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Dokapon: Monster Hunter

Publisher: Asmic Ace Entertainment Developer: Asmik Ace Entertainment
Reviewer: Ogami Itto Released: 11/16/01
Gameplay: 62% Control: 68%
Graphics: 75% Sound/Music: 75%
Story: 63% Overall: 68%


Ever wonder what kind of game you’d get if you crossed Evolution and Pokemon? Well, wonder no more because the answer is Dokapon: Monster Hunter. Blending the monster catching elements of the Pokemon games with the random dungeon aspects of games like Diablo and the Evolution series, Dokapon is an interesting, yet tragically flawed, gaming experience. It’s also the first truly sub-par RPG for the Game Boy Advance.

Developer Asmik Ace Entertainment has tried to develop a lighthearted dungeon crawler for gamers on the go—and in some ways, they’ve succeeded. There’s really no denying that Dokapon has more than a few things going for it. There’s an interesting battle system, some decent if not overly impressive graphics, monsters to catch, and loads of weapons and treasures to find. Unfortunately, all the positives are ultimately negated by some incredibly poor design decisions—decisions that make the game so frustratingly difficult that you’ll undoubtedly consider chucking your GBA across the room while cursing the gaming gods with a stream of profanity that would make a trucker blush. Where does Dokapon go so wrong? Read on and find out…

Story? We don’t need no stinkin’ story!

Oddly enough, there’s very little story in Dokapon.

Gamers take the role of Hero (you can change his name if you like), a young kid living on the island of Dokkano. When kids reach the age of 11, they can apply for an adventurer’s license. Getting a license will allow Hero to go exploring the odd locations situated on the island and to undertake quests from the All Adventurers Association (aka the 3A). Completing quests earns you money, makes you a better adventurer, etc.

And that is the basic gist of the game. Much like Evolution (which also featured a young adventurer who took jobs from a local agency), the missions you take are responsible for the bulk of the game’s plotline. To say that this makes for an underwhelming story would be an understatement. There’s really nothing in the game’s plot to draw you to Hero or to make you all that interested in reaching new areas or taking on new jobs.

If that weren’t bad enough, the game also features a really poor translation. Talking to the locals is often an exercise in complete futility, as the majority of things they say makes little to no sense. As the game progressed, I found myself ignoring all the locals—it was just easier that way.

So, if you’re looking for a little plot in your dungeon crawler, or at least dialogue that you can read and make sense of, then Dokapon is probably not the game for you. The writing in this title is an afterthought.

Gameplay

Of all the categories of this review, gameplay is the most difficult to rate.

On the one hand, the game features some interesting gameplay elements (particularly the battle system) that set it apart from nearly every other game in this subgenre. On the other hand, the game’s most damning flaws are also part of the gameplay experience. Unfortunately for Dokapon, the bad ultimately outweighs the good.

I’ve never been a huge fan of games with randomly generated dungeons. While titles like Diablo managed to implement them at least somewhat successfully, most games don’t. The positive of random dungeons is that they supposedly give a game more replay value. If the dungeons are different each time through, every time you play the game is essentially a new experience. However, to achieve this goal, they sacrifice puzzles and design—two of the things that often make dungeon crawlers fun.

Dokapon is no exception in this regard. Each trip to a dungeon yields an entirely new layout randomly generated by the game. Basically, this means the game throws out some rooms, a seemingly endless series of hallways to connect them, and spreads out treasure and items all over the place. Because of this, there’s no rhyme or reason to the dungeons—one level might have the gamer traipsing through the whole floor to find an exit and have the treasure scattered about, while another will place the exit, all the treasure, and a bevy of monsters entirely in the first room, thereby all but eliminating the need for exploration.

Factor that in with the randomly created dungeons—which means there are no distinctive geographical elements or anything of that sort—and you get one floor after another of the same hallways and rooms. After about two floors, it gets pretty boring.

However, the random dungeons aren’t the game’s real flaw. The actual problem with Dokapon stems from several of the most boneheaded design decisions I’ve ever encountered.

