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Monster Rancher 2 (PlayStation) artwork

Monster Rancher 2 (PlayStation) review

"There had to be a reason I was borrowing my friend's country albums, and it sure wasn't the music..."

You know one thing I miss? Texas Instruments' gaming computer, the TI-99. Sure, I get homesick for its titles, like its Pac-Man knockoff entitled Munch Man, but the thing I miss the most is the noises the computer made as you loaded a game from cassette tape. It sang, made whisper-like calls, and produced a sound that would later be associated with a dial-up internet service logging in. Thankfully/Sadly, most of the experiences I listed here have faded and are all but gone from our world. Technology has advanced to a more convenient state, but at the cost of charming experiences that may never be replicated...

You know, like Monster Rancher and its sequel, Monster Rancher 2...

Rancher games operated a bit like Pokemon, except without as firm of an emphasis on collection. You play as a trainer who owns a monster ranch (hence the title), focused on training a creature to win fighting tournaments and eventually claim the top prize. Play centered very much on training and beefing up one pet rather than capturing a ton of them and putting them all in storage. Sure, you had a catalog to fill just the same, but there was no great need (or even capability) to own each and every different type of monster.

By now, you're probably envisioning this affair as a top-down, turn-based RPG like the aforementioned Nintendo franchise. However, it operates quite a bit differently. For one thing, you don't control your protagonist, and all of the user interface is menu-based. In other words, it's more of a simulation job with creature collector elements. You obtain your first monster by departing your humble ranch and heading to town, visiting a shrine upon getting there. After talking to the person running the show there, the game prompts you to open your PlayStation, remove the game's disc, and insert a CD of some kind. So you grab the closest AC/DC album, place it inside, and the console reads it. Based on the info contained therein, it generates a life form.

And... what the...?

An ape with a golden, ornamental face and a white body sits before you. The name “Bossy” appears on the screen, and apparently it's a mixture of the types “Ape” and “Gali.” At this point, you can either keep what you've summoned or scrap it and get something else. If you're hungry to experiment, then you'll likely have a pile of stuff to go through, and if you're like me, you'll lose a whole afternoon or so just seeing what you can find. Sometimes, you stumble on something that's locked, realizing you'll need to find a way to access it later.

After a while, you see how this title's creature types operate. Each creation is either a purebred beast or a hybrid monstrosity. For instance, you can get a pure Ape whose types are Ape-Ape, or even a Gali that's Gali-Gali. However, receiving a combo critter whose typing is Ape-Gali gets you the Bossy named above.

The game provides quite the impressive array of animals, too: snake-like Nagas, winged Pixies, Phoenixes, Mothra-looking Worms, one-eyed Suezos, and the series mascot Mocchi.

Each creature type operates differently and requires attention to various stats. For instance, if you get a “Golem,” which is a slow but powerful rock brute, then your best bet is to forsake speed and aim to build a heavy hitter with a high critical rate. In other words, “min-maxing” is the way to go with this outing, and trying to balance all of your stats only wastes time.

Wait, “wastes time?” So there's a time limit? Yes, kind of... Your creatures don't live forever. You take them back to the ranch and instruct them to train for a week or two. Eventually, they get tired and they require a week to rest. Their personalities and how you treat them affects how they act in battle and during training. If you're too easy on your buddy, it becomes too spoiled and unruly. However, acting like a strict parent will lower its life span and also cause it to under-perform. Finding a balance is usually pretty easy, but you have to bear in mind: you don't have all the time in the world to get your beast up to snuff.

So you have to consider when training and taking them to tourneys how you're going to react. Do you encourage them or chide them? Do you give them a treat when you get home, or ignore them altogether? Again, the choices you make impact their behavior, so choose wisely.

Combat in the arena is not what you would expect. Everything up to this point has relied on menus, but here the battle remains in a simulated real time setup. Upon entering a tournament, you get thrown into a bracket against another rancher's pal. You're armed with special attacks that rely on things like “strength” or “intelligence” to pull off, and the greater those statistics, the better the damage. You and your opponent move back and forth, and your proximity determines the attacks available to you. Before selecting one, it's good to examine the hit rate and see if it's worth your time or effort. Any time you execute a strike, you consume a little stamina. Obviously, you want to avoid exhausting your fighter or else run the risk of getting wrecked.

After a while, you'll notice your monster start to slow down and not perform as well as they once did because they grow old. Eventually, your assistant will come to you one morning with tears in her eyes, telling you your buddy has passed away. A funerary cutscene plays, various NPCs show up to offer their condolences, and then you start from scratch.

This process sounds exhausting, but there are things you can do to ease the campaign. For one thing, as years advance, you receive opportunities to explore various parts of the world, sending your monster on expeditions to recover special treasures. Of course, in order to access certain parts of these maps, you'll have to power up different stats. That way your friend can do things like break barriers or solve puzzles. The best prizes of all, though, come from special items that unlock some of those locked monster types I talked about earlier. Let me tell you, some of those guys are the absolute best, plus they open up more of your physical releases to be tested for generated special creations.

When I finished the game, I did so with a Phoenix and a hefty amount of save scumming and combining. Yes, you can combine your creatures with others, sometimes resulting in offspring with better prospects at success than their parents. Doing so allows you to start over, but not feel like you're beginning the whole thing anew by starting off with all kinds of perks that simplify training.

Yet, still the best and most memorable thing about this brand came from testing physical media to see if you could find any great combos. Sometimes you scoured the internet looking for a disc to buy that might unravel something great or special. In some cases, you know the developers specifically chose a disc to hide a monster, like putting a soccer-themed beastie on a soccer-themed album. That, of course, drove up the need amongst fans to buy music and games that were never on their radar prior to playing. Or at least using a CD burner to and some seedy FAQs to trick the game into thinking they had that special disc.

Sadly, Monster Rancher 2 and its descendants are relics of a bygone era. The likelihood of a new installment or reboot setup to read CDs, DVDs, and Blu Rays on PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X is unlikely. Physical media is in danger of vanishing, and that doesn't bode well for those who enjoy arts and entertainment. Yes, you'll always have piracy and streaming services, but what about preservation? Hell, just look at the catalogs for Xbox 360 Indie or Wii Ware, and you'll realize straight away that there's already some gaming media that's permanently lost. The same rings true for movies and shows that are stored away in vaults, never to see true, fully restored releases. More than anything, Monster Rancher reminds us that some experiences can never be replicated, and some experiences are worth preserving, even if they're antiquated.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (May 30, 2024)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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