Dokapon Journey

Dokapon Journey

Developer: Sting
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 4/14/2009

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Spinnin' Around and Around

For some time now, board games have been a niche form of entertainment, taking a back seat to the television and video games. There exists within the board game world an RPG genre. Combining elements such as leveling, item management, exploration and questing with rolling dice and moving around on boards, this subgenre of games usually play out as faster, simpler versions of their D&D counterparts. Often the board game may involve cards, as well as tokens and maps, to help facilitate gameplay and add the random element necessary to keep things fresh during multiple playthroughs. Since I usually spend most of my free time drawing and playing video games, RP board games usually appeal to me much more than traditional D&D sessions due to their time-saving element and ease of setup alone. So, when I received a preview copy of Dokapon Journey, I could not wait to fire up my DS and give the spinner a whirl.

"Unfortunately, this mechanic tends to reduce battles to pure chance, minimizing the effects of character statistics, development and tactical decision making."

The beginning options in Dokapon Journey are extremely flexible. There are several modes of play to choose from. Story mode is essentially the main board game which features quests given by the king throughout the adventure. Completing these objectives results in huge gold bonuses, which seems to be the primary, overall objective. Greed mode lacks these missions so that players can focus on earning gold without the king’s interruptions. The player sets the time limit (in number of game weeks) and the one with the most gold at the end, wins. Finally, battle mode allows you to set more specific objectives. The gamer can choose three or four players, and set each one up to be run by computer AI or human player. Finally, they chose a class and a name before the game begins.

The game starts with each player at the main castle. On the player’s turn, a spinner numbered from one to six is rolled for movement around the board. There are several types of spaces that the player can land on. Normal, empty spaces usually result in a random battle with a monster. These battles are great for garnering experience needed to level up. Leveling up allows the player to raise statistics needed to take on tougher opponents, such as those guarding towns. Speaking of towns, these are also spaces that players can land on. Assuming the player can defeat the monster which has taken over the own, they will earn the loyalty of the town people, resulting in immediate and future gold rewards via taxation. There are treasure squares which are not only safe havens from attack, but award a random spell or item to the heroes. Weapons, armor, items and magic may be be purchased from stores littering the game board.

One thing gamers will notice immediately is the sheer size of Dokapon Journey’s board world. There are plenty of areas to explore. Similar to most old-school RPG’s, each zone has a certain level range of monsters. Wander too far from the initial territory, and the player will quickly be killed by a higher level monster. While there is not direct method of knowing where these zones begin and end (aside from trial and error), players can get a general idea by researching the level of the boss monsters guarding the towns in those various areas.

Once a player engages in battle with a monster, they generally do so to the death. Each turn, the player gets to choose one defensive and offensive action. Attack order is determined randomly when the player chooses one of two cards presented at the beginning of each encounter. Normally, there are three defensive and three offensive moves the player may choose. These moves have a paper, rock, and scissors relationship, which can drastically affect the outcome of battle. For example, if the player chooses "Counter" and the computer chooses "Strike" (The equivalent of choosing scissors over paper), the player will not only completely negate the opponent's attack, but unleash a biting counter attack. Making the right choice in battle can easily make the difference between victory and success. Unfortunately, this mechanic tends to reduce battles to pure chance, minimizing the effects of character statistics, development and tactical decision making.

In fact, random events seem to be a major theme in this game. For example, if the player frees a town the king has pointed out, not only will the king handsomely reward the hero, there is a chance that the player will win a free town, or another large cash reward from another randomly chosen player. This reward can be substantial, and since it is funded by another player, it can easily switch the current leader in the game to last place. Events are also liberally scattered throughout which can quickly double, or halve, the players gold with a virtual flip of the coin, or via a luck based mini game such as rock, paper and scissors. One's enjoyment of the game at any particular moment may be directly tied into how lucky they are, since these events, and luck itself, plays such a huge factor in the game.

I consider myself a casual fan of this deprived subgenre of video game RPGs. Having put over a dozen hours in so far, I can state that Dokapon Journey’s simplicity and easy accessibility (for this type of game) are certainly strong points. However, its heavy reliance on random factors to determine battles and distribute gold could certainly prove frustrating if it continues to play such a huge role throughout the entire game.


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