Review: Dokapon Kingdom (PS2)

Dokapon Kingdom
Genre: Board Game/RPG
Developer: Sting
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 10/14/08


Dokapon, despite having been around for a pretty long time, is not a particularly well-known franchise in the US, mostly because we’ve really only seen one of the games stateside until now. For those who’ve never heard of it, to put it in simple terms, it’s basically Mario Party RPG; board game mechanics crossed with RPG themes and elements to create something that feels like it’s one part Dungeons and Dragons and one part Monopoly. Now, some of you are probably reading that and thinking “Ooh, that sounds awesome,” but it’s entirely likely that many of you might find that description a little off-putting, either because you don’t like board games or you don’t like RPG’s, and that’s understandable, but Dokapon Kingdom, surprisingly enough, actually balances the gameplay elements of these two concepts out well enough that it’s not as scary as it seems. In simple terms: the RPG elements aren’t oppressive, the game offers up enough strategy through the gameplay to balance out the “anyone can win” luck-oriented nature of board games, and the end result might be up your alley if you found something like Culdcept Saga a bit too daunting, though it’s not without its flaws.

The basic gist of the story, should you choose to play through Story Mode, is that the Dokapon Kingdom itself is a kingdom based on having lots of money (just like in real life), so when monsters invade the kingdom, the King basically realizes he’s going to go broke because of this, and issues a royal decree: defeat the monsters and free the town, and you can marry Princess Penny (yes, even if you’re a girl, apparently) and become the new King of Dokapon Kingdom. In Story Mode itself, this entails accomplishing various quests, many of which involving recovering items or slaying monsters, none of which is terribly unexpected, but the characters themselves go a long way towards making the experience something special, as most of them are either hilarious or bizarre. Expect to randomly meet/be accosted by weird demons, quack doctors, mercenary thieves, traveling merchants, and little girls in bear costumes who want to play roshambo (Rock-Paper-Scissors), among other characters, in any mode you play. Indeed, the bizarre cast of characters is what really brings the experience to life, because not only are they interesting and humorous, but they also fit the game well; while all of these characters are certainly absurd, they’re perfectly reasonable in the context of the game itself. There are also three different game modes to choose from, for those of you who value this sort of variety. Story Mode, as expected, sends up to four players through the story of the game as you try to liberate Dokapon Kingdom from the clutches of evil. Normal Mode simply allows you to play a series of weeks in the game, and whoever is the richest player at this point is declared the winner, in case you don’t want to play through the entire story (which is around fifteen to twenty hours of play, no, really), making it good for short play sessions. You’re also offered a Battle Mode, which offers you different goal objectives to choose from to determine victory, and also offers shorter game sessions for you to play around with if time is limited. As such, you’ll have plenty of modes to play around with, whether it’s just you playing or a whole group, which should give you plenty to do with the game.

Visually, Dokapon Kingdom, while not the most graphically intensive game, is visually appealing, with colorful visuals, strong artistic presentation, and a generally clean visual design overall. The menus are clean and easy to negotiate, the characters (both player characters and NPC’s) are cute and interesting, and the various battlegrounds, towns, and other locations are nice to look at. The game, again, isn’t pushing the limitations of the PS2’s visual capabilities, and while the art design works around this (IE making the characters super-deformed so that their frequent lack of noticeable detail isn’t a big deal), you’ll most likely note that this isn’t the best looking game on the system. Aurally, the game music is generally appropriate and fits the theme nicely, and while it’s not anything special, it’s not at all bad, either. The various sound effects sound as you would expect, and the voice acting is also quite nice, in that it’s often hammed up to ridiculous levels and PERFECTLY fits the game because of this.

Dokapon Kingdom is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t played it, as the gameplay certainly makes sense after you’ve spent some time with the game, but there’s so much to it that trying to get it across just doesn’t seem fair to the game, as it sounds a lot more confusing than it is. As noted, the actual Dokapon Kingdom itself is represented as a board game world, similar to that of Mario Party, and moving around the world is as simple as spinning a spinner and moving the amount of spaces the spinner tells you to move. This is fairly simple, assuming you’ve ever played a board game, but this is probably the only thing that will make sense to most folks if they’re coming into the game with little more than some Monopoly experience. For one, all of the various spaces you can land on have their own different effects, many of which bear some explaining. You’ll find various shops for items, equipment, and magic, which you can enter to either buy and sell goods or to rob them by playing Rock-Paper-Scissors (which will either net you loot or a Wanted rating that will get everyone gunning for you… unless you can frame it on your enemies). You’ll also find all sorts of towns and castles, many of which will be possessed by monsters; liberating these locations by one means or another allows you to take control of these locations, which not only adds to your overall worth (owning property makes you worth more, obviously), but allows you to stay in town for free (to recover health, which we’ll discuss later), invest in the town to make the town worth more, AND collect taxes from the town to earn cash. Of course, you can also land on towns that aren’t your own, which allow you to rest for a fee… or, again, rob them. There are also various spaces that dispense items, equipment, spells and money for free, via a roulette-wheel spin, as well as enhanced versions that offer better payouts… and punishing losses. Add to that all sorts of special cave entrances to plumb the depths of special dungeons, random encounter squares that can generate random encounters of various sorts, and all sorts of other special buildings beyond those described above, all of which with their own interesting residents and effects.

