At first glance, most people will write off Enix's Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 as little more than a Pokemon rip-off. While the games (there are two different cartridges here, one for those wishing to play as the young girl Tara, another for those who want to be the more masculine Cobi) certainly bear a resemblance to Pokemon, they're also different enough to stand on their own.
At its core, DWM2 seems a lot like a hybrid between Pokemon and Monster Rancher, because here, to 'catch 'em all', you'll have to mate your monsters regularly as opposed to simply combing the wilds and catching them. It's this monster mating that brings an amazing amount of depth and re-playability to the game and makes it one of the better RPG offerings for the GameBoy Color.
Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Tara's Adventure doesn't offer up much in the way of story. In fact, that tale is probably the weakest link in the entire production.
Tara, a young monster master, her brother Cobi, and their family move to the island of GreatLog in order to set up a monster farm. GreatLog is a giant palm tree that's been turned into an island, with a kind king, numerous merchants, and so on. It also has a mischievous prince named Kameha who has his own pet monster, a creature named Warubou. During one of the duo's pranks, GreatLog's navel plug (I'm not making this up, I swear) is destroyed. The navel plug is a lot like the plug for your bathtub-only instead of keeping water in, it keeps water out and allows the island to stay afloat.
Now that it's been broken, you must travel to a variety of different worlds in search of items that could be used to replace the plug. While you're doing this, Warubou fills the hole with his body-but he's not going to be able to keep the water out forever.
This quest for a new navel plug dominates the main part of Dragon Warrior Monsters 2. As Tara, you'll travel to far away worlds, by finding magic keys, and complete some standard 'find and fetch' quests before fighting a boss and returning home with an item that may be able to fill the hole and save GreatLog-pretty traditional stuff. Once you've managed to save GreatLog, your adventure continues-there are still magic keys to find, new worlds to explore, rare monsters to capture and breed, and other quests to complete. Some of these magical keys can only be accessed in Cobi's game, making transferring keys between a link cable a necessity for those of us who have to do everything in a game.
While the story is simple, and the main quest relatively short-you can beat it in around 10 hours - it doesn't really hurt the game. Even though there's not an epic plot anywhere to be found, the lighthearted and relatively simple story fits the mood of the game nicely. Simply put, it's a game that both kids and adults can pick up and understand with minimal difficulty.
It's here, in the gameplay department, that DWM2 really distinguishes itself.
While most of the game can be best described as 'standard RPG fare'-complete with towns, people to talk to, and a world map-it's the monster breeding that truly brings depth to the game.
With over 300 monsters available during your journey and thousands of possible breeding combinations and results, one could spend months playing the game just to get the most powerful monsters for your party. If you're a micromanager, then you'll find much to like here: the breeding system is like a course in genetics, yet simple enough not to overwhelm the casual gamer.
Monsters are won over in battle by feeding them meat to tame them. Make one happy enough, and it will offer to join you after the battle. From here, you can take the beast with you or send him back to Cobi on your farm.
Monsters gain experience in battle, which allows them to learn new skills. Once one has reached at least level 10, you can breed it by going to the Starry Shrine. There, you'll select a male and a female monster to mate. This union will produce an egg, which you can hatch. The end result is a newborn monster at level 1 but with the ability to learn skills of both the parents. Meanwhile, the two parents skulk off after making the egg, never to be seen again. Don't get too attached to any of your monsters; breeding them, and thereby losing them, is an essential part of the game. Monsters captured in the wild won't be as powerful as the monsters you breed.
As mentioned earlier, the rest of the gameplay falls into the realm of the traditional RPG. As Tara, you'll command a party of 3 monsters in battle. Battles are turn-based, with a first-person perspective. You'll command your troops by selecting actions from a menu-you can give them individual strategies, order an all-encompassing command, or order them to use their special techniques. However, if your monster has a high rating in the wild category, you can expect it to refuse to follow your commands pretty regularly. Feeding it meat will lower that wild rating and give you an obedient monster.
