You’ve always wanted to become a full fledged hunter – one whom captures and trains monsters known as Arkadians – for your entire life, and today your dreams have finally been realized. You and a friend have just finished hatching an Arkadian egg that you’ve been taking care of for a while now, and – with your first Arkadian now under your belt – you’re finally able to take the test to become a fully recognized Hunter. The test seemed to be a breeze, but everything went south disastrously fast when your nation – the land of Annish – came under attack by the Kingdom of Saffadel from the east. With the King now forcefully drafting all able bodied hunters for the border defense effort, you’re swept up into the conflict before you even had the time necessary to celebrate your new license.

hunter1Thus begins the setup to ZigZaGame’s recently released Hunter Island (out now, $0.99), a vastly improved spiritual sequel to their previously well received game: Dragon Island Blue (our review). If you already enjoyed Dragon Island Blue – a Pokémon inspired game for mobile devices – then you’re absolute guaranteed to love this one, and should probably begin purchasing it immediately. Virtually every minor and/or major nitpick you could have raised against the earlier entry has been adequately stomped here, making for an even more enjoyable monster collect-a-thon romp.

To run down the changes in brief: you can now rearrange the order of your active team without needing be in a town, the quality of the translation has been vastly improved (although the plot still isn’t much to write home about), there’s now actual walking animations while traversing the map, and they even have a single consistent unified art scheme this time around. Perhaps the biggest addition of all is that they’ve included the ability to pit your Arkadian team against others online, a feature previously promised – but never realized – for Dragon Island Blue. They’ve even removed the unsettling option to rip out one of your monsters’ souls in order to give it to another, but – on the other hand – they still let you feed unwanted egg prizes to other members of your team for immediate leveling up.

Hunter2For anyone who hasn’t already played the previous entry, Hunter Island is a title where you pit your team of monsters against others – via encounters both random and quest/story based – and then fight for supremacy. Whenever you encounter masterless monsters that you don’t yet have – or perhaps are of a higher grade than what you already own – you can attempt to capture them with an Ark Stone. There are three tiers of Ark stones – which are paid for when they get used – and the odds of capturing a monster lies somewhere between how injured it is, and the quality of the Ark Stone used.

The money needed to use Ark Stones can be acquired in a variety of ways: fighting random monsters in the wilderness, finishing missions/tournament battles, and through IAP options. While one can certainly make their life simpler by IAP purchasing the absolute best Ark Stones each and every time, it really isn’t necessary due to the inherent nature of Hunter Island’s genre. Constant grinding – since each Arkadian in your party must be leveled individually – is at the very heart of this game, meaning that patient players will make more than enough money merely by playing.

Hunter3Other monster collection means include using recipes to fuse multiple monsters together into a new rare one, or by obtaining a high level monster early via opening a lucky Golden Egg. Whenever you open a Golden Egg – which can be earned via mission rewards, found in dungeons, or bought with IAPs – a prize wheel will start spinning, and whatever it’s pointing to when you hit the stop button will be the Arkadian you receive. This can sometimes lead to players receiving very high level Arkadians far earlier than they normally ever would have, or could just result in a duplicate Arkadian that you already had (this leads to the aforementioned feeding option).

Each of your Arkadians will have anywhere from one-to-four abilities that they can use in battle – and sometimes extra passives beyond that – including things such as: single opponent targeting moves, multiple opponent targeting moves, moves that target everyone of the same element, team buffs and opposition nerfs, and even abilities that work based on how many other members are still on your team. While your frontline team will only ever consist of just three Arkadians, both you and your enemy can also have an active reserve team that replaces frontline members whenever they get knocked out. Any monster that spends any portion of time on the frontline – no matter how brief – will receive full experience when a conflict ends, greatly aiding in the speed leveling of your newest low-level recruits. Monsters that gain enough experience will eventually evolve into a more powerful form, with Arkadians that spend the longest time being completely useless often upgrading into the absolute best final forms (AKA: The Magikarp Effect).

Hunter4Thankfully losing will have no penalties levied against your team, experience or money wise, other than needing to manually walk back from the last town that your party stayed in. There are no coercive cool down clocks – or death penalties – to malign players going through Hunter Island’s main story, meaning that there’s near absolute truth in the claims made on the title’s iTunes page. The only exception to this facet involves anyone  actively competing in the online multiplayer arena – or, to a lesser extent, the revolving online missions – but I will touch more upon those parts further down.

