#10: Tamagotchi (GB)
This is about as basic as it gets in regards to monster tamer games. Very limited options, a very small pool of obtainable creatures, and no combat. Surprisingly though, I still very much enjoy this game. It does carry a heavy amount of nostalgia, but for what it is, I think the game is designed well and progression feels rewarding. This game takes only a few hours to really explore, so it's great for a quick play if you don't want to sit down and commit to a game.
I am well aware that Sonic Adventure 2 is not primarily a monster tamer game, but for a lot of us it may as well have been called Chao Adventure 2. Because it is not primarily a monster tamer game, it comes in low on the list despite the quality and depth of the monster taming portion of the game.
Raising Chao is a great way to add replay value to the game, and it feels very rewarding for the player (not to mention you have to do it to 100% the game). There are many types of Chao that are obtainable in the game, and they come in cool shapes and pretty colors to boot. Raising a Chao effectively is somewhat of an art form, and you get out of it what you put in. Slaving away for hours suddenly becomes worth the struggle when you can finally call yourself the proud owner of an all S rank Chaos Chao.
What makes this game (mini game?) so great is the intricate and deep system of raising and breeding chao. Chao have many important hidden stats that are not made obvious by the game, and there are many special ways to breed chao to get unique colors and facial features. In fact, many things about how Chao grow up and what factors influence what hidden stats are still unknown all these years later. The developers did not skimp at all with this part of the game, I'd even argue that there was an almost suspiciously large amount of effort put into the Chao garden. Sitting down and raising a few Chao is a worthwhile endeavor for any gamer.
Another game that does not directly fall under the monster tamer genre, Dragon Quest V comes close, but does not quite grasp the true spirit of the genre. This game is a typical JRPG with human characters and story progression and such, but with one twist. Many monsters that are normally encountered through random battles can be "captured". Once captured, monsters act as a member of your party and can level up and even equip gear like a human character.
There are several limitations with this system however, that when considered as a whole, keep this game from being higher on the list. First and foremost, the object of the game is not to raise the strongest monster, it is simply to finish the game by defeating the villain. In fact, you don't have to use monsters at all if you don't want to. This is the reason why I can not call Dragon Quest V a true monster tamer game. The second limiting factor is that not every monster you encounter is capturable. Only 67 of the monsters in the game are able to join your party, a fraction of the total number of monsters present in the game. On top of this, capturing monsters is left completely to chance. When you defeat a monster in battle, the monster has anywhere from a 1/2 to a 1/1024 chance to join you after the battle. Stronger monsters generally have much a much smaller chance to join you than the weaker ones, but leaving the entire thing up to chance goes against the spirit of a monster tamer game.
In general though, Dragon Quest V is an enjoyable game, and adding in capturable monsters only multiplies the fun. It grants much more party customization that other traditional JRPGs, and it makes grinding slightly less arduous because you always have a chance to snag a powerful monster while doing so.
This had to be on here somewhere, the game that started it all. This is the first true monster tamer game on the list, and I consider it to be an entry level game in the genre. While Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow holds a lot of nostalgic value for many gamers, the games have not aged exceptionally well. Playing them again, the oversights and archaic game design are very apparent and the lack of good level-up movesets for nearly every Pokemon is disappointing.
On the other hand, Pokemon R/B/Y paved the way for the genre and brought it to the mainstream. While the game is a bit outdated, what it accomplished back in it's hayday was quite impressive. 151 unique monsters to collect, train, and battle, all on a portable system. The game has a clear goal and good progression, as well as a difficulty on the easy side so anyone can jump right in. The battle system is simple enough that younger gamers can understand it, but deep enough that skilled players can be innovative and creative with movesets.
Pokemon brought the monster tamer genre to the limelight, and it is here to stay. What did other developers do in response to the craze?
Square enters the arena with a monster tamer game of their own. This game is catered towards a more hardcore audience as it's difficulty is much higher than that of Pokemon and the battles are not held in a 1 on 1 format.
Dragon Warrior Monsters is a gem of a game that took many popular monsters from the Dragon Quest series and slapped them into a monster tamer game. The player takes the role of a tamer, trying to become a "master" and win a grand tournament, essentially the same goal as Pokemon. However, DWM is much more a dungeon crawler, with slower progression that the player has to really work for, and more emphasis on team building and breeding.