For another, each character in the game has their own job, statistics, and abilities, which influence what they’re capable of doing at any time. There are several jobs to choose from, though at first you’ll only have three to pick, and you job influences how many item/magic bag slots you have (for holding items and spells), your stats when you level up, and your special abilities, which are unique to your chosen job (Fighters can randomly boost their attack at the beginning of a round, Clerics can randomly heal themselves at the beginning of a round, Ninjas can use two items, etc), thus making each job beneficial in some way. The game starts you off with only three jobs available (Fighter, Thief, and Magician), but as you max out your Job Level (which improves the amount of money you make as a salary per week and offers additional skills for you to use), more jobs unlock for you to use, and since you can change jobs by visiting the castle, it’s a simple matter to max out jobs until you find the job you want, assuming the game offers you enough time to do this thing. Each character has five stats that dictate what they can do: Attack dictates physical damage you can deal, Defense dictates physical damage you can defend against, Magic dictates magical ability, Speed indicates how fast you are in relation to enemies, and HP is your health, IE how much damage you can take before you die.

Now, for those who are wondering why you have these stats, well, this is because you can engage in combat with both other players and random monsters. When you land on either an unoccupied space, a space that’s occupied by a monster, or a space that’s occupied by another player, you will usually engage in battle (except in certain circumstances, IE the space isn’t a space that can be fought upon, an event occurs, etc). Combat is also surprisingly simple to work around, though it’s a game of lucky guesses more than anything else. Generally, each encounter starts with whoever is the initiating player choosing a card, which determines if you go first or last in the battle. From there, you’re offered four options to choose from, which depend on whether you’re attacking or defending. Attackers can either use a regular Attack, a high-powered Strike, some sort of magical ability or special technique (if one is owned) or a special skill that might boost your stats, allow you to escape from battle, or what have you. Defenders can either Defend against an attack, Counter a strike, use Magical Defense against a magical attack, or Give Up/Escape/whatever in an attempt to avoid death. Each of the three major combat/defense abilities is meant to have an opposing “correct” choice that will properly reduce/avoid damage, IE Defending an Attack reduces damage, Magical Defense reduces the damage of a Magical Attack, and Countering a Strike damages the attacking player. This comes down to something of a combat-oriented Rock-Paper-Scissors game (yes, again), where choosing an incorrect option will often mean taking significant damage or dying outright; IE if you Counter an Attack or Defend a Strike, you’re going to take a beating. If you’ve taken on a battle you can’t possibly win, of course, you can always Give Up, which imposes a penalty of some sort (though dying does as well) and allows you to attempt to recover and move on with your day in better shape. Dying in battle will also impose a penalty, as noted, though dying against another player generally imposes the worst sorts of penalties; players, aside from being able to steal your items and money, can also play pranks on you, like defacing your face, changing your name, and messing up your hair, just to screw with you.

Honestly, though, defacing your opponents is about the NICEST thing you can do to them in Dokapon Kingdom; make no mistake the advertising campaign based around the game, noting that the game will end friendships, is entirely too charitable. You can do so many horrible things to your opponents in the game, from casting spells to using all sorts of horrible items to robbing/stealing their towns to sending NPC’s after opponents to rob or kill them and beyond. Hey, if you’re losing particularly badly, you can even turn into a demon with massive attack power for the express purpose of wreaking vengeance on the other players, just for fun. Don’t assume that it’s just the players screwing you, though; the game is more than willing to kick you in the stones as much as the other players, either by having monsters take over your towns, or by afflicting you with status ailments, or by stealing your money, or any one of a number of other things. It’s not so much that other players can ruin your day to much as it is that EVERYTHING can ruin your day, and will often do so with a gleeful cackle. Good things can happen too, of course; you might get lucky and give a homeless man some money only to have him turn into the Generosity Fairy who will give you a neat item, or you might get picked up by a UFO (no, really) and receive a stat boost, or some other sort of positive effect might come your way. It just happens that the negative effects are more… memorable.

Now, all of the above may certainly sound like a lot to retain and digest, but honestly, it’s easy to pick up, and the game is surprisingly simple to play and enjoy. As a personal anecdote, I opted to have a friend of mine play the game who really didn’t fit into the ideal demographic for the experience. He’s the sort of person who prefers bars to gaming, and mostly enjoys games where shooting things is the primary gameplay mechanic, so I figured if he could find some fun in the game, it was doing its job. So, after about ten minutes of noting that the product looked ridiculous and stupid, we sat down to play the game… and FIVE HOURS LATER I had to throw him out so I could go to bed.

