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Developer Tecmo Options
Distributer Tecmo Mem. Card
Game Type Strategy 1-2 Players
Review Date February 1998  
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Setting the Scene
If they don't watch out, Tecmo is going to start getting a reputation as a company for releasing games that defy easy description…oops, wait…I think they may already have that distinction! Their last game, Deception, managed to take everyone by surprise with its unique game-play elements and extremely dark theme.

Now with little to no fanfare along comes their game Monster Rancher. Easily one of the most addictive games to come out in a long time, it's a genre enigma. Not to worry though, by the time you read this review you will have a darn good understanding of what this excellent game has got to offer to those willing to sacrifice a good chunk of their time.
Rarely, but every so often a game comes out that quite frankly defies being put into a specific gaming genre. Monster Rancher is definitely one of those titles. It's a cross between a strategy/exploration/Tamagotchi style game.
Well the graphics in Monster Rancher are a real mixed bag. Now before I proceed I just want to say that while they are certainly not cutting edge, the graphics work perfectly within this type of game. I could not imagine this title being all that much more effective with hi-res, high polygon count graphics being substituted for what we have here. That being said, here is how the graphics play out.

For the sake of argument, there are three distinct styles of graphic treatments used in the game; polygon, pre-rendered and sprite based.

Your monster, from birth to death is a very nicely rendered polygon character. When born your monster appears like a very small/squat version of an adult monster and is somewhat lacking in detail. After the first year of raising your little tike, the growth process begins and character details really start to stand out. The amount of detail given to the monsters is outstanding. They are often brilliantly colored and uniquely designed. The fluid polygon texture mapping and animation do a marvelous job conveying your monsters emotional and physical states. In short, I found the polygon graphics of the monsters to be outstanding.

The backgrounds at the ranch are all pre-rendered backdrops, but even they change from time to time as you build onto your house or monster hut. Another nice touch was the inclusion of seasons…In the winter you get to watch snow falling all around you property and in the fall there are nicely done animation effects for the passing clouds overhead. The game is full of these nice touches and attention to detail.

The arenas in the battlegrounds vary from class to class and are all depicted in polygon that rotate and shift with the various camera angles. Another nice touch that I noticed was that when I participated in a winter cup fight, the arena was all decorated for the holidays.

The training and work windows that pop up are the only graphical shortcoming. They are basically a small step above an 8-bit game. Believe it or not though, it actually works within the context of this game. The animation style sequences that are uses to portray your monster working or training are often hilarious and the color and shape of the little eight-bit monster actually matches your monster from the main game. Again, it's this attention to detail that really makes this game shine.
Sounds and Effects
The music in Monster Rancher is quite unique in its own way. The melodies that are played throughout the game are a mixture of old marching band themes, classical melodies and smooth sounding horn orchestration. All of the music is done with grand majestic overtones to give one the feeling of a medieval or fantasy like setting.

The music flows nicely with the overall pace of the game and actually sounds outstanding when pumped through a surround receiver.

Sound effects are excellent and incredibly varied. Each main character breed or type has its own sound and effects to accompany and distinguish it from the others.
There are basically three main parts in the game; the Ranch - where you spend your time raising your monster, the Battle Arena - where you fight you monster and finally the Market - where you can create and combine monsters, view various statistics, and pick up or get rid of monsters.

First we'll cover the Market since this is where you will need to start the game to create or obtain your first monster. In the Market screen you are presented with several options. You can go directly to the market and obtain one of the three basic Monster types to raise. You have a choice between a Dino - A good all around performer, a Tiger - which is a bit hard to keep healthy, but a solid choice and finally a Suezo - basically a big eyeball that has a good intelligence factor. These three monsters are free to obtain at any time, but the real fun is in making your own. Oh, you can also give away any monsters that you no longer want at the market as well.

