There aren't too many RPGs these days that are geared towards the little guys of the world. In fact, aside from Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 and Megaman Battle Network, there aren't any RPGs that can really get a kid to get a taste of what a lot of us older gamers have over the past few years. Enter AIA USA and their brand spankin new title, Dokapon: Monster Hunter for the Gameboy Advance.
Right off the bat you can tell this is definitely a kid's RPG from the introduction. Our nameless avatar has just turned 11 years old, and as such, he is able to go forth and acquire his adventurer's license. His first test requires him to go into an abandoned mine north of his hometown and snag a couple of key items. Eventually you'll travel across Dokkano Island, battling and capturing monsters, finding new weapons and shields, and learning powerful skills to aid you in your quest. Ultimately, the hero of the game is to gain the highest rank possible as an adventurer. Once you have completed the initial test for an adventurer's license, you will be able to take missions from the All Adventurers Association. There are a ton of missions to go on in order to achieve the highest ranking in the game. Dokapon will last a good couple of months for the gamer who just wants to complete absolutely everything there is in the game, which includes finding all of the weapons and shields, the 150 monsters in the game, and the insane number of missions available to you. It also helps that the dungeons are randomized, so you never enter the same one twice. Don't let this intimidate you though, as most of the dungeons in the game are relatively simple in size and layout.
Dokapon uses an interesting battle system, which is derived from the classic rock-paper-scissors system that many games (not necessarily RPGs) use. When you first start a battle, you must choose between two cards that are hidden from you. One depicts a sword, while the other is a shield. If you choose the sword card, then you have the opportunity to strike first, while the shield will make you defend first. In both defending and attacking, you have four choices to make: Basic Skill, Rock Skill, Paper Skill or Scissor Skill. The trick in the game is to match your type of attack or defense with the opponent's selection. For example, if you choose to use a Rock defense and your opponent has chosen a Rock defense, your selections will cancel out and you will be forced to choose again. If you have chosen a Rock defense against a Paper attack, they will blow through your skill and deal out full damage. Lastly, if you have chosen a Rock defense against a Scissor attack, you will completely nullify their attack. Basic attacks will always do damage on your opponent, although they are weakened greatly and will not do their full damage.
I don't want to sugarcoat how I feel about this combat system: quite frankly I think it stinks. While I need to commend AIA for attempting something new with the genre, I feel that the combat system relies too much on the chance that an enemy will pick the wrong skill when attacking or defending, which makes battles a lot more frustrating than they should. While a lot of enemies tend to use a certain skill many times, I feel that the game might be too hard for its target crowd. I had a ton of problems even passing the first dungeon in this game, so I don't really know how a child might handle the constant dying in this game. Then again, kids do have a knack for seeing things that us old people can't, so maybe it will work out in the end! Dokapon features over 120 weapons and 50 shields in the game, which can range from swords, clubs, axes, and even a water gun. When you beat a monster, you gain experience for your character as well as for the weapon and shield you're using. As your weapon and shield gain levels, you will learn new rock, paper, and scissors skills, although you can only use three skill sets at a time. You can also find weapons and shields scattered around dungeons, although the process in which to get them is odd. Whenever you come across a treasure chest or an item in a dungeon, you begin a roulette to see what exactly you'll get.
The main draw along in acheiving a higher ranking is to collect monsters in dungeons, similar to Pokémon. Basically, to catch monsters, you must lay traps with bait (food). Once they're in your trap, you must battle them in order to gain their loyalty. You're only able to keep four monsters at one time, which makes it a pain, since there are a variety of monsters you can catch in just one dungeon. What's also annoying is that the ranch where you can hold your monsters can only carry 16 monsters at a time, which makes it pretty much impossible to catch all 150 monsters in the game at once.
Visually, the Dokapon's are really solid. The animation is very smooth, and the level of detail is outstanding, easily on par with the big name RPGs out there, such as Golden Sun and Megaman Battle Network. The character designs are very nice, with big portraits for each character in the game. My only complaint is that while in battle, the graphics aren't too great, remaining relatively static except for a few attack and defense animations. The sound is also very well done. The battle music in particular is very catch, with a fast beat and catchy melody. The sound effects when text is displayed on screen is slightly annoying though.
In the end, Dokapon isn't nearly as bad as it might seem from my perspective. The criticisms that I've levelled against it are purely my taste, and I can totally see any gamer enjoying the features that I find fault in. AIA definitely has a lot going on in Dokapon, everything from the battle system to collecting weapons are fairly unique when compared to its competition, and definitely warrant RPGs lovers to at least rent the game. While it may not be my first choice when selecting an RPG for the Gameboy Advance, Dokapon is definitely one of the better games on the system, and shouldn't be missed.
· · · Reno