You meet enemies through random encounters on the world map and in dungeons. Basically, you'll be walking along, minding your own business, and a music cue will kick in while the screen transitions for battle. Fortunately, the encounter rate is relatively low, making it so you can cover quite a bit of ground without having to fight over and over. The game also features an item called 'repellent', which can decrease the frequency of random encounters even further.
When not traversing the world map, you'll find yourself in towns. Towns offer up inns for restoring your party's health, shops for buying items, and lots of information about where to go next. Outside of GreatLog, they're the only place where you can save your progress, as well.
Aside from all of this stuff (which is all part of the single-player game), DWM2 also offers up a lot for people who have a friend and a link cable. By connecting with another GBC owner who has the cartridge, you can engage in head-to-head battles, swap monsters, trade keys, breed monsters, or even team up together. This brings yet another level to the game-and if you want to see and do everything, you'll need to link up and swap to do it.
All in all, DWM2 is a traditional Japanese RPG, but the incorporation of the monster breeding brings enough innovation to the table to make the game stand out.
Being that this is a GBC game, don't expect graphics that will leave you breathless.
Still, there's a lot to like here, despite the antiquated look of the game. Characters are presented as super-deformed sprites on 2-D backgrounds, but the sprites are well animated. The world map and towns aren't anything particularly stunning, yet they're well designed and nicely colored.
The battle screen is simple, with monsters being visible in front of you, but nothing in the way of backgrounds behind them. The monster sprites look nice on the battle screen, though, and they're also fairly well animated. Spell effects are simple but pleasing, particularly given the limitations of the GBC hardware. Think NES RPG and you'll have a pretty accurate picture of what the game looks like graphically, although, it does look better than a lot of the early 8-bit RPGs.
The character and monster designs, handled by Akira Toriyama, are impressive, particularly the monsters. Considering that there are 300 or so monsters available in the game, it's nice to see that many of them are unique creations and not simply palette-swapped versions of other beasts.
Overall, the game's graphics are solid. They're not likely to win any awards, but who cares? If the gameplay's good (and it is), then graphics aren't a major issue.
I was pleasantly surprised by the music in DWM2, particularly since it was coming through the GBC's primitive sound system.
The music is essentially your typical RPG music, but it's catchy nonetheless. Much of it is re-used throughout the game, but it's never really bothersome. I found myself humming along at several points, which is always a good sign. The majority of the tunes are light and airy, which complements the mood of the game quite well. The battle theme is action oriented, as it should be, and the dungeon music is suitably mysterious.
Sound effects were less impressive than the game's musical score, but not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Again, considering the limitations of the hardware, they're pretty decent. Attacks often sound a bit like static bursts, and the spell sound effects aren't a whole lot better, but none of the sound effects were so bad that I turned down the volume completely.
At any rate, I don't think you'll be rushing out to buy a soundtrack for this one-but you won't be turning the volume all the way down, either. In fact, you may even find that you like some of the tunes featured in the game.
While many gamers may dismiss Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 as an attempt by Enix to cash in on the Pokemon craze, they'd only be half right. I have no doubt that Pokemon inspired these games in at least some form; anything that sweeps through the gaming community with that much force is bound to send developers scurrying for a way to get in on the action. However, Enix has done something more than simply copy the Pokemon formula. Instead of turning out a tired retread, they've taken the core elements of the game and expanded upon them.
The expansion might seem relatively minor, after all, you're still basically trying to catch monsters, but it makes a difference in the end. The idea of not only catching monsters but also breeding them adds a great deal to this title. You could spend months exploring and breeding trying to get the most powerful monsters. While it might only take you 10 hours to save GreatLog, and maybe another 5 or so to explore the bonus worlds, you'll be spending a lot more time with the title if you're one of those people who are obsessed with having the rarest and best stuff available in a game. Add in the fact that the game is fun, and I figure this is a title worth buying for anyone who's into the whole 'monster catching' subgenre of RPGs.
Sure, Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Tara's Adventure might not be the most innovative game out there, but it's entertaining-and that's what really counts.