The next option within the Market area is the Shrine. This is where you go if you want to create a monster from a CD. Monster Rancher will accept any music, Playstation, Saturn or PC CD in your collection, read the specially coded information on this CD and create a monster from it. To date there have been 215 monsters cataloged…that's a lot of possibilities!! For the most part you have about 20 pure breed classifications. You can then begin experimenting to see what breeding the pure and mixed breeds will result in. Each of the monsters you create will have six attributes that vary with each monster. The attributes are Power, Life, Defense, Skill, Speed and Intelligence. Each of these attributes can be improved upon with either work or training, but more on that in a bit.

Next up is the Lab option. Here you can combine monsters, freeze them (your freezer has a finite amount of spaces), revive the critters or send them to digital heaven by deleting them. Combining or breeding your monsters is a real challenge. The obvious reason of course for combining your monsters is to develop a better one, but it's not quite as easy as just throwing two of your creations together. Some monsters don't combine well, some don't carry over the attributes that you want and some just don't look as cool as others! As if this wasn't daunting enough, there are also items that can be added to the mix that will have various effects on the overall outcome of your new monster. Some items will bump up the chances of getting a certain monster type while other items will increase certain attributes, etc. The list goes on…needless to say, that being successful in making that champion monster and becoming a top breeder will require you to spend a lot of time and experimentation in the lab area.

You can view various stats and information from the Data option while at the market too. Statistics include information on your current monster's attributes, its age, how many battles its won and lost, money earned and fighting techniques that have been learned. You can also view breeder information and scan your monster book to see how many types of monsters you have created.

Games can also be saved from the market and finally you have the option of going to the Ranch, which is where we are off to now...

After creating or obtaining your monster you will need to raise the little sucker. As with any child, it's first years are its most formidable and challenging. How you raise it during this time will ultimately determine how successful your "kid" will be. When you first enter the ranch, you have a pathetic little house that you use to store your items, supplies and stuff. You also have a ramshackle little hut that your monster is forced to live in. It looks like the whole place should be condemned in my opinion. Not to worry though, as your monster wins battles and is successful at work it begins to earn you cash. You can use some of your earnings to build a better house and a much nicer monster hut. There are several variations of each that can be built in stages over the course of the game. Your initial game begin in the 1000 and works up from there.

In the monsters first year, it is just this cute little confused creature. It has no loyalty to you, and must be coddled for awhile. Each month is broken down into weeks. The first week of each month is when your monster gets its main meal. You can choose from meat, fish or potatoes. Each one cost a different amount and each one will have a slightly different effect on your little brute…but basically everything you do in this game will have an effect on your monster. During each month you can plan out a little regiment. Week one you may want to work your monster. Depending on which job you select it will have an effect on one or more of their attributes. Each attribute has multiple levels, the higher the level, the better. Week two, work the little beastie again. Week three rest it, and then on week four you may choose to enter the monster in a tournament battle if one is taking place at that time or you can work it again and start the whole process over the next month. You need to periodically pull up the battle schedule to see when a fight is scheduled for so your monster gets enough rest time in before you decide to fight it. Each minor event (sleeping, working) takes up a week of time. You also have the option of sending the little tike to training. Training is an intense program that focuses on improving one of the monsters attributes per session. With the proper vitamins you can manage to squeeze a few points out on some of the other attributes at the same time to boot. Of course, this could have some negative side effects as well…this game is full of trade-offs. On a positive note, you stand a chance of learning a new technique each time you send them to training. If it lives long enough, your monster will eventually master all of its character techniques. This will give you a very real edge in competition. Each training event consumes 4 weeks of your monsters life and they normally need to rest a week after they get back, so plan well. You will also be periodically asked if you would like to partake in an expedition with an older fellow named Karn. It is on these expeditions that you will discover all sorts of useful items that can be used during the game. A small word of advice, you will probably want to breed a few types of monsters and use them just for expeditions; one with a lot of power and another with loads of intelligence. Trust me…

Now it's onto the battles! After putting all of your sweat and money and time into your little rascal at the ranch, its payback time. Major cup battles occur on a scheduled time frame at the end of each quarter year. If you win a cup battle, your monster goes up in class and faces tougher opponents. There are six classes that you need to fight in and win starting from "E" class and progressing to "S". Each time you win one of these cups your breeder ranking goes up. You start at an R-1 ranking…your goal is to obtain an R-10. You also win a good deal of money for each victory, which you will need for upgrades, training and food. Another word of advice; after a major victory do your monster a favor and treat it to a nice apple snack…There are other battles that you can participate in throughout the course of each year. Some of these events are scheduled while others are by invitation only. Some of these events offer big cash rewards for victory while others offer useful items such as CD Fragments that can be used in the breeding process.

