NTT Resonant’s recent Dragon Island Blue (out now, $0.99; RRP: $2.99) is yet another Pokémon inspired RPG released on the iOS; but where as the bulk of its competitors are nothing more than disguised IAP traps, this here is an actually decent game. In fact, the very first message that Dragon Island Blue will ever give you is a reminder that the game was built so that one can obtain every single monster sans IAP purchases. After having spent extensive time with the title I can confirm that the developers were not attempting to be misleading with these claims, Dragon Island Blue truly does present an experience where no one will be punished for ignoring the IAPs.

It all begins when your nameless hero – the son of a famous monster breeder – finds a rare dragon egg one day, which is odd as all the dragons in the world were presumed to be long gone. Having just found this egg of an extremely dangerous creature – whom long ago put the world in peril – the nameless hero does what any character in a video game would obviously do given such a situation, he sets off to become a monster breeder with the new baby dragon at the forefront of his army. Thus begins his mission of capturing monsters, leveling up monsters, fusing monsters, exploring dungeons, travelling the island, and completing every last odd job the monster breeder guild asks of him.

Like all Pokémon style games, at the heart of Dragon Island Blue is a rock-paper-scissors style elemental system: Wind does well against Water, Water does well against Fire, Fire does well against Earth, and Earth does well against Wind. There are also the two rarer elements of Life and Death, which both lack defensive weaknesses against any of the game’s more commonly found primary element based monsters. The element of Death does mid-range damage to any target no matter what element it is, where as Life does extreme damage to death and much less than mid-range damage to everything else.

The monsters themselves you will either find by throwing capture cards at regular monsters you come up against while they’re weakened, by evolving monsters already in your possession by leveling them up a specific amount, by fusing two monsters you already have using recipes that can be found via completing quests, or by hatching them from mystery eggs that you will get from quests and cave exploration. There also exist the powerful Totem monsters that will join you only after you defeat them in an epic battle deep within a cave, which is a unique change of pace in a genre where you normally never want to kill rare monsters on purpose. Those who don’t want to extensively play through every last nook and cranny of Dragon Island Blue can also IAP acquire random mystery eggs, golden capture cards that work on monsters still at full health, as well as Totems and fusions recipes they haven’t yet managed to find.

Using the variety of monsters a hero has either captured or made, the player will assemble both a reserve unit and a frontline team of three (with the permitted size of the reserve unit increasing as the player progresses throughout Dragon Island Blue). Once any of the frontline monsters has been defeated it will immediately be replaced with the next available monster in the hero’s reserve unit, when the battle ends only the monsters that were in the front line at some point – whether or not they survived – will get experience for all of the defeated opponents. The HP of your monsters only restores when you return to any of the various towns found throughout the game’s world, which is also done automatically whenever all of your on hand monsters are simultaneously defeated.

It should be noted that currently a player can only change their monster assignments while in town, but the developer has promised that the very next patch to release will let players freely swap between their frontline and reserve units from anywhere. They have also promised that later patches will let the player choose a female avatar, add additional monsters to catch and train, as well as include the ability to let players fight and trade monsters which each other online. It is reassuring to know that while the game currently has some issues that could use work, the developers are already in the process of targeting the areas where Dragon Island Blue has omissions.

Getting back to Dragon Island Blue’s gameplay itself, the powerful Totem monsters I mentioned earlier can be assigned to neither your frontline team nor your unit of reserve monsters. Only once a special gauge fills up during a fight – which gains energy whenever a monster on either side takes damage – can the player finally summon one of these almighty beasts, and once summoned the Totem can’t be used again until the hero returns to town for any reason. After being summoned the Totem monster will act as if it was a fourth monster in your frontline forces, except for that you have absolutely no control over what a Totem monster chooses to do after it shows up.

One place where Dragon Island Blue majorly differentiates itself from Pokémon is that monsters don’t do turn taking in a traditional sense, instead there is a unique timeline system. Each and every move in the game has a time penalty that will be placed upon the monster after using it, and certain buffs can either increase or decrease the time penalty of every action taken. This creates a strategy where sometimes its wiser to use weaker moves if it creates a situation where many turns can be taken in a row before the opposition’s turn comes around in the timeline, as well as making any status defects the impede the enemy’s clock values extremely valuable.

One other curious thing Dragon Island Blue has that Pokémon does not is the ability to sacrifice the life of one monster to power up another, which is easily the most awkward feeling part of the entire game. If you should ever get a duplicate monster from a random egg you will have the choice to immediately feed it to one of your other monsters to instantly level it up a whole level. You can also rip the soul out of any of the monsters in your permanent collection – destroying them in the process – to give it to another monster as stat-boosting battle gear, with the power of the resultant soul stone being determined by how high a level the victim of the sacrifice was.

While this definitely does add more in the way of strategic decisions that a player has to make while playing through Dragon Island Blue, I don’t think the developer thought this through entirely as it just feels completely unsavory whenever you do it. I mean, can you imagine an episode of Pokémon where Ash started feeding spare Pikachus to the rest of his team to get them ready for the big tournament just before they registered? Or what if there was an episode of Pokemon where Ash grimly declared, “Pikachu, Squirtle has failed us for the last time, rip out his soul and equip it so that he’s finally of some use to the team!”?

Anyways – to close out the review – I would like to take a moment to talk about how Dragon Island Blue looks, the game – much like Pokemon before it – features mostly static images of monsters while special effect animations play out to represent attacks. That said, the monster artwork found within Dragon Island Blue – while very detailed – is more all over the place than the extremely consistent look found inside the more well known Pokemon games. Some of the monsters in Dragon Island Blue look really cute, some hyper detailed and ferocious, some look like they should come out of an H.P. Lovecraft novel, and some of them – such as the ‘Assassin’ – simply look like a normal human dressed in black carrying two knives.

iFanzine Verdict: While not absolutely perfect – and furthermore containing a few gameplay mechanics unsettling to psyche – Dragon Island Blue is still a stellar game package for the price being asked, managing to bring some entirely original ideas of its own to the table as well. Add in the fact that the game is not just a money grubbing IAP trap, as well as the fact that the developers are already working on a patch to fix the deficiencies that Dragon Island Blue currently has, and it quickly becomes an extremely heavyweight contender for anyone seeking a Pokemon-esque experience on their iOS device.