The obvious comparison is Pokémon: when Dragon Quest Monsters was spun off from Dragon Quest proper, back in 1998, it was clearly, and pretty brazenly, inspired by Nintendo's pocket-sized behemoth. It combined the same top-down dimensions with the whole collect-'em-all shtick, and wrapped them up in a similar sort of RPG-lite. Now Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker has taken the series to two screens and three dimensions and it looks superbly fancy thanks to the sort of cel-shaded graphics that made Dragon Quest VIII such a joy to play. The design, however, remains fundamentally the same: wander round collecting monsters, fighting your way to the top of the latest monster-fighting tournament.
Apparently the game's producer, Taichi Inuzuka, wanted to compete with Dragon Quest VIII in terms of the game's visual appearance. Obviously the PS2 packs a bit more of a graphical punch than Nintendo's handheld platform, but within the limitations of the DS the game looks superb. It's got the same art style as Dragon Quest VIII, and it certainly matches it in terms of character design and so on. So the odd disappearing distant character, or blocky texture feels eminently forgivable, as you wander across seven islands to pick up enough darkonium to compete in a tournament to prove that you're the best at collecting (or scouting, as it's called in the game) monsters. But wait! It's the first year they've asked would-be scouts to collect darkonium. And your dad's asked you to carry out a top-secret undercover mission for him. And who's this Incarnus character, anyway?
And plot provides the basis for another collection marathon, except, as with previous Dragon Quest Monsters games, you can also breed (or synthesise) new monsters as well as just collecting them. The combat will be familiar to anyone who's played any other Dragon Quest title, from the design of the monsters and the nature of their special abilities to the turn-based structure. Over the course of those turns, you can issue your team of three monsters with specific orders, or you can just provide them with general tactics. And if even that meagre amount of strategic effort is too much for you, you can trust your monster AI to take care of things, which it does extremely effectively - to the extent that for most of the game you can just sit back and relax, saving your energy for tougher enemies and the inevitable bosses.