Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince Review

Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is a colourful monster-catching adventure with some unique quirks.
dragon quest monsters dark prince switch review

Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is a game with clear inspirations, Tose and Square Enix having learned many lessons from the Shin Megami Tensei and Pokemon franchises, as well as Dragon Quest itself, in designing this spin-off sequel. It treads a well-worn path in its approach to exploration and monster-catching – not quite innovating, but still maintaining light, enjoyable gameplay and mostly delivering on its promise of adventure.

Within its relatively linear story, you are Psaro, a half-human, half-demon anti-hero who is cursed by his father to never be able to harm those with demon blood. Undeterred, and now on a quest of revenge, Psaro forms a new means of fighting: collecting and battling monsters he finds in the wild. It’s a unique hook for the monster-catching genre, which is typically defined by more wholesome ideas.

Rather than being on a whimsical adventure or working to save the world, you’re driven by Psaro’s motivation to defeat his abusive father, and become stronger at every turn. This quest is also solidified with the knowledge that Psaro is actually the antagonist of Dragon Quest IV, who grows to become a merciless ruler.

dragon quest monsters the dark prince review
Screenshot: GamesHub

His evolution drives the plot of The Dark Prince forward, providing that all-important sense of purpose to your travels. That said, the story is spread fairly thinly over the adventure, with much of the gameplay revolving around grinding for levels, catching and synthesising hundreds of monsters, and conquering various bosses across vast lands.

Personal taste will define the satisfaction you get from this hunt, which does demand hours of investment, and a strong desire to push forward, even when combat tends towards repetitive.

Much like its monster-catching predecessors, Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is all about turn-based battles, recruiting monsters, and wandering through wide open plains. It shares much DNA with Pokemon Sword/Shield and Scarlet/Violet in that regard, with similar exploration mechanics and open worlds – and also, unfortunately, the same performance issues.

Read: Poor Pokemon Scarlet and Violet technical performance analysed by Digital Foundry

Let me dwell on this briefly. While Dragon Quest Monsters is compelling in parts, it is severely let down by a very choppy frame rate, frequent loading pauses in its many overworlds, and constant texture pop-in issues. This is not a pretty game at all, and despite being a Nintendo Switch exclusive, it feels too ambitious for the console’s bounds. 

While it occasionally gets away with neat sunset vistas, and cutscenes are fairly good-looking, character models in-game are sketchy, and combat looks rudimentary. You’ll need to look past these flaws to really get into the game, and to look even deeper to find its most intriguing ideas.

dragon quest monsters the dark prince
Screenshot: GamesHub

Many of these can be found in the game’s vast array of monster fighters, and the ability to experiment with combat options.

To coral your companion menagerie of fighters, you’ll take on battles in the wild, eventually building out a four-strong party of main fighters, each of which has selectable tactics to perform. This system is fairly simple – players can directly control monsters and issue commands based on special attacks and abilities, or rely on an AI to determine the best tactics, then sit back with Auto-Battle to easily reap experience points.

I found myself using Auto-Battle more often than not, with a core tactic that seemed to work in most situations: two heavy-hitting attackers on the field, with two healers boosting my party’s health. I did run into a few higher-powered monsters that required me to slow down and direct input for my monster attacks, but typically, you can initiate cruise control and grind your way through stacks of monsters with minimal effort.

dragon quest monsters review
Screenshot: GamesHub

That inspired occasional malaise; you can get away with leaving the game to its own devices, and only idly providing input – walking a few steps, tackling a new monster, gathering experience points, and repeating the process until you’re strong enough to tackle the next dungeon, colosseum, or quest.

But with a realm-hopping tale and a fast pace through diverse locations, The Dark Prince frequently offers fresh opportunities for exploration and monster collecting that demand engagement.

I particularly enjoyed my visit to Honeyton, a realm made of macaroons and ice cream that genuinely made me sit up on reveal. It’s an incredibly novel locale, and contains an array of delightful monsters, many of them themed after desserts. In the end, it was this that motivated me through a relatively thin plot: entering new lands, and discovering my favourite array of monsters in each one.

In Honeyton, my favourite monster was probably Bag O’ Sweets, a pink-coloured monster in the shape of a bag, or the Slime variant in the shape of a Pain au Chocolat. 

The monsters of Dragon Quest are endlessly creative. They’re a whole collection of lovely little freaks. Several times, I encountered a horrific creature known as Lips – a snail with human-like arms and lips – and amused myself with bullying it. I also greatly enjoyed meeting (and fighting) such behemoths as Skeleton (self-explanatory), She-Slime (she’s red, and the man slime is blue – hilarious), Airbagon (a large round dragon), and Toadstool (just a mushroom).

lips dragon quest monsters dark prince review
Screenshot: GamesHub

There’s more than 500 of these creatures in the game, all appearing in various locales, at various times of the day, and dependant on weather circumstances. Frankly, they’re all extremely delightful. Beyond Psaro’s deranged quest for revenge, they’re the real main characters of Dragon Quest Monsters, and one of the primary reasons for overcoming the game’s grind.

Over the years, a number of strange and compelling creatures have popped up in the Dragon Quest series, all backed by clever designs, and puns that make you want to shout at your screen. They’re silly – the whole lot of them – and they inject The Dark Prince with a much-needed sense of joy, even after hours and hours of grinding, and attempting to take down difficult bosses.

After all, it’s hard to be frustrated when you’re staring down a snail-human hybrid with giant, puckering human lips – or a walking tree with an old man’s face. With its tongue-in-cheek devotion to silliness, The Dark Prince just about manages to skate by, balancing its darker tone with a real sense of fun and good humour.

While its best ideas are held back by its lack of refinement, the adventure remains surprisingly compelling, even as you’re wasting hours away on levelling up your favourite monsters, and experimenting with battle tactics. It doesn’t quite live up to its competitors in the monster-catching genre, but it’s certainly a memorable game, and one defined by its devotion to being fun, silly, and wonderfully weird.

Three Stars: ★★★

Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Tose
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 1 December 2023

Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince (NSW)
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05/16/2024 02:57 am GMT

A copy of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a 5-point scale.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.