I do not necessarily enjoy DWM more than Pokemon generation 1, but I do think that it does a lot of things right that the Pokemon series as a whole misses out on. DWM wins out over Pokemon for it's higher difficulty, breeding mechanic, and game progression.
Fast forward to the modern era, Fossil Fighters would have been the only game I ever played if it was released when I was a kid. I loved dinosaurs more than anything else when I was young, and this game lets you raise and battle them. Fossil fighters is a more unique monster tamer title for several reasons, and it's uniqueness keeps it feeling fresh the whole way through. It does have a few limiting factors that keep it from being a truly outstanding game though.
To "catch" monsters in this game, all you have to do is dig them out of the ground as fossils, clean them off via a touch screen mini game, and there you go! This system of obtaining monsters is exciting and fun, especially since you don't know what the fossil holds until you clean it off. On the other hand, having to clean every single new fossil you find becomes tedious and frustrating pretty quickly.
Aside from the fossils, the combat system is a little bit watered down for my tastes, but it is a game designed for young children. Each dinosaur has a predetermined moveset of only 4 or 5 techniques that it learns through leveling up. It is a problem because more often than not, the movesets consist of multiple vanilla moves of varying power. Any given dinosaur could have a move with 30 power, one with 42, and another with 56, all of which do nothing but deal damage. Of course they cost different amounts of "mana", which fits into the combat system of the game, but learning generic moves all the time does not feel rewarding.
There are other problems and good qualities about the game, but if I listed them all this section would be huge. I know it doesn't sound like I am making a good case for the game, but it's charm and atmosphere are surprisingly strong. The characters are great and memorable, and the game is more or less self aware and doesn't take itself too seriously. Fossil Fighters is a nice casual game that is unique and fun in it's own right, but has too many things holding it back due to being designed for kids.
What some may consider to be the definitive version of Monster Rancher, Monster Rancher DS is a fun and addictive monster tamer game that takes a unique approach to raising your monster. In this game, you raise one monster at a time, at a monster farm. To raise your monster's stats, you have them participate in training for a certain stat. This lets you customize your monster however you like. If you want a monster high in defense and speed, you can do just that. The tradeoff is that giving your monster well-rounded stats usually leads to it's demise.
The combat system in this game is more luck based than others, and can be a little frustrating. As a result, proper stat allocation and attack choice are critical for success. Monster Rancher is probably the most technical game on the list in terms of how raising your monster impacts it's combat capabilities. Obviously this game is not very beginner friendly, but the game does a good job of explaining its own mechanics so that the player can plan out success once the path is clear.
My understanding is that the Monster Rancher series as a whole is a love it or hate it game. I readily admit that it is not everyone's cup of tea, especially since there is no overworld in the game, and since your monsters can die permanently. It is a bit of a grindfest, but progressing a little bit further with each new generation of monsters feels very rewarding despite the slow pace of the game.
At this point in the list, things get serious. Digimon World Dawn/Dusk is on par with Pokemon, and many may consider it to be superior. I always held the opinion that Digimon had a better anime and Pokemon had better games. That was, of course, until I played this. Digimon World Dawn has everything a Digimon fan wants in a Digimon game. It has a vast selection of Digimon to choose from (nearly 400), DNA digivolving, challenging gameplay, and a great technological atmosphere.
Digimon World has several unique gameplay elements that are very cool and fun to play around with, but some that ultimately end up harming the game. To make a long story short, every Digimon in the game has access to every move in the game (more or less). Not by default, obviously, but through very specific and long chains of DNA digivolving. Digimon can DNA digivolve with other compatible Digimon, learn the desired move through leveling up, then digivolve backwards and start again for a different move. Sounds awesome, right? Well while it is a cool concept, when it comes to competitive battling, only a handful of mega level Digimon are viable because they have the best stats. When every Digimon can get every move, movepools stop mattering and stats become king of the ring. I am exaggerating a bit to prove a point, as several other factors need to be taken into account besides stats, but it is a big problem for the game.
Digimon World Dawn/Dusk is a very good game overall, with a deep combat system, fun and varied ways to raise your Digimon, a challenging campaign, and progression that feels very rewarding. On par with Pokemon? Absolutely. Superior? For the most part yes, except for one...
