick up and play. While I’m sure a deeper familiarity with the series enhances your experience, I’ve never felt at any time like I was lost in a sea of unknown lore. That goes for Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince, too.

There are two things that make The Dark Prince especially easy for anyone to jump into, regardless of their familiarity with the mainline series. The first is the voice acting. I know I’m probably committing heresy by saying this, but I played this game with the language set to English (since, you know, I don’t speak a word of Japanese). This means that all the characters suddenly sound as if they’ve emerged from some version of England that only exists in imaginations. Everyone has wildly over-the-top stereotypical accents, and I unironically loved that. It gives the game a pleasantly comforting feeling, as if you’re playing a fun fairytale.

(Mind you, it also helps that the story they’re telling isn’t too bad either. It’s a relatively straightforward plot about the titular prince collecting monsters in order to overthrow his evil father the king. While I wouldn’t say any game that takes 40+ hours to complete could ever be described as “brisk”, at the very least it’s got enough there – told, again, via funny English accents – to keep you moving forward.)

The other reason why The Dark Prince is easy even for newcomers: it’s basically Pokémon. Sure, there’s some other stuff about elfin magic evolving your monsters, but at the game’s core, you’re channeling Pokémon. You start with one monster, you gain more through battles, and you build up your menagerie. To be fair, you can’t just capture monsters, like in traditional Pokémon; here, you either overwhelm them with force to such a great extent that they’re impressed and want to join your squad, or you lure them over using treats to win their favour. Really, though, that’s a minor difference in the big scheme of things: if you’ve played Pokémon, this will feel pretty familiar.

Of course, that may also be the problem with The Dark Prince for some people: while I wouldn’t say it lacks its own identity, it doesn’t do a great job of standing apart on its own. It has the obvious Dragon Quest connection, but beyond that, it’s hardly completely new, gameplay-wise. Add in an art style that’s a bit of an acquired taste (or, if you’re not a fan of it, one that could be described as crudely simplistic), and I can understand how it’s not for everyone.

But it’s certainly for me. Much like Dragon Quest Treasures last year, Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is a fun entry point into a long-running series that doesn’t ask too much of players in terms of prior knowledge (though that surely helps). If you’re after a solid monster-training game with colourful cast of characters, it delivers solidly on that front.

Square Enix provided us with a Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince Nintendo Switch code for review purposes.

Score: 8.0