Anyways, the actual number of reserve Arkadians you’re allowed to have on your team will increase over time as you both raise your Hunter Rank Mastery and equip better Arkadian training ocarinas. However – no matter what you do – there is a very special kind of Arkadian that you can only have one of on your team at any given moment, and these are the game’s ultimate boss monsters. Similar to the Totem Monsters from Dragon Island Blue, each time you defeat a boss monster in Hunter Island you will gain access to their powers as a special summon ability (but be warned, these powerful monsters generally do whatever they feel like).

hunter5One final important thing to note about Hunter Island’s combat: it features a timeline battle system, akin to games such as Xenosaga, which greatly sets it apart from how Pokémon is normally played. Each of an Arkadian’s four moves will have timer values attached to them, which may be modified by buffs and nerfs, and when an ability gets used that is how long the Arkadian remains on cool down. Therefore players will have to take their opposition into account, whom might have weak moves that can be executed multiple times in a row, before using a devastating attack with a massive clock penalty attached.

Anyways, perhaps the most important point of improvement over Dragon Island Blue is that the artwork in Hunter Island is now both visually consistent and eye pleasing (compared to the predecessor’s all-over-the-place mess). Furthermore, while the weird waypoint system of movement has returned from Dragon Island Blue, players will now see their hero physically walk from location to location as they travel about the map. The plot is also far better delivered this time around – with no noticeable instances of Engrish – yet still is ultimately little more than a vehicle to forward the action, and otherwise both simplistic and formulaic.

screen568x568With Hunter Island’s core gameplay and presentation now out of the way, it’s finally time to begin discussing the feature that Dragon Island Blue players are probably most eager to hear about: the online modes. Yes, the claims are true, you can indeed go head to head with anyone – either random, or on your friends list – for real-time monster battles (asynchronous is not an option) in order to win game-cash and prizes. Or – rather – you can begin tearing things up after at least one of your Arkadians has finally reached level twenty, which means you will have to trek a bit into the game’s plot first.

The catch is that each online match will cost you ten tickets in order to participate, with players needing to either wait for their stockpile to regenerate – or else buy more via IAPs – when they eventually run out. I am actually perfectly okay with this due to the fact that Hunter Island exclusively employs real-time competitive fights, rather than using the asynchronous battles that most other mobile games feature. Having a constant multiplayer server running is not cheap, and therefore this helps to ensure that everyone doesn’t inadvertently hammer the matchup system all at once (and also that the most addicted players pay for their share of the bandwidth).

hunterisland03The other online feature – costing a mere two tickets per pop – is the ability to participate in the current challenge dungeon, where the first x-many players to survive a gauntlet of enemies and bosses get free access to a hyper powerful monster that can be acquired no other way. For those not wishing to participate in the challenge, or weren’t fast enough to be one of the lucky ones, the unique event monster will also be available in special purchasable Gold Eggs during the event. While I’m normally all for competitions like this, the down side is that – with limited rewards and many players – they have demonstrably favored heavily whichever region was rightly awake when the event began. This is the only part of Hunter Island where all but the most ardent of players, lucky to live in an optimum time-zone, will ever be forced to spend actual money in order to acquire the most elusive of Arkadians.

Anyways, for all but a few people with the most raging cases of OCD, Hunter’s Island is easily the most definitive monster training experience currently available on mobile devices. There’s over 200 interesting monsters to capture, loads of unique abilities with which to develop clever combat strategies, and tons of players against whom you can compete online (all delivered sans any means of IAP buffing your Arkadians). Sadly, if it wasn’t for the limited reward events being guaranteed to drive people with OCD to rage – which I think actually accounts for a large portion of the monster training fanbase – Hunter Island would have been positively perfect.

iFanzine Verdict: If you formerly liked Dragon Island Blue, then Hunter Island – with its myriad array of improvements – is easily going to be the ideal game that you’ve been searching for ever since finishing its spiritual-predecessor. Furthermore, even if you didn’t previously enjoy Dragon Island Blue, ZigZaGame’s follow-up has been tweaked up in so many places that its still worth a second look all the same. For everyone else, know that this game has all of the diverse monster collecting – strategy devising – and competitive gameplay that a fan of Pokémon could ever hope to ask for. The only real downside is that the truly ardent completionists – read as: most genre fans – will have their sanity seriously tested by the online missions, which heavily favor certain time-zones.