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When I was five or six years old, I would watch my brothers stare at a screen for hours at a time, playing whatever video game they had on their PlayStation. Sometimes I would get drinks of water when it was well past my bedtime, just to watch them play. They had every classic playstation game you could find: Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy, Legend Of Dragoon, and my favorite game of all, Monster Rancher.
Monster Rancher came from a time when fighting pets was the newest fad in video games. There was Pokémon, there was Digimon, and there was Monster Rancher. Many people compare Monster Rancher to the former video games, but I would compare it more to Tamagotchi. Where in Pokémon and Digimon games, you travel from place to place to accomplish your goals, in Monster Rancher you stay on your ranch for the majority of the game, raising your monster, making sure they eat well and that they don’t die. Yeah. Your monsters can die in this game, whether from giving it food it doesn’t like, training it to death, or just old age. Because of that, you have to plan out your monster’s life and buy them a lot of supplements so that they live a comfortable life.
The way you get monsters is one of my favorite aspects of the game. You can take any disk in your house, and the PlayStation will read the data of that disk and make it into a monster, with its own unique stats, moves, and personality. You can also take two of your monsters to a lab, and Frankenstein them together to create a new monster. If you put in certain disks, you get easter eggs, too, such as a Christmas album making a monster dressed as Santa, or an obscure rock album making the main villain of the anime series. Yes, this game had an anime.
The anime is probably where most draw their comparison to Pokémon and Digimon, aside from the whole fighting monsters thing. We have a generic young boy protagonist suddenly being thrust into the world of their monsters, then they must go on the hero’s journey to stop a bad force. While the anime wasn’t bad, it wasn’t anything to get excited about on Saturday morning.
The way that you train your monster is that each month is divided into four weeks, and you dedicate each week to a certain kind of training. You want to raise your strength? Dedicate the week to moving boulders. You want to raise your intelligence? Spend the week locked in the library like some kind of nerd. Your monster will either fail the week, succeed, greatly succeed, or cheat. If your monster fails or cheats, you have the option to scold them. You have to scold sparingly, though, so you don’t stress them out so they don't die early. One drawback from the constant training is that this is where most of your time is spent in the game, you watch your monster train rather than fight other monsters. So while you do have to be patient to play this game, when you finally do go to tournaments, the payoff is great.
Once you get certain stats high enough, you can unlock new moves. The way you get moves changes from game to game. In the early games, your monster would go train for a month in the wild like some kind of summer camp. In the handheld games, your monster battles with a trainer to unlock new moves. The higher your stats, the stronger and the sicker moves you get.
Another aspect of monster rancher games is the exploration. After your monster is a high enough rank, once a year a random guy will come to your house and ask to take your monster on an expedition to a harsh location, whether it’s a jungle, desert, or tundra. You will explore ruins of ancient civilizations, and loot the heck out of them for their artifacts. Most of the time, these artifacts are useless and worthless, but once in a while you can find an item you can use to unlock another monster by adding it as an ingredient in the combination.
Monster Rancher, like other monster fighting games, had a cult following. There are websites and forums dedicated to conjuring up the best breeding method, there are disks lists containing thousands of monsters, maps for the exploration and so much more. But as Monster Rancher games became fewer and farther between, and of less quality, the fandom has slowly died out. Their latest release was in 2011 with My Monster Rancher for Android and IOS; it was their attempt to get into the cell phone market, but sadly it did not attract many users.
Monster Rancher, while not well known, holds a lot of nostalgia for me. To this day I still find the game to be a fun and engaging experience, even if its frustrating at times. There are so many mechanics and aspects of the game to explore, and it just has a unique charm that hooks me every time I pick it up. I score this game 8/10.