I’m a relatively bright-eyed newcomer to the monster-collecting subgenre and Dragon Quest as a whole since I can currently count the number of games I’ve played in both categories on one hand. Still, I adore the inherent coziness of the DQ games I’ve played. Their traditional RPG approach is akin to wrapping yourself up in a warm, fuzzy blanket on a cold winter night. How could I not be intrigued when Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince revealed a storyline based upon Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen, one of the few mainline DQ entries I’ve recently enjoyed? Despite unfamiliarity with this branch of DQ spin-off games, I dove right in. Does The Dark Prince earn a crown for being an excellent tie-in to a classic title and a fun monster-collecting game? I say yes, even with my limited knowledge, though players need patience for level grinding before claiming the throne!
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince puts you in the role of Psaro, a familiar name to those aware of DQIV lore. Psaro is the half-human, half-monster son of Randolfo the Tyrant, the undisputed king of monsterkind. To help his ailing mother, Psaro travels through the underground realm of Nadiria, where Randolfo reigns supreme, to seek his father’s aid. Instead of helping, Randolfo curses the boy never to lay a hand against monsters. This curse leads to tragedy, setting Psaro on a path of vengeance. Learning of a creative loophole to his curse in the form of monster wrangling, Psaro leads a battle party of monsters in his stead. Alongside a kind elf named Rose, Psaro sets out to make a name for himself as the best monster wrangler in both the human and monster realms, hoping to surpass his father. Will the vengeance Psaro’s obsessed with be worth it?
I won’t say much more about the story, though if you go into The Dark Prince with passing knowledge of DQIV’s plot, you’ll pick up on specific narrative beats right away. The Dark Prince is an alternate retelling of the fourth Dragon Quest‘s plot, and it largely succeeds as such. Many of my favorite scenes were references to Chapters of the Chosen, and I appreciate how this game takes well-worn story threads and reupholsters them to shed new light on the tale. I can’t go back and unplay DQIV to know if I’d appreciate this game’s plot as much without prior knowledge, but The Dark Prince succeeds in further exploring elements of that story while standing on its own.
Character-wise, Rose and later human newcomer Toilen Trubble steal the show. Toilen gets great moments once the narrative delves into his backstory, and I like the begrudging friendship that he ultimately forms with Rose and Psaro. Despite being a kindhearted character, Rose isn’t a wilting flower, which is a characterization I greatly appreciate. The conflict she experiences as she watches Psaro singlemindedly pursue his goals is always very evident, making her a sympathetic character when she speaks her mind. I enjoy it whenever a mysterious “poet warrior” character shows up, and seeing the returning faces from DQIV is excellent.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Dragon Quest Monsters game without monsters, and they often take center stage in the story: a knight seeking redemption, a gang of dragons up to no good, a literal talking eyeball all about eye puns, and even an impish-looking creature who speaks with a lisp. There are many monster cast standouts, which makes sense, given that The Dark Prince wouldn’t be much of a DQM game without them!
Psaro begins his quest with one starting monster who changes depending on your answers to introductory questions, but he soon gains access to his venerable army of monsters. While exploring the game’s different map regions, you can scout and recruit monsters you encounter in battle, or they might join you after a fight of their own volition. These monsters bolster your ranks. Up to four small-sized monsters make up a battle party, though you have a four-monster reserve should you need to switch between creatures in the middle of a fight. Larger monster sizes mean fewer monsters in your party, though the bigger guys perform more moves per turn.
Battles are essentially traditional turn-based affairs. Your party of monsters squares off against opposing forces, and you can either manually control all of your monsters’ abilities or you can let the fight go into “auto” mode by specifying the types of tactics you want a monster to focus on, such as going all out on damage or healing as needed. The AI for your party is decent if you decide to go the auto route, though it’s nice that you can seamlessly switch between the two options as needed.
Gaining more monster allies opens the option to perform synthesis. In synthesis, you use two of your monsters to create a newer monster. You can get some mighty monster builds by effectively utilizing synthesis as particular monster talents (abilities) evolve into powerful variations when combined with another monster’s set of talents. You can also give specific talent trees to monsters when you acquire their scrolls, allowing you to customize your party further. It’s fun to experiment in the field with monster scouting and then see what combinations of monsters yield potent synthesis results.
The map you gradually unlock as you advance is truly impressive. Nadiria is a multi-tier collection of realms with vastly different appearances and challenge levels. The variety is astounding: one land is an inferno, another is a dessert-filled realm of sugary-based monsters, and yet another is a complicated maze of machinery. In addition, a seasonal/weather gauge periodically changes the terrain and subsequent monsters you encounter depending on how much time passes as you travel. I wanted to explore the world of The Dark Prince more to see how things altered with time!
There’s a gameplay pattern to The Dark Prince when you focus on gritty details. You gain access to a new area where you must find a boss battle hidden in a dungeon. Doing so proves your worth in the eyes of the local monsters, increasing your likelihood of scouting successfully. When you synthesize new monsters, they start at level one, so you’ll spend time leveling them up to be effective in battle. Then, you gain access to a new area, and the process repeats and repeats. The constant grinding cycle is a test of patience, though I felt accomplished once I got my stronger team to form.
Fortunately, you acquire a level of experience for your monsters regardless of whether they’re in the main party, so I never felt anyone fell behind. I finished the main story at around seventy hours, with a party comprised of Rank C and Rank B monsters in the level seventies. That’s not even discussing the myriad post-game content following the final boss of the main story! The level-grinding gameplay is well worth it for DQ and monster-collecting fans, but I acknowledge that not everyone wants to partake in such a huge timesink.
Visually, DQM: The Dark Prince is serviceable. The character and monster designs by Akira Toriyama are charming and sometimes deceptively cutesy, though you’ve probably seen very similar graphics in other DQ games. The UI is rather bare bones, with a simplistic quality to it. While the elf, dwarf, and human character models are expressive, most monsters get frozen to one expression throughout their cutscenes. It just looks strange in comparison! Loading times are pretty long, with some loading screens in the later stages, making me think my game stalled on more than one occasion.
Soundwise, the voice acting is full of the customary charm and dialects the DQ series is known for! There are some very dynamic performances in the English voice cast, and I love the different accents used throughout. Musically? Well, depending on your preferences, it is a DQ game, for better or worse. The Dark Prince reuses a lot of the music from DQIV, and it works well enough even though you hear tracks like the main battle theme ad nauseam. It’s catchy and does the trick in capturing DQ nostalgia, but this approach to the soundtrack makes me wonder how future games in the series will approach their soundtracks without prior game connections in place.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is an enjoyable monster-collecting spin-off to a heartfelt traditional RPG. It captures much of the DQ series’ charm and appeal while serving as a fascinating alternate telling of a classic DQ title. I’m very fond of this game, given its DQIV connection, despite feeling stuck in a grinding loop while playing. Psaro’s journey goes in some truly unexpected ways, showcasing that The Dark Prince is a welcome addition to the DQ lineup for returning fans and potential newcomers curious about DQIV: a game worthy of sharing the throne with its predecessors.