This article is part of a series. I recommend you start with Part 1, which introduces the Monster Rancher series, and discussed the first two games on the Playstation. For Part 2, I discussed the games in the series that were released on the Playstation 2. For this third part, I will be discussing the last of the games in the main series that were released for handheld gaming.
Monster Rancher Advance
If a series lasts long enough, it will eventually become mobile in some fashion. I was unsurprised to spot copies of Monster Rancher Advance when I was searching through my local game store one day, though I didn’t play it until recently thanks to the power of emulation.
First and foremost, due to the limitations of the platform, this game is graphically the most similar to the first Monster Rancher game. It may be a step back, for considering it was for the Game Boy Advance, the graphics are pretty good. Considering the PS2 games were already coming out, it didn’t feel like much for the time – battles weren’t as complex, and the training was done by other monsters on your ranch.
Unlike the first two games in the series, which took place under the associations of FIMBA and IMA respectively, Monster Rancher Advance‘s storyline is under the AGIMA association of Monster Ranchers. The biggest difference between them, besides the fun acronyms and the symbols in their battle arena, is how they regenerate monsters from discs.
Instead of the previous methods (due to the limitations of the platform), instead of regenerating monsters through discs, you regenerate “based on the words on discs” – i.e., you write in a short word to regenerate new monsters. The number of letters you can input grows the higher up in rank you go. For extra childish fun, swear words are not omitted from the words that you can input.
For monsters in the game, it has the typical cast of characters, with the notable absence of the Hare family, which has appeared in every other game in the series. They introduced one or two families that started to become regulars, like the Antlan family as well.
One odd thing they did was make it so that when monsters got old enough, they never died in this one. That was apparently considered too graphic, nowadays: they updated the wording to be that an old monster “retired,” or become a coach that would teach your new monsters to raise up the highest stats that monster had. They can replace old coaches if their stats are better, or replace one of the four empty slots that you have by default.
It was vanilla, overall a bit simplistic. While it certainly wasn’t a step back, it felt like a mobilized version of the series. If you needed a quick fix for that sweet Monster Rancher experience, I can imagine that this would help you get it.
Monster Rancher Advance 2
This game came out just a year after it’s predecessor. Monster Rancher Advance 2 was a step up, and had a significant amount of improvements. While it was a continuation of the story, it tweaked and refined a couple of the things that appeared in the first Monster Rancher Advance that helped to make it a bit more playable.
For one thing, it included a metric butt ton of monsters and monster families (over 500 total combinations), including some that hadn’t been seen in the game for many years. It brought back the Doodle from the first game, for example – a strange and beloved scribble found on a Monol that somehow became it’s own monster.
Sure, the graphics weren’t much better, but that’s to be expected from the platform. They were still a minor improvement over the first one, which was enough to make the graphics pleasant. It was not enough to give the monsters much character, though. Like the first one, a monsters sub-breed didn’t alter it’s appearance beyond its colors – a Suezo with the Tiger subtype would be blue, but wouldn’t have horns or the fur pattern, for example.
Like earlier games, subtypes did determine what kind of stats your monster was good at, along with the main monster. It’s a nice touch that left the games as they became a bit more complicated. Rather than worrying about a slew of personality traits, you’d just know that if you bred a Golem into a Zuum, you’d get a monster that had quite a bit of power from it’s subtraits.
Much as they did in the first one, you continued the tradition of the AGIMA association, and would bring monsters back based on the words you’d use. It had all the same things that happened with the first – starting with four letter words (hehehe) and adding one character you can input with each rank you gain in the battle association.
If I were to recommend going back to play either of the Game Boy Advance titles, this would be the one. Monster Rancher Advance 2 was still a bit vanilla, but still a step up from the first of the two.
Monster Rancher DS
The latest game in the main series, back on track after the tepid departure of Monster Rancher Evo. Monsters are regenerated by drawing pictures or speaking a word into the DS microphone. Training is similar to other games, but the ranch seems a bit more innovative. Overall, leaves me with a glimmer of hope that they’ll keep the game up and improve things next time.
Now, let’s fast forward past the PS2 era games, to the latest title in the main series. Monster Rancher DS is actually the sequel to Monster Farm DS – it was released in Japan as Monster Farm DS 2. While I find it interesting, I sadly can’t read Japanese, and had no access to the game. I didn’t want to ignore it completely though.
This title is like a continuation of things from Monster Rancher 4, the game having gone back to its roots and trying to innovate off of those rather than trying to appeal outside of the niche genre it had created by trying to be more of an RPG, as they’d done in Evo.
The story is a bit silly to start, with your assistant running in off the street and being assigned to you by the local BOMBA association leader. After regenerating your first monster, you run into the men who were chasing her, who you either fight off, or who have a sudden case of severe stomach cramps and need to run away. Yeah.
Despite that, the game is pretty innovative in its use of the DS technology. To regenerate monsters, you can do one of three things: in the beginning of the game, you have the option to “draw on a magic field” (aka, draw on your DS) or to speak an incantation into your DS microphone. Later in the game, you can write the words of a spell in, a method similar to the Monster Rancher Advance games.
On the ranch, you have different areas to explore, an odd owl assistant, and the ability to expand things like in previous games, building up your ranch to either allow for bigger monsters (like the Baku or Dragon families), reduce stress and lower the fatigue your monster can accrue.
Battle is a little more interactive than in previous games, involving tapping the screen forward and backward, and tapping the enemy monster to execute your moves. Overall, this is a solid latest entry for Monster Rancher. After playing through Monster Rancher Evo, even as a fan of the series, I had largely lost hope, seeing what people had been so critical about for years. This game is a great starting point, and certainly easier to get your hands on than the others.
That’s it for Monster Rancher. The side games are numerous, but often extremely fluffy; if you’d like to see me write on those, let me know, and I’ll write up an additional overview. They are often superfluous, including arcade games, android games, and a couple of MMORPG’s. The real problem? Much of these never made it to the U.S.A.
In closing, many of the games are really good. There are also a lot of games that frankly, are worth skipping to stick to the good ones. It’s an innovative series that’s often overlooked and written off, but it’s really a diamond in the rough. Give it a whirl.