Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: December 11, 2001
Before Pokemon and Digimon exploded onto the gaming scene and promptly mass marketed their moment of genius onto an unsuspecting public, there was Monster Rancher. An obscure title in North America, its hot appreciation in Japan gave it a bit of a cult status here, and spawned both a sequel and a few spin-off games to boot, all on the original PlayStation. Flash forward to the PS2 and you have a whole new approach to the series: the ranches are gone, the animation is now cell shaded, and there’s a whole new format to use as a base material for your creatures. Sounds like heaven to a Monster Rancher fanatic, but will Tecmo be able to leverage a place on the popular next-generation system into a legion of fans and an elevation from cult status?
One thing that should be made abundantly clear is that there are some key differences between Pokemon and Monster Rancher. While the uninitiated might see these changes as transparent, those who are in the know will appreciate some extra distinctions. First of all, Monster Rancher 3 lets you raise a specific monster up from its creation until death, and the creature’s life cycle could be considered relatively short, lasting only about seven or eight hours of game time. When compared to Pokemon‘s style, where six creatures are part of a party, can be swapped around, and live forever to constantly gain levels, the focus is obviously different. Ranching monsters, it seems, is a decidedly more personal endeavor.
Another key difference lies in the popular “gotta catch ‘em all” slogan, which only applies here in limited doses. Yes, Monster Rancher 3 has introduced an encyclopedia which records your creatures, but unlike its peer, this game doesn’t require you to work all that hard to add pages to your index. Rather than tromping through tall grass searching for specific critters, all you really need is a large CD and DVD library. Referred to as Saucer Stones, you can revive a creature from any movie, soundtrack, or video game you see fit. Based on specific attributes of the disk, similar in function to how the CDDB lets you auto assign track lists to your CDs by recognizing their signature, a monster will be created when the game reads the data. Some CDs will produce weak monsters, while others will be so powerful that the game won’t let you unlock them until you’ve completed specific quests or risen to a particular rank as a breeder.
What monster you get seems largely a matter of chance, though you can generally expect to receive one of five variants on a certain class of monster. Sea, Desert, Jungle, Forest, and Arctic variations of each general monster type exist, and within these sub groups you will also find that some CDs revive critters with more powerful statistics than others do. Once you’ve found a specific class and variation of a monster, you can save it in the aforementioned encyclopedia, and from that point on revive the monster without re-sorting through your library of discs; if you improve upon the stats of an already found monster, you can overwrite the data with the better statistics as well.
For your ranching pleasure, veterans will find several new classes as well as some old favorites. The selection is varied, with mythic creatures like the serpentine Naga, the fearsome Dragon, and the sprightly pixie sharing the stage along with obscure creations like the big-headed cat-doll Mew or the bell-shaped Suzurin. Favorites like Mocchi, the doughy duck, have also returned, while new variants like the Durahan and Hengar up the cool factor considerably by manifesting as animate suits of armor and robots respectively.