In other words: Dokapon Kingdom is FUN. REALLY FUN. Anyone can play it, anyone can get into it and enjoy it, and it’s a great game for everyone, especially if you and your friends are comfortable enough with one another that you won’t try to kill each other over some disagreements. There’s a ton of stuff to see and do in the game, between the different game options and jobs, and no two games will ever be the same. The game is reasonably balanced, meaning someone who’s in dead last can easily turn the game around one way or another to bring themselves back to first in a matter of minutes. There’s a strong sense of humor to the product (which you’ll see the first time you turn your opponent’s hairstyle into a poop swirl) that makes even the gravest loss hilarious, and in general, there’s a definite “party game” feel to the experience that’ll keep you playing it with friends long after you’ve seen everything you need to see. It’s fun, funny, great for all ages, and deeper than almost any game that could be considered a competitor.

There are a few minor flaws that might turn you off, depending on your temperament and expectations, however. For one, the game is essentially almost entirely luck-based. There are no real mini-games to play or skill-based goals to accomplish, and while there is strategy to investing in your stats or using your items to great effect, actually FIGHTING battles revolves around the pure dumb luck of picking the right selection or, more than likely, dying in one hit. The game will often throw random events at you that may be really good or bad, and while it’s nice that you can make a good comeback if you’re in dead last, the game is also more than willing to kick you when you’re down because of the simple luck of the draw. Further, the game is significantly predisposed towards making your life as miserable as possible, for no other reason than “because it can”. Now, having your hair style changed or losing an item or two, that’s understandable, but occasionally the major monsters on the board will, for example, steal a lot of your tax money, or inflict a bad status ailment on you, or take over a town you own with a new monster, or other sorts of terrible things, and you will simply HAVE TO DEAL. If you’re not a fan of Mario Party for that reason, Dokapon Kingdom is, in many cases, MORE frustrating, and you will need to be able to accept that you have little say in a lot of things in order to accept the way the game works.

Beyond the frustration factor, there are also little annoying things that mark the game negatively. It’s nice that you can play the game with up to four players, and it’s doubly nice that all four players can play with one or two controllers in case you lack four controllers and a multi-tap to play with, but it’s kind of sad that you can’t play on any sort of teams; every game is all for one, and while this makes sense in context, a team-up option for younger or less-skilled players to be on teams so as not to lose until they learn the mechanics would have been nice. It’s also nice that you can play Normal Mode and the various Battle Modes to have a short, simple game, but the fact that Story Mode is something like twenty hours long seems a bit drawn out for what is essentially a board game, especially since you will find that a lot of those turns you spend involve moving from one place to the next without any specific goals in mind beyond leveling up or buying things or what have you, especially when you have to nail an exact spinner spin to land on a location you want to go to. It’s not that length is a bad thing so much as it feels like there could have been a way to streamline the process somewhat. This wouldn’t be so bad for a first effort, but the Dokapon franchise has been around in Japan for years across numerous systems, so it just seems like the game could have been pared down a bit to make the experience less tedious than it occasionally feels. The fact that you can only have one round of battle per day, among other things, breaks up the flow of the game somewhat; simply allowing players to resolve the battle they’re in would resolve things faster than breaking battles up the way they’re set up, as would, say, allowing players to access the Casino that’s on the board more than one time per turn (especially since, between having to roll to get back to the casino and playing the game itself, it could take many, MANY turns for a player to win anything at all).

In general, though, the complaints against the game are small and easily overlooked, as Dokapon Kingdom is a whole lot of fun, especially amongst friends. A slick presentation combined with easy to learn gameplay mechanics make the game an easily recommended product, especially if you have friends who aren’t big gamers. The game is laugh-out-loud funny and amazingly fun to play, especially for people who don’t like games much, as the random nature of the experience literally means anyone can win once they’ve learned how the game works and begun really getting into things. If you’re not a fan of board games in general, you won’t like the random nature of the game, and if you’re easily aggravated you’ll find the game’s need to kick you when you’re down more than a little disgusting, and there are a few things the game could have stood to incorporate to make the experience a little more enjoyable than it is. That said, Dokapon Kingdom is EASILY worth the price, and hey, if you have to lose a few friends to the game, well, they weren’t really your friends anyway, so don’t worry about it.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GOOD
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Final Score: VERY GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dokapon Kingdom is the sort of game that everyone, young or old, gamer or not, can enjoy, so long as they’re not easy to anger or frustration, and thanks to the group play dynamics and the sense of humor of the game, it’s likely that even the most serious player will be able to take the game with a grain of salt and enjoy the experience. The presentation is good or great across the board, the game play is incredibly simple to learn and understand, there’s plenty to do with the game and plenty of reasons to spend time with it, and thanks to four-player support that doesn’t actually require four controllers, it’s easy to get some friends together and play, even if time is limited. The game makes no secret about its desire to inflict pain and suffering on the players (or about its desire to see you inflict pain on EACH OTHER), and there are a few options the game would have been better for having, but frankly, Dokapon Kingdom is a game that everyone who enjoys board games and/or RPG’s should readily pick up, as it’s well worth the cash to be able to mock your friends by styling their hair like a pile of poop, if nothing else.

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