Without a doubt, MR2′s strongest feature is its replayability. There are over 400 unique monsters that can be bred, over twice as many as in the original, and you’re sure to spend months just trying to raise your status and discovering the secrets behind getting higher level creatures such as the giant whale and the phoenix. This is a title that could quite easily take a year or more to finish as it is very non-linear and open-ended. Once you become a master breeder, the game doesn’t flash you an ending movie, though, it lets you continue onward, breeding your higher level monsters to one another and trying to create the biggest, baddest creature you can imagine. This isn’t to say becoming a Master Breeder isn’t a huge hurdle in and of itself. The tournaments you’ll have to punch and claw your way through are grueling tests in which your monster’s every weakness will be revealed and exploited. Getting a monster up to the A class fights in the allotted four years is a delicious challenge.
A minor drawback, however, is that while Monster Rancher looked state-of-the-art when it was first released, game visuals have moved on. While MR2 received several significant improvements in the graphics department, it still looks nearly identical to the original. Note that I say “nearly identical.” One major difference you’ll notice is in the monsters. Nearly all of the ones in MR were fairly innocent looking cartoons, most likely due to the aforementioned Tamagotchi relation. The monsters in MR2 have turned to the dark side. While there are a fair number of innocent, fuzzy little guys, there is an equal number of creatures that look like they’ve been dredged from nightmares. This adds a slightly edgy quality in some areas and definitely raises the danger factor in the gamer’s mind.
Pretty much all I’ve discussed so far are the strategy aspects of MR2. While the game would still be interesting if that was all there was to it, the thrill would wear thin long before the adventure was complete. Luckily, fun and exciting action sequences prevent this from becoming much of an issue. The battles you participate in, both in the official tournaments and with roving monsters you occasionally meet while training, are deep, intricate and challenging. You have the option of either controlling your monster and dictating its tactics and actions or letting it fend for itself. Depending on the overall intelligence of each creature, both options can be useful. A powerful but less intelligent monster will usually get itself taken apart without your expert advice, but highly intelligent beings can often take care of themselves better than you can. Whichever path you follow, you can expect most battles to be thrilling.
As with any sequel, one of the biggest questions that comes to minds is, “How does it stack up to the original?” I am happy to say it compares very favorably. Tecmo took note of all the things people loved about the first game and either left them alone or enhanced them. If you were a fan of the original, you can expect to find many more random events taking place on the ranch, a greater amount of interaction between you and your monsters, and a much more interesting training schematic. Gone are the sprite-based, mind bogglingly repetitive training scenes, which have been replaced by 3D scenes of your monster working out in whichever areas you designate. More importantly, they can be easily skipped with the press of a button, keeping you from having to watch the same animation hundreds of times as you pump up your critter.