Release Date: April 14, 2009
The box art for Dokapon Journey isn't really indicative of the kind of game that it is, but I guess it's pretty difficult to explain with a simple box illustration. The best way I can explain this quirky Atlus RPG to the casual player is to say that it's a mix of Mario Party, Monopoly, and a random JRPG. If you've ever played a Mario Party title, you know the basic formula: You select your character, you battle it out with a handful of opponents, either controlled by other players or the AI, and you take turns rolling virtual dice while you bound to the next available star. With every square you land on, something happens, whether it's a mini-game, gaining some money or some other occurrence. Now, Dokapon Journey doesn't really have anything in the form of mini-games, but there are spaces that you can land on that will grant you random items or a bit of cash. You can also get into random enemy encounters, like a typical RPG. These encounters are usually against one monster, and depending on where you are on the "board," they'll be of varying difficulty.
Where does the Monopoly aspect come into play? In Dokapon Journey, the map is littered with towns that need saving. You'll see these small locations with little purple monster icons that surround them, letting you know there's a fight to be had if you manage to land on one. These "boss" fights are a bit harder than your typical random encounters in other squares, and they might take multiple turns to finish. However, if you're successful, you'll gain control of that town, and you'll see a little flag raised on the icon to match the color of the character you selected in the beginning. These towns can generate cash for your character, and coming back to them after a short amount of time will allow them to grant you whatever cash they've earned. You can even spend some money to upgrade the cities, allowing them more production and keeping them safe from harm.
When you do fight in Dokapon, the battle setup is fairly simple, with a little bit of a twist from your typical RPG. There are two basic attacks — a regular attack and a super attack — but they can easily be countered by an enemy who's anticipating it. Along with that, you have a magical defense and a charm-like effect that you can try to use to keep yourself alive until the next round. Certain items that you gain will cause random effects to also occur, like full heals. Also, along with fighting against the bad guys that inhabit the towns and the random encounters, you can even fight against other players, if you manage to land on a square they already inhabit. These fights are definitely more fun, considering that if you win you can either take three items, or all their cash. There's also a random tournament or two that you can get into, usually involving all the players plus one computer-controlled monster, which can net you some nice bonuses along the way.
The game supports up to four players at a time, locally through the same DS. You can either play with human opponents, which is obviously more fun, or against the AI, with three difficulty settings to choose from. Even on the easiest setting, you'll get a little bit of a challenge from the AI, though, and if you're new to playing, they have an almost unfair advantage of realizing where to go next, while you're stuck scouting around on the map with the look function trying to figure out the next place you need to go to.
There are three different play modes to pick from when you start out, but the most interesting has to be the Story mode, which is where the RPG element comes into play (outside of the battles, of course). The king of the area has decided that you, along with the other players, need to help out the towns within his kingdom, and he'll tell you which town to head to and what monster to battle if that town needs saving. Occasionally, he'll toss in a random requirement or have you go to a specific location to look for an item, and the game is divided into multiple chapters as these quests progress. Doing what the king asks will net you some pretty large rewards, but of course, you're in competition with the other players to get there first and finish the task before anyone else does. It's a bit like chasing the stars around in the Mario Party titles, but it's a lot of fun to play with a few other participants.
Visually, the game has a pretty simple 2-D art style, taken from some cutesy anime designs, but it works well. The story isn't particular serious, so there's no gravity to the events around you, and the cute-looking characters you control don't need to have a wide range of emotion or any real dialogue. You can pick from a variety of classes, gain stat points to distribute, and the leveling system is pretty forgiving, with levels coming along quickly enough to keep the basic RPG fan entertained for a while. Monster levels don't scale, but the experience they grant will, so fighting the weaker monsters continually will net you less and less, so eventually you'll need to move onto the harder sections of the map to progress. The map is pretty large, much bigger than the playing field in something like Mario Party, which makes sense with the whole RPG setting.
Altogether, I absolutely enjoyed Dokapon Journey for the DS, and I hope more players are willing to give it a shot. It's a very unique take on an RPG, and the Monopoly/Mario Party elements combine well to create something new. The story is a bit light, so players going in expecting some type of epic will be disappointed, but that's just not the type of game that Dokapon is trying to be. It's a great game if you can get a few other players involved, but even if you're stuck playing with the AI, it's definitely a blast.