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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