Battles are fought out in various arenas and range from four to eight monsters, including yours. You don't need to defeat every monster to win, just have the best record at the end to walk away with the goods. Before each battle you are given the option of controlling the monster yourself or letting the computer do it for you. I found the computer to be okay in the early battles, but to progress and become victorious in the later battles you are much better off controlling your monster yourself. The computer AI does not always use the monsters techniques to their fullest and if you let the computer fight a monster that outclasses you, you are almost guaranteed a loss or worse. It's also important that your little runt is well rested before each fight. This will give it more of a chance for victory and quicker recovery time after a bought.

Control of your monster is much different than say fighting in Tekken or Soul Blade. The battles are basically fought on a 2D plain. The R1 and L1 buttons move the monster right and left. The directional pad has two functions. When on the offensive, it scrolls through your various techniques and when on the defensive it will move your monster back, up or down. The "X" button executes the selected technique and finally the square button can be used to back the other monster off. Techniques differ in the range of their attacks. Some are long range while some are medium and others short. Selecting the proper technique depending on your proximity from the monster and the amount of Will you have to execute it is critical to your success in making contact. Each monster starts a battle with 50 Will points. Each technique uses a different amount of Will to execute it. Some of the heavy hitters require 30, 40 even 50 points of Will to pull off. Will points are recovered by each monster type at different rates. The quicker the recovery the better! Also, depending on how high your Will is when you execute a technique will play a part in the success of it making contact as well. Sound complicated? Well, it is…but believe me the time and effort spent on mastering the controls will really pay off when you are kicking some monsters butt that you clearly shouldn't have a chance to beat.

I could go on and on about this game. There is just so much to do and discover, but I am sure I have bored you quite enough for now. In closing, Monster Rancher is certainly not for everyone. The game takes a lot of time and commitment from you. I have probably logged around 60 or 70 hours on the game myself and I am only at year 1071 and hold an R-6 rating (won "S" class once). Of course I have spent a good deal of time experimenting and collecting items on expeditions, not just fighting battles. Many people may find themselves getting frustrated at all that is involved in this game to be successful. I happened to find it rewarding and heck you might just actually find yourself getting quite attached to the little rug rats that you raise.

Oh, I almost forgot…there is also a two-player mode in this game! You have the option of freezing you monsters and saving them to a memory card. A friend can do the same, and then revive the creatures and battle them to see who raised the best monsters. Battles often become quite heated because you actually have an emotional stake in your little buggers. This option is just icing on the cake.

Trust me, this review is only scratching at the surface of this incredibly deep game. It contains so many nuances and variables that I could not possibly do it justice in this limited amount of space. You need to experience it for yourself and discover what works best for you…Personally I cannot recommend this game highly enough!
Value for Money
This game offers virtually unlimited replay value. There is so darn much to do and accomplish that it boggles the mind. For your gaming dollars this title is a best buy.
GRAPHICS: Good How can I summarize this game in a few sentences… Sheese, there is so much to it.

Okay, if creating, raising and fighting monsters that consist of Evil hares, floating eyeballs, flying dragons, to huge golums appeals to you, check this game out. It's a unique blend of game types that work flawlessly together. It's a combination fighting, Tamagotchi, strategy and adventure/exploration game all rolled into one.

If you don't value your time to any great extent besides playing video games, give this gem a try. If it hooks you, it hooks you big time!
SOUND: Very Good
VALUE: Brilliant

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