While exploring dungeons and fighting monsters, both Hero and his equipment will grow stronger. He’ll acquire money, better weapons, items, and so on. However, once you enter the dungeon, you can’t leave—the only way to leave is by fighting your way through to the end (or finding one of the ‘homer’ items which will allow you to flee back to town). That’s not so terrible, though, as most of the monsters Hero encounters are pretty weak and will get weaker as he and his weapons get stronger. What kills the game completely is this: if you die in a dungeon (and you will), you will not only die, you’ll lose everything you were carrying—your weapons, your money, and your items. You will wind up back in town and have to start the entire dungeon again.

I can hear some of you out there saying ‘ah, that’s no big deal—I’ll just reload my last save’. While that’s a nice idea in theory, Dokapon doesn’t allow you to do that. When you die, the game autosaves, making it so you can’t go back and reload your last game. Remember that really great sword with the plus 200 in attack? It’s gone…forever.

Why, in this day and age, anyone would implement such a dumb system is completely beyond me. I can only conclude that the guys at Asmik Ace Entertainment are sadists who secretly harbor an intense hatred for gamers.

Of course, there are ways to get around this problem—sort of. You can store items (as well as your extra cash) at your house. Then, if you should happen to die the items are still in your storage place. Of course, this means that you have to not only keep multiple weapons, but also that you’ll have to spend time leveling them up as well—which means you’ll be spending even more time in the bland and repetitive random dungeons.

Compounding the problem is that the enemy AI is pretty cheap throughout the game. Hero will be cruising along, killing everything in sight within a turn or two, then suddenly he’ll encounter a monster he’s beat a hundred times before…only this time, the monster will cast sleep on him (which seems to never fail), or land an ultimate hit, or cast an insta-death spell (which also works at an alarming rate) and kill him with little effort—causing the gamer a huge amount of frustration.

The game’s battle system is generally responsible for these problems.

While Dokapon features an interesting and relatively unique battle system based on the old ‘rock, paper, scissors’ game, the inherent randomness of the interface makes fighting, and staying alive, more a matter of guessing right than using any skill or strategy. Even if you’re successful for a while, invariably, the odds will catch up with you.

Each battle starts with Hero selecting one of two cards. One is for defense, the other attack. If he chooses the attack card, he gets to attack first. If he chooses the defend card, the monster attacks first instead. So, right off the bat, He’s got a 50-50 chance of getting to attack first—provided he guesses right and picks the attack card.

After that, he’ll choose what kind of attack or defense he wants to use. He can choose the standard attack or defense, or one of the rock, paper, scissors choices. As Hero’s weapons and shields grow stronger, they gain access to new skills—he can carry three skills per item, one assigned to rock, one to paper, etc. Some of these will be status enhancements; some will be special attacks, etc.

After Hero makes his choice, the battle commences. Should he choose one of the rock, paper, scissors choices, several things can happen. If he chooses rock, which beats scissors, and the monster chose scissors, Hero’s attack will be successful. If the opposite happens, Hero’s attack will be cancelled. While the rewards are often greater for using one of his rock, paper, scissor attacks (in comparison to your standard attack), Hero’s standard attack has very little chance of being negated—making it the safest bet when attacking.

The problem here is that the whole system hinges upon guesswork. Each monster has three choices just like Hero, and there’s no logic to how they choose which one to use. So, basically, you’ve got a one-in-three shot (one-in-four if you factor in the standard attacks) of guessing correctly. Those simply aren’t good odds.

This gambling motif extends beyond the battle system, too. Whenever you find a chest, item, or bag, a roulette wheel will start spinning with each potential item on the list. Hero clicks a button to stop it, and whatever it stops on is what he gets. Once again, you have no idea what you’re going to get—it could be anything. Invariably, you’ll want healing items but instead wind up with half a dozen antidotes or something of that nature.

Hero can even gamble in the item shops. Don’t want to pay for that sword? Battle the shopkeeper. It’s another rock, paper, scissors battle of course, but if he wins, he gets the item for free. If Hero loses? Well, it’s back to the church, minus all of his cash and items yet again. It’s a game based entirely on luck—and like casino gambling, the odds are never in your favor. Unlike the casinos, though, Dokapon forces you to gamble, then punishes you unmercifully for losing.

