Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince review: Bad times don't last but bad guys do

Dragon Quest's monster huntin' spinoff is back, and this time with a dark twist.


1990’s Dragon Quest IV: Chapter of the Chosen was a monumental step in RPG history. The book was still being written, and the sheer ambition of titles like this are why that book reads so dang well today. A huge emphasis on storytelling and structure thereof made Dragon Quest IV a major leap forward, well before the likes of Final Fantasy II. It’s fascinating, then, that Square Enix has returned to that well with the latest Dragon Quest Monsters. This strange pairing has resulted in the most narrative-heavy entry in the subseries yet. Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince delivers equal parts fantastical adventure and equal parts monster-fusing dopamine excess.

Slay, king

Psaro, main character of Dragon Quest Monsters The Dark Prince
Source: Square Enix

Players take on the role of Psaro the Manslayer, the villain from Dragon Quest IV. Many Dragon Quest spinoff titles, especially Monsters, put younger versions of supporting characters from numbered titles in the lead role. But in Dark Prince you are actually experiencing Psaro’s side of the story, operating before and during the events of the original game. This is a huge shift from the norm, as these kinds of games are generally more about whimsy and winning tournaments than anything else. Here, we get a firsthand account of Psaro’s side of the story, and it ain’t exactly a cozy time.

There are times when things get a little weird, and Dark Prince fumbles the ball. Having Psaro being a silent protagonist, while the game still attempts to present him as an active part of his motivations, makes for some odd transitional moments. There’s also a point where the story really pulls its punches at a crucial moment, riding almost right up to the finishing line before backing up at the last moment. Where the story goes after that is compelling however, and while the promise of the initial premise fades, there’s a sort of AU-flavored charm to the back half.

The big gimmick, which builds the bridge between spinoff and canon, is that Psaro is cursed early on by his Big Bad of a father. The curse prevents him from harming monsters himself, so Psaro learns the ways of the “Monster Wrangler”. This sets Psaro on a journey to build an army, not just because he can’t fight himself but because he needs to unseat his old man from the Nadirian throne. It’s a good gimmick to bring the Pokemon-style gameplay into a space that plays with canon.

That's that good dopamine drizzle

Combat in DQM The Dark Prince
Source: Square Enix

Collecting, synthesizing, training, and battling the iconic series bestiary in Dragon Quest Monsters is impressively streamlined. There are a lot of complicated, intersecting systems at play here, and the game does what it can to help you out without spoiling the fun of discovery. And that’s crucial, because any pairing of monsters can have multiple outcomes to choose from. Keeping tabs on everything yourself was a nigh-impossible ask even during the Game Boy days, but now you don’t really need to bother with guides unless you want to skip ahead a bit.

A testament to all this streamlining is how good it feels to simply grind your ass off in this game. Building your team of four kooky critters is a constant stream of leveling up, earning skill points, running back and forth from home base, fusing two pumped-up varmints into a new level one guy, then running back out to raise them and fill the open slot. Each time you fuse you get more stats, more points, and a deeper talent pool, and that’s in addition to filling your Monsterpedia out with all kinds of wacky characters. While Dragon Quest has its color-swapping stubbornness, there’s still a huge variety of returning and new monsters to keep the ah-ha moments coming.

I spent so much time deeply invested in the dopamine mines, by the time I came out the final story fights were a breeze. And it felt great. I want more, and at 85 hours in, there are still a few loose ends and empty spaces to fill. There’s just one problem! Dark Prince eventually takes the grinding thing a bit too far, with a mechanic so egregious with RNG it’s almost like an invasion from a different game.

Why couldn't you just be perfect???

A lovely image of the environment in DQM The Dark Prince from a game sequence that probably runs at 20 fps
Source: Square Enix

As you run around the environment, you can find an egg. It’s a free monster, yay! Except there are different rarities of egg variants, and you don’t know which until it’s opening. Eggs only spawn a few at a time, and the time of day and season impacts how easy it is to spot and reach them. The kicker, of course, is there are monsters you can only get from eggs. If you think you sleep too well at night, hop over to YouTube and look up some egg farming guides. Nightmare fuel for weeks, I tell you what.

Perhaps egg farming would be slightly less painful if the game ran a little more smoothly. Unfortunately, we’re at the end of the Nintendo Switch’s life, and it has already held on a bit too long from a technology perspective. Dark Prince tries its best to keep up with itself, but you’re going to be looking at lots of frame rate dips, blurry textures, and sometimes even slowdown so brutal it impacts the music. It’s a real bummer, because if this is anything like Dragon Quest Treasures there’s a silky-smooth PC version around the corner (ish).

This series struggles enough to get numbers in North America. The last few entries on 3DS didn’t even get localized! It’s hard out here for a Dragon Quest Monsters sicko, and stuff like this doesn’t help. Maybe the Switch 2 was supposed to have been out by now. Who knows! Either way, I often had to grin and bear it through some rough patches. It goes to show just how much I was into everything else about Dark Prince, sitting here agonizing over some legitimate criticism. Oh and speaking of criticism, one DLC being an interactive compendium for reacquiring monsters is borderline criminal. The "Mole Hole" not just being part of the normal game is wild.

In a lot of ways for someone like me, Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is weirdly validating for a video game product you purchase. This series has been living in relative obscurity for decades, either going unlocalized entirely or simply being seen as a niche within a niche destined for handheld gamers looking for more Pokemon. But there’s so much meat, life, and ambition in this one. It’s a console game, it’s got a story it wants to tell, it has ideas beyond “catch slimes, win tournaments”. I hope this is the direction Dragon Quest Monsters keep moving in. It’s no Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, but what is?

Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is available now for the Nintendo Switch. A code was provided by the publisher for this review.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

  • Big focus on story with an intriguing premise
  • Monster Wrangling is soundly structured, streamlined, grinds like a dopamine dream
  • Dragon Quest's localization teams continue to be lovable degenerates
  • Runs quite poorly on Switch
  • Story doesn't commit to the bit in a disappointing way
  • Egg gimmick and DLC are uncharacteristic pain points
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