Monster Rancher Review

For PlayStation

Rating: Good 
 Like PaRappa The Rapper, Monster Rancher is a completely 
fresh video game concept, and one that every true gamer must
play.  This innovation comes from an unexpected source- 
Tecmo, a company I have a great deal of respect for dating 
back to their 8 and 16-bit glory days with the Tecmo Super 
Bowl series.  It's surprising because for the last several 
years, Tecmo hasn't made many good games, and then out of 
nowhere comes Monster Rancher, one of the most unique games 
of all time.  Monster Rancher may seem like another virtual 
pet sim at first, but it's actually more of a turn-based 
strategy game or a resource management sim than it is a 
virtual pet game.  It's not really any of these kinds of 
games, though; it is its own unique kind of game.  You start
by going to the town Shrine and inserting any other CD into 
your PlayStation when it tells you to, at which point it 
somehow reads data off that CD.  Then you put the Monster 
Rancher CD back in and you're greeted by your first monster,
which can be any form of monster, from dinosaurs to huge 
golems to little fairies that specialize in magic.  When you
start training your monster, the game operates on a "weekly"
format, with each turn being a virtual week and four turns 
in each virtual month.  You can buy treats for your monster 
at the item shop.  You can send your monster out on grueling
four-week training sessions that give it a big boost in one 
particular skill (although this costs a lot of money).  You 
can assign your monster to various "jobs" like "guard" or 
"logging," each of which earns you a little bit of money and
raises its levels a little bit if it's successful at the job.
Of course, your monster gets tired from all of this and 
needs to take a week off every few weeks or so, depending on
how hard you work it.  There are also various "parenting" 
features which determine how you treat your monster, which 
is displayed by a reading in the corner of the screen that 
ranges from Spoiled to Cruel.  Spoiled would be always 
letting your monster rest right when it's tired, always 
praising it when it does good and never scolding it when 
it's bad.  Cruel would be the opposite: working your 
monster like a horse and beating it silly when it fails at a
job or sleeps when you just told it to do something else. 
All of this effects the monster's Loyalty rating.  Monsters 
can be lost or sick for periods of several weeks, and they 
may even run away if you treat them poorly enough.  Your 
monster will eventually die when it gets old enough, and of 
course, it will die sooner if you work it like a mule. You 
can only manage one monster at a time, but you can have 
multiple monsters in the lab at once by freezing the ones 
you're not using.  And, in a nice added touch, you can 
combined two freezed monsters to create a genetic mutation 
based on the two of them put together.  The ultimate purpose
of all of this is to have your monster strong enough that it
will be able to win the Battle Tournaments that you have the
option to participate in every few weeks or so, which gives 
you more money and fame.  If you've reached the point where 
you feel you've got the best monster in your class, you can 
participate in the Official Cup that only happens four times
per virtual year.  Winning the Official Cup advances you to 
the next class, where the opponents will be tougher.  The 
battles themselves are actually much more strategic than you
would think.  A smart fairy monster can easily out-maneuver 
a big and slow golem monster and slowly pound it into 
submission.  The game uses a Hit Point system in battle 
similar to an RPG's HP system, and obviously you win when 
your opponent's HP gets to 0.  If the 60-second time limit 
runs out before that happens, whoever has the highest 
percentage of their original points is awarded the match, 
although knock-outs gain more fame for the winner.  
The graphics may look like they're straight out of a 16-bit 
game, but they serve their purpose quite well and the 
cartoon-style job and training sequences are actually quite 
entertaining and well put together.  The same goes for the 
music.  Just because it didn't cost millions of dollars to 
produce doesn't mean it's not cool.  Overall, Monster 
Rancher blends all of this into one big seamless package that
is amazingly addictive and well-designed.  The only reason I
didn't feel it deserved an "Awesome" rating is because as 
innovative as the gameplay may be, it eventually grows 
somewhat repetitive once you know everything there is to 
know.  Also, it's too hard to actually "beat" the game, 
because by the time your monster's levels are built up like 
no one's business and you're ready to go out and kick some 
butt, your monster is so old that it has to retire anyway or
it will die soon. Still, Monster Rancher is an amazing 
product that you truly must play if for no other reason 
because it is 100% unique.  The video game industry would be
much better off if it had more of these 100% unique games 
like PaRappa The Rapper and Monster Rancher.

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