With a name like Dokapon (which sort of rhymes with Pokemon), gamers would probably expect there to be some monster ranching involved—and they’d be right. While Dokapon doesn’t reach Pokemon levels in the ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ department (even if you wanted to catch them all, you couldn’t—because you can only keep so many of them around at one time), the monster catching does add another wrinkle to the game in an attempt to make it more than a simple dungeon crawler. How successful it is in that regard depends on the individual gamer’s feel for monster collecting games. Those who hate them will probably find the monster catching elements in Dokapon tolerable because they’re not the main focus of the game. Those who love monster ranching will be disappointed by the monster farming elements here because they feel as though they were included almost as an afterthought.

The ‘find them all’ mentality doesn’t apply solely to the monsters, either. Dokapon features 120 different weapons to find as well as 50 shields. Gamers who feel the need to find every item in a game will spend countless hours collecting all the items, as I’m pretty sure some of the weapons can only be found in the dungeons (which means you not only have to find it, you also have to get lucky on the roulette wheel).

Ultimately, the rock, paper, scissors battle system is an interesting idea that fails in its execution—which is why Dokapon gets such a low score in this category. The unpredictable nature of the system, coupled with the insane punishment for dying makes this game a recipe for aggravation.

Graphics

Overall, Dokapon’s graphics are decent.

Character sprites are big and showcase a fair amount of detail. Hero has the unique distinction of being able to acquire different outfits throughout his adventure (a nice touch—I’ve always wondered why RPG characters often seemed to own only one set of clothes), which keeps things interesting.

The game also features an impressive array of enemies—jungle savages, crazy looking miners, spore monsters, etc. On the downside, the game has an alarming lack of battle animations, resulting in some incredibly static battle sequences reminiscent of the 8-bit era of RPG gaming.

Since the environments are randomly generated, don’t expect much in the way of flash here. Each dungeon is a repetitive maze of hallways and rooms with a non-descript appearance that becomes more and more tedious with each new floor.

Character animation outside of the battle screen is also pretty unimpressive. Hero has this tendency to float along when he runs—it certainly doesn’t appear as though his feet are actually touching the ground.

At any rate, the graphics are acceptable. If you’re looking for a cutting edge piece of eye candy, Dokapon is sure to disappoint you.

Control

Not much to report here since this is a traditional turn-based RPG, but I did think it was worth mentioning that Hero is often difficult to control while moving through towns and dungeons. When running, you have to line him up perfectly with the hallways and whatnot, otherwise, he won’t go through (despite the on-screen appearance that there’s enough room for him to go through).

The rest of the controls seem a little loose and unresponsive. When running in one direction, you can just tap the D-pad and the character will run until he encounters an obstacle. Trying to get him to deviate from his path before he encounters the obstacle is harder than it should be. This becomes especially problematic when trying to avoid on-screen enemies.

Sound/Music

In the shining example of mediocrity that is Dokapon, I guess the music is probably one of the game’s few plusses. There aren’t any memorable tunes here, but they aren’t so awful that you’ll turn the sound down either. Like much of the rest of the game, the music is serviceable—but it could have been better.

Sound effects are the standard beeps and buzzes you’d expect on a handheld. Once again, nothing to write home about.

Conclusion

It was bound to happen. After the recent spate of great GBA RPGs (both remakes like Breath of Fire and original games like Golden Sun and MegaMan Battle Network), it was inevitable that a bad game would come along. Dokapon: Monster Hunter is that game.

I really wanted to like Dokapon—I truly did. However, the flaws in the gameplay which require the player to win more through luck than skill, and the extreme punishment for dying make this a game that’s bound to inspire aggravation. The shame of it is, there’s a good game buried somewhere in here. Not a great game, mind you, but a good one—one that could have provided several hours worth of diversionary entertainment. Unfortunately, the flaws of the title make trying to find the good game hidden under the problems an exercise in futility.

Ogami Itto

The battles take place in a rock, paper, scissors format.

The dungeons are randomly generated.







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