Playing Dokapon Journey may cost you your friends. A seemingly innocuous board game with role-playing elements and a cutesy anime look, publisher Atlus' self-proclaimed "friendship destroying" game gives you multiple avenues for annoying your pals, from the opening salvo to a last-second potshot. Dokapon Journey was originally developed for the Wii and PlayStation 2, but having it on your Nintendo DS gives you the ever-practical scenario of making enemies out of friends during that big summer road trip, and it's fun, as long as you can overlook some small annoyances and its slow pacing.
The game takes place in the titular Dokapon Kingdom, a massive, sprawling landscape consisting of several towns, shops, caves, and waterways. These locations, as well as several points in between, are connected and each acts as a spot on a game board. Flicking a six-space spinner gets you where you need to go. Landing on an empty spot--or a town under attack--thrusts you into battle, while landing on a church, shop, or treasure chest allows you to rest, trade (or steal), and collect items respectively.
Even scoring sixes, the titular kingdom takes a long time to explore fully.
Much like the principle behind the Mario Party games' stars, victory in Dokapon Journey depends heavily on how much gold you manage to accumulate. The key to this is liberating towns. At any point during play, a town will be attacked by a special monster represented onscreen by a vaporous mass. If you defeat this particularly strong enemy, you'll be showered with cash, the townspeople's adulation, and maybe even a gift from your competitors--involuntarily donated, naturally. You will also be able to collect taxes from the towns you've saved. Therefore, the appearance of this special monster sends players in a wild dash to save the town in question. You shouldn't rush in prematurely, however, because it's a good idea to spend some time landing on empty spots to battle enemies so you can gain experience and gold, power up your character's attributes, and find stronger equipment with which to fight.
The battle system is simple. While attacking, you can perform a normal attack, perform a powerful strike, use a special ability, or use a skill. While defending, you can defend against a normal attack, defend against a magical attack, counterattack, or surrender. This follows a simple rock-paper-scissors rule set (hint: powerful strikes are easy to counterattack, so be careful when using them) that you'll quickly pick up. There's also a solid balance between taking the time to level up and sprinting for the towns. This allows for some simple strategizing. Do you rush in and pray that you can take on the ugly beasts even if you're weak? Do you take the time to build up your moxie at the risk of letting someone else get to the goal first? Do you attempt to collect magic spells and pepper the monsters--and your opponents--from afar? Yet you're never burdened with having to consider complex strategies within or outside of battles, which keeps Dokapon Journey's simple, party-oriented spirit alive. Even if you fail to liberate a town, another monster will pop up in a random location immediately afterward, offering you another chance to succeed.
This leads to one of Dokapon Journey's notable issues, due in large part to the kingdom's size: It's not uncommon for a monster to surface in a town far away from every player, which means that getting to the goal will prove to be a chore. This is exacerbated by the inherent random nature of board games. Imagine the frustrating scenario of being pumped up to slay a beast more than 30 spaces away and then spinning a whole mess of ones and twos. There's no zoom-out mode either, so locating where the monsters--as well as any other landmarks--are in relation to you is frustrating, which leads to a trial-and-error session of scrolling around the map just to find out where you should be heading.