Dragon Warrior Monsters (DWM) is a Game Boy Color RPG that had all the makings of a masterpiece, but it never got the international success of similar titles. Why? Well, it was going head to head with the juggernaut that is Pokémon.
Dragon Warrior Monsters had so much going for it in terms of unique gameplay but it only sold a measly 60,000 cartridges during the early part of its release in the U.S. In Japan, that number was over a million.
I’m going to show you why this title had everything to become a hit game except the timing, and why retro RPG lovers should still check it out today.
(It’s cheap, too. Here’s our affiliate link.)
Timing is Everything
The release date for Dragon Warrior Monsters definitely held the game back from achieving great sales in the U.S.The game came out almost two full years after the first Pokémon, and even its collection of cool features couldn’t save it.
Dragon Warrior Monsters launched with tons of monsters to catch, a cool breeding system, a fresh story, and a new take on a beloved game world. Yet, it did so when most gamers were anticipating the followup to Pokémon, a game that had already become a cultural icon. Worse yet, DWM came out and it was regarded by people in the U.S. as “just another Pokémon clone.”
Is that criticism of the game warranted? Sure, the Dragon Warrior series hadn’t done anything like this before and it looks like an attempt to cash in on the success of more popular franchises.
(Here’s a hefty post about the surprising history of Dragon Warrior and JRPGs, if you want to know what “puff-puff” means.)
Does that mean this game sucked? Hell no! It has all kinds of neat features that still hold up among other top Game Boy Color RPGs of the time. The game developer and publisher just had the misfortune of getting smothered by Pokémon and even Digimon to some degree.
Another thing that didn’t help Dragon Warrior Monsters was that it came out three months before the PlayStation 2 first launched. It’s almost like the people in charge of publishing this game purposely waited to release it in the most challenging year possible.
Dragon Warrior Monsters Had Tons of Monsters
Dragon Warrior Monsters showed up with over 200 monsters that you could get to fight on your side or create through breeding. They led the monster race from September 1998 until November 1999 until Pokémon Silver and Gold came out.
Why didn’t this Game Boy Color RPG crush the monster market and launch all kinds of different merchandise? Because Dragon Warrior Monsters failed to learn a lesson: It’s not the size of your bestiary, baby; it’s how you use it.
On one hand, the monsters were familiar to players from the original Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in the U.S.). You would see various kinds of Slimes, Bloody Hands, and Medusas. Players had fought these monsters before in the main series, and now they could command them, so it had the potential to be awesome. The game even included boss monsters that you could turn into your own personal fighters.
On the other hand, the monsters included hybrid bees, undead dogs, and mud mannequins- stuff you would never be able to convince people to cuddle with. That’s why Slimes were one of the only toys made from the game series- everything else was too skeevy for the age group.
DWM definitely did the right thing in terms of monster choices, but they never bothered to make them likeable. Without that element, people wouldn’t want to collect them the same way they wanted to snuggle with a Pikachu.
Like it or not, the fact that the monsters in this game were actual monsters and not cutesy little things harmed the appeal from an important standpoint- the parents. You don’t buy your kid a Bloody Hand replica unless you want him to grow up to be a movie villain.
Either way, this game has plenty of monsters to catch for old school people looking for a Game Boy Color RPG to pour some time into.
The Breeding System Was Unique but Difficult
Dragon Warrior Monsters made the foray into breeding before Pokémon. The breeding system required some real thought, too. You had to get compatible monsters both in terms of sex and monster type to breed something that was going to be useful. Otherwise, you just wasted a lot of time and effort tracking down monsters because the parents disappear after breeding.
They hit it, quit it, and leave you with the kid. I don’t know whether that’s funny or sad. Just kidding, it’s funny.
If you breed two of your three main monsters, then you’re going to need to grind a little more just to get your group strong again. Every time you breed, you have to invest time to bring your new beast up to par.
The game compensated you by making the child stronger than the parents, adding a “+” to denote its power relative to a base form. I usually started out by breeding until I got a Grizzly and used him to get me through the early tournament stages. You could breed that with other animal type monsters just to get some extra “+” levels on it and rock house until C class.
While this wasn’t the first monster breeding game, I think this mating system was the best for the Game Boy Color. The only problem was that breeding is damn-near necessary for this game, and it wasn’t straight-forward. That level of difficulty may have been too much for the young audiences to handle and drove some people away from the game.
I thought that people would have picked this up just to try something new. Alas, the game was overshadowed by Pokémon and the release of new systems. The breeding system wasn’t enough to get big sales numbers.
By the time people could get their hands on this game, they were already waiting for the next generation of Pokémon to come through which prominently featured breeding on the promotional materials. In that one, you even get to keep the parents and it’s a lot more straightforward.
DWM Was Too Cold-Blooded for Some
The way that Dragon Warrior Monsters presented itself was less sensitive than other games, and that may have affected its appeal to players. On the surface, both games are about collecting monsters, and that was enough for DWM to incur the wrath of critics that denounced it for being similar to games like Pokémon.
The truth is a little more complicated. The goal in Pokémon was to “catch em all.” You go out in the world to fill up your Pokedex. When they’re not with you, all 150 Pokémon can be safely stored in your PC. The goal in Dragon Warrior Monsters is to get strong enough to win the Monster Trainer’s Starry Night Tournament and earn a wish so you can get back your kidnapped sister.
The different goals of the two games are clearly reflected in the monster storage. In DWM, you get roughly 40 storage spots and over 200 monsters are in the game. You’re not here to collect monsters, you’re there to breed the strongest ones, kick ass, and save your sis.
The goal of creating super-powered beings through multi-generational breeding along with a dash of trial and error made DWM a little edgier than other monster collecting games. Those games emphasized friendship, love, and compassion for your collectable creatures. DWM let you off the chain to be a mad scientist in the best ways possible.
If your monsters got KO’d, they didn’t go back to a ball. You dragged that corpse around with you until you got back to town. That might have made the game a little less appealing to audiences, especially parents that were still worried that video games were causing their kids to act like jerks.
In short, the “icky” parts of luring monsters with meat, making them fight, and breeding them were shoved to the forefront, and the game didn’t have a cute electric mouse charming the crowd every Saturday morning to smooth out those edges.
Those are some of the ways that one of the top Game Boy Color RPGs (in my estimation at least) got lost in the vast world of video games releases.
Of course, the extent to which these issues affected the sales of the game is impossible to calculate. It’s just unusual to see a game with so many cool features get snubbed in a time when monster games were all the rage.
Personally, I felt that capturing, raising, and breeding monsters in this title was amazing. You might not have wanted to pick up your Metal Slime and hug it, but breeding a tough dragon monster to pull you through S class felt like a serious accomplishment.
The tournaments were difficult and made you balance your party, especially since you fought 3 on 3 every time. Your team’s fighting capabilities made you carefully think about your next move in a way that Pokémon wouldn’t do for yet another generation. Dragon Warrior Monsters could be unforgiving and it was definitely a little edgier, but I wish it got more widespread attention for what it brought to the genre.
Instead, it undersold and received some decent ports a decade later. In truth, I think that we could use another modern entry into this series, just to shake things up in the game of monster-raising games.