Let's Replay: Monster Rancher

Release Date
October 20, 2000
Playstation 1
Simulation, Roleplaying
Single Player

The new millennium brought with it jubilant celebration; the human race felt triumphant in that we had managed to survive on our own for 2000 years without the guiding hand of Jesus. And being the successful species that we are, we felt a care of duty towards our animal cousins. After all, if we didn’t capture them, train them in the art of war, and then force them to duel for our own amusement, then who would?

In the aftershock of the Pokemon franchise, several upstarts followed suit in this disturbing trend of animal subjugation. Digimon was a fairly big success on kid’s TV schedules and on home consoles. Another of these was Monster Rancher, which never quite managed to catch on in the same fashion.

Monster Rancher (or Monster Rancher 2 in the US and Japan) came in late on in the lifecycle of the PS1, and gave players another opportunity to train and battle monsters. While Monster Rancher’s influences were obvious, the game played completely differently and took a more focussed approached to monster care and training. Rather than marching around the countryside trying to capture anything that moved, Monster Rancher set you up on your own farm, complete with training facilities such as a running track and punching bags. You could only train up one monster at a time, but it was up to you to manage your monster’s routine. You would choose what food to give them, which skills to train, and crucially, when to let them rest.

… Get the hell away from me!

A monster who trains too hard will become too tired and, if mistreated, will run away. This makes managing your monster’s timetable a crucial exercise in efficiency. You can also send a monster away on an errantry, which is basically like sending your monster to an intensive training camp, where they can learn new moves. Obviously, this tires your monster out completely, and training a tired or stressed monster will result in very little stat gain, and can also affect their performance at tournaments.

Tourneys are what the main game is all about. Battling your monster in competitions will earn money, make you famous, and increase your monster’s rank so that you can fight in tougher tournaments. Fighting in Monster Rancher is a little more flexible than the turn-based approach used by Pokemon. You can directly control your monster on the battlefield, moving them into position to use a range of short and long range attacks. Some attacks will knock off HP, while others focus on decreasing the “guts” of your opponent. Performing an attack costs guts, so trying to keep this number as high as possible lets you throw more attacks.

Sadly enough, monsters eventually succumb to old age and die, meaning that you cannot train your tiny, pink Mocchi exponentially until it becomes a world-devouring demi-god. Eventually, you’re going to need to get a new monster, and there are a number of ways to do that. You can buy stock monsters from the store, find special items on expeditions that unlock new monsters, or, most intriguingly, you can generate a new monster from an audio CD.

This is Monster Rancher’s main gimmick, and it really adds a sense of mystery to the game. When you select this option, you can then pop any audio CD into the disk drive, and a unique monster is generated. Interestingly, the same CD will give you the same monster each time, so it isn’t just random generation. Even more interesting is the fact that there are rare monster than can only be found by using certain CDs. For example, a Gold Suezo can only be obtained by using the album, Abba Gold (and I won’t be answering any questions about how I found this out). This process is one of the highlights of the game, and is the only way to get your hands on certain monsters.

Unfortunately for player 2, elemental damage isn’t a thing in Monster Rancher.

Excess monsters can be frozen in storage for later, and even spliced together to create new monsters. In fact, many of Monster Rancher’s 400+ critters are in fact cross breeds. Sometimes it can be a good idea to combine monsters that are at their physical peak, as the resulting monster you get will often be stronger.

Sadly enough, the game isn’t very well balanced and certain monsters have a distinct advantage. The monsters you can train at the start such as Hopper, Tiger and Kato don’t hold up very well in the higher leagues, meaning that you will gravitate towards stronger monsters as you progress. Monster such as Phoenix have much stronger starting stats than others.

Also, unlocking some of the higher tier monsters can be incredibly frustrating. The hoops that the game expects you to jump through are astonishing, and are totally out of reach without a walkthrough. For example, to obtain a Beaclon you have to raise a worm to at least four years old, with a class no higher than C, feed it at least 30 cup jellies, ensure that it never gets stressed, or spoiled, has at least 80 loyalty, and must be ‘very well’ with absolutely no stress on the fourth week of June. I wish that was a joke. It’s this type of ambiguity that is at once Monster Rancher’s most intriguing aspect, and also one of its biggest failures.

Play It For: Unique monster battling, and an excuse to hang on to that Abba CD.

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