This game is, hands down, what I believe to be the best Pokemon game released to date. That being said, I was not that big of a fan of Gold/Silver/Crystal when they came out originally. The progression of the game was very different from the first Pokemon games, and a lot of the problems from the first game were not fixed, namely the terrible level-up movesets and lack of viable moves for many types. It was not until the 4th generation of Pokemon that I believe those problems were fixed for good. The physical/special split was implemented, many more moves for each type were now present in the game, and level-up movesets were now what they should have been all along.
As it turns out, pairing all of those fixes with the 2nd generation game was a match made in heaven. Suddenly everything seemed to be magically fixed. The game progression didn't feel too fast anymore, more Pokemon were viable to use in-game than before, and the post-game didn't feel rushed. The game difficulty was also more uniform now, instead of being somewhat spiky in the original games.
This game is perfection as far as Pokemon on the DS goes. The original 2nd generation may have been a bit ahead of it's time or overly ambitious, but as soon as the technology caught up to the game design it made a huge difference. I would recommend this version of Pokemon to any gamer in general, but especially to anyone looking to jump into the series.
Sorry Nintendo, but I prefer hardcore monster tamer games to the incredibly easy Pokemon. This, in my opinion, is the best monster tamer game currently available in North America. This game is vastly improved over the first in the series, and does many things right that other monster tamer games either mess up or completely omit. The breeding system in this game is second to none. Breeding monsters takes a lot of experimenting to get what you want. There are no rules to how breeding works, you basically have to try it out and see what happens.
Becasue the breeding system is so extensive, this is the only game on the list where catching every new monster you encounter is obligatory. In Pokemon and Digimon, you can almost immediately tell whether any given monster is good or not. In this game, monsters may have hidden bonuses that are not immediately obvious. Since monsters can pass on skillsets when breeding, catching every possible monster and examining their skillset is vital. Another factor that motivates catching many monsters in the difficulty of the game. The game will often put up walls that essentially say "ye shall not progress until you have a monster of a certain power". These walls are common throughout the game, but never feel unfair. Instead, the game expects you to keep on top of catching and breeding monsters so that the wall you will inevitably hit is a good challenge rather than an impossible obstacle.
Another great feature of this game is the huge post-game. After the game is "beaten", you are essentially told that who you defeated was not the true villain, and are told to set out again on a new journey. The post-game quest opens up new, much more difficult areas in the game that provide access to the most powerful monsters. There is a significant difficulty spike here, but the power of the newly obtainable monsters makes it bearable. When you finally defeat the true villain of the game, it is still not over because there are several other challenges that await you including an endgame super boss and a series of increasingly challenging battles against an AI controller monster tamer. Not to mention the vast breeding opportunities that will provide you with extremely powerful monsters to take on these challenges. One could easily spend 70 hours just on the campaign of this game, the highest completion time on this list by far. After every challenge has been exhausted, there is still the goal of obtaining every monster, and breeding your dream team.
Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2 takes the cake for best monster tamer game because of it's engaging atmosphere, perfect difficulty level, and huge post-game. I would recommend this game to anyone who likes well paced, challenging RPGs with a good sense of humor. If you are willing to commit and have a desire for a more hardcore monster tamer game, this game is the best there is.
There you have it, what I believe to be the top 10 monster tamer games worth playing. Obviously there are others, but I did not want to pollute the list with Pokemon games. There are many games that have monster raising mini games, but most of them are not very deep and thus did not make the list.
Other games worth mentioning are:
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch - A kinda-sorta monster tamer game, the combat is vastly different from traditional monster tamers, and it is not on a portable console which kind of defeats the purpose.
Shin Megami Tensei series - I've heard that these games are more or less monster tamers, but I have never played one. I plan on it in the future, but I have many many games to get through before I get to them, so I thought I'd give it a mention.
Final Fantasy X - I do not enjoy this game, so I have never experienced it, but people tell me that the monster battle arena in this game is very fun.
Chrono Trigger DS - The monster arena mini game is extremely bare bones and luck based, but I still really enjoyed raising a monster and having it smash other monsters.
Monster Arena - This is a flash game that is similar to Monster Rancher, but with only 5 playable monsters. You pick a monster at the beginning of the campaign and stick with it for the whole game. You can level up through different spec trees to customize your monster too. This game is a great free way to get a taste of the genre.
List by DarkChocobo47 (09/26/2013)
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