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Games That Time Forgot: Monster Rancher

Growing up in the late 90s/early 2000s, a lot of my friends and I were engrossed in the monster raising craze, brought on by Pokémon and Digimon. For me and my family, there was a bizarre 3rd entry in that genre that none of my friends growing up had heard about. I'm talking about Monster Rancher, which took monster raising to a whole other level, that Pokémon has never been able to reach.

For those unfamiliar, Monster Rancher involved monster breeding with a twist: The game made you take the disc out, and you generated monster from other games, music CDs, and DVDs that you had lying around the house. It would generate different breeds, sub breeds, and stats, and it was enough to make me and my dad try every disc in the house and copy down what it made into a notebook, for future reference. Not all of them were random though; certain discs made special monsters, based on the game, album, or movie put into it. Most notably, putting the soundtrack for Terminator 2 made a metal jell, which looked like the liquid metal terminator that this entry was known for. Other future titles used words and drawings to generate monsters instead of replacing discs, but I feel like with our new generations of consoles, we could do so much more with them. After you've made your monster, it was time to train it.

For putting Metal Gear Solid disc 1 in Monster Rancher 2, you got a Gaboo with a headband and camouflage, being an obvious throwback to Solid Snake.

Training consisted of choosing an activity to enter your monster in to train a specific stat, resting, battling, or going on adventures that tired your monster out, but had a big stat payoff. The game runs on a weekly basis, and you choose what to  train in for that week, for every four weeks, until you have to feed them again at the start of the next month. More often than not, your monsters would pass the training, but there are certain times where they'd go above and beyond expectations, cheat to pass, or just fail completely. During these times, you are given options to scold and praise your monster accordingly. It was always up to you to figure out when to scold or forgive, because letting them off the hook will only increase their cheating and failing ways. If you were too hard on your monster, however, they could run away. They could be gone anywhere from a mere week, up to a few months. Growing up, this weighed on me a lot, and I'd constantly check to make sure I wasn't accidentally pushing my monster away when I meant to hone their skills. Resting is lets your monster take a week off to recover from training or battling, to get them ready for another round. After months of training, you'd be ready to enter your monster in some battles.

Here you can see a Hopper at the ranch on Monster Rancher 2.

Feeding your monster gets pretty expensive after a while, so to fight off bankruptcy, you need to fight. Monsters would enter tournaments to compete for prizes, cash, and ranks. The game runs on a ranking system, going from E, D, C, B, A, to S. If your monster is knocking monsters out with ease, then it'd be time to enter the championship. In battles, you have a far, mid, and close range move, and you can switch these out as you need during battles. Each attack has a 'guts' cost, and if you'd just spam it, you could potentially leave yourself defenseless. You'd have to keep an eye out for your opponent, and see if there are any spots in their ranges where they couldn't hit you from and exploit it. Although skill is a factor, it mainly came down to stats, which would be raised during training. The match compares your stats with the enemy's right at the start, so you can see if you're leagues ahead of the competition, or if you should go back to the ranch and train some more. If your monster's stats were too high, some monsters would even quit to avoid a beating. Battles possessed a danger though, and if your monster gets KO'd by a devastating attack, they could be hospitalized, or even die. As a kid, this game transcended all other monster raising games, because although my Pokémon could faint, I never had to see a memorial service for them. The series had fun with it though, and even had a ghost monster you could only get after having one die on you, which just blew my mind at the time. If training wasn't enough, errantries and adventures could pass the time and get you some more items.

A battle taking place on Monster Rancher 2
A battle taking place on Monster Rancher 2

If you needed lots of training for a tournament a few months away, errantries were the best route to take. They involved going to different exotic locations, and doing training exercises there to boost 2 stats, while slightly lowering 1 stat. These could result in injury if the monster fails certain trials too many times, and are rather risky at the start of a monster's life. If the monster does really well, however, they can learn new attacks to use in battles. Other than errantries, adventures led you and your monster to many different locations, searching for items to sell. Once you hit certain rank milestones, you could go there and look for items to make specific legendary monsters. If your monster didn't have very high intelligence, you could potentially waste a whole month, while your monster bumbles around and doesn't find anything. These are also risky to monsters, as they can be attacked by wild monsters while exploring. If your monster's life stat is too low, and you can't return to your campsite in time, they can also get lost for months. These were typically reserved for more elite monsters and breeders, but had too high of a payoff to just ignore.

A picture of an adventure, from Monster Rancher 2.

I could go on for hours about Monster Rancher, but despite being loved by most gamers who've played it, it's failed to stay relevant in the gaming market. Other than a DS game, it hasn't had a new entry in the series since the PS2! The gameplay is as solid as ever, and it still holds up to this day. I feel like the amount of similar games it had to compete with overshadowed it, but a game as unique as Monster Rancher might be what the current gen needs to break out of the monotony of FPSs and parkour games. As fond as my memories are of Monster Rancher, I want to see it thrive on modern consoles, rather than just stay a relic of the past. Maybe Tecmo Koei will one day remember this gem, and decide to revisit it.

If you played Monster Rancher in the past, leave a comment letting me know your thoughts on it.


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