"Is it really so taboo to like monster raising games?"

Walking into Software Etc. with about $50, I scanned the PSX section looking for a game, most likely a good adventure or RPG. One game caught my eye. A strange game called Monster Rancher. I never heard anything like it before. You put a CD into your PSX and it generates a monster based on the data given on the CD such as tracks and time. I found it a bit strange and unique, so I decided to pick it up and see what it was all about. It turned out to be a decent game with some small stigmas, but definitely worth my money. It wasn't until my 18th birthday that I would actually get my hands on MR2, which in eyes is way better than the first.

So Many CD's, So Little Time
In Monster Rancher 2, the same principle applies as in the first MR game. You pop CD's of any kind (music, PSX, computer, even Saturn games) in and it generates a monster based on the data. There are also CD's such as the first Monster Rancher or Kagero: Deception 2 that give special monsters. After you get a monster, you can raise it and discipline it, and finally ready it for fighting tournaments.

Nature, Moods, and Raising
As you raise your monster it will act in many different ways. The key is to know when to show mercy, reinforce behavior, or punish. You don't want to over-punish your monster otherwise it'll become unruly. While it will fight better the more unruly, but it sacrifices life span. If you over spoil the monster, it'll compete much worse, but live longer in the exchange. You can tell how your monster is acting based on it's style. You don't want the style to go too far one way or the other past even. The monster's nature, from best to worst, also plays into effect on how they deal with punishment and reinforcement. The best result is to get the monster balanced or just slightly one way or another. I felt that the mood system in this game was actually quite picky. It seemed if you got the slightest bit rough or light on your monster, they reacted a bit more radically than in the first one. It seems in this one I've had more monsters become softies than before. This makes the game a bit frustrating as I had to continually buy smoked snakes to make my monster just a bit more hardened.

Your Ranch
While on your ranch, you make plan on raising and training your monster. Sending it on drills will increase certain parameters a little. Some drills will also take from one stat to add to another. There is also errantries you can send your monster on in which they can not only get some major stat increases, but also gain new fighting abilities. Beware, though. Errantry can reduce your monster's life span a smidgeon. All the same, it is practically necessary if you want new attacks. I like having an upgradable ranch, but I wish you could upgrade it on your own terms instead of having to wait for Coltia to suggest the idea. I also think that the interaction around the ranch is a bit low. It would be cool if you could actually interact a bit more with the ranch.

There are six different stats to up in the game: Life, strength, speed, intelligence, defense, and skill. Life is pretty much your monster's energy. It's sort of like HP in an RPG. The higher the life, the longer it just might last in battle. Life also seems to help increase life span. Strength determines how strong strength-based attacks are. Speed determines how well your monster will be able to avoid attacks. Intelligence influences the strength of intelligence-based attacks. Defense is how much damage your monster can absorb. Finally, skill determines how well your monster will succeed in landing an attack.

When you feel you've raised your monster enough, you can take them into tournaments to meet other monsters in battle. As you command your monster, there will be a bar at the bottom of the screen with some small icons that represent your attacks. When the bar is over a particular attack, push X and your monster will execute the attack and hit with a certain probability. Keep doing this until either you've knocked out the other monster or time is up. Your attacks are based on a little something called Will. Each attack consumes Will, but thankfully it refills as time goes by. There are two types of attacks, too: Strength-based (yellow coded) and intelligence-based (green coded). Each one takes does different damage based on how high their respective stat is. Battling is probably one of the best things about this game. That's where all the glory comes. This is also where you can see all your effort and hard work of putting your monster through Hell actually pay off. Not all battles are easy and glorifying, but I still like the battle system in this game. One of the major upsides to this one was that Tecmo actually made the D-pad the assigned buttons to move your monster instead of the shoulder triggers as in the first MR.

Every once in a while in the game, you will be asked to go on exploration of different areas of the game world. While on these explorations, you can find regular items and even some special items that can have either great effects on your monster or even allow you to unlock hidden monsters. Exploration is a great part of the game, especially if you're looking into trying to unlock all of the monsters in the game. The only downside to exploring is that your monster's life span is decreased a bit by them. Don't worry, though. Exploring is optional.

Hidden Monsters
As you go through the game, you will have the option to explore ruins and find special items that can help to unlock special breeds of monsters. Some of the hidden monsters (like my favorite monster, the phoenix) are well worth the effort of unlocking. This is also necessary if you wish to actually fill the entire book full of monster pages (which is extremely hard without Pocket Station).

Monster Breeds
Just to throw a few names into the wind, there's the Arrowhead which is a lobsterish monster, the Zuum which is like a dinosaur, Golem which is a stone monster, Tiger which is a hybrid dog-cat thing, Mew which looks like a cat doll, and many more. You can also crossbreed to get some of the advantages and disadvantages of both worlds, depending on which parts are main and sub. If a monster has a main as an Arrowhead, it'll be a breed of Arrowhead, bearing it's body structure. Let's throw Golem into its sub and it'll have rocky skin. There you have it... Priarocks (cross between Arrowhead and Golem).

Graphical Presentation
Great graphics as can be expected from Tecmo. Beautiful colors and textures as well as sweet lighting effects highlight this one. I think the graphics are best shown off in errantries and drills. I still think there could've been just a bit less pixilation in the game. Not much of a problem if you own PS2 and set it to ''Texture Map- Smooth.'' That actually improves the graphics nicely here.

The sounds fit the game very well. Nice music, good sound effects, and I really like some of the monster voices. I got a kick out of the Suezo's voice in this game. He sounds pretty pathetic when you punish him.

Final Word
The plot is not the strongest part of the game. Just you playing as someone who wants to be the best trainer. The gameplay is a bit... well... different. I find it fun and slightly addictive.

Well, this one does seem to be a fair touch up from the previous Monster Rancher game that hit PSX a while back. I think this one is a bit more challenging in some areas, but harder in others. This one actually has a much more diverse range of monsters in it to work at your own gaming level and style. I found Phoenix to be my best monster with it's extremely powerful life span, high power, and high intelligence. Personally, I think Tecmo could've done a bit more to this game to make it much better. For example, they could've balanced the challenge factor a little better and put it where it counts. One of my major qualms with this game is that the raising systems can be very picky, as mentioned earlier. Doing the slightest thing can sometimes change your monster a little more than you think, and because of that they require you to buy more stuff and thus run out of money much quicker, prompting you to throw your monster into the fray whether it's ready or not. They also need to change up the generation system a bit. I was getting sick and tire of getting, ''I regret to inform you... blah blah blah... You need permission to breed this monster.'' It appeared almost too often when I had the game generate a monster from a CD, but then it got worse when most of those monsters I got that were ''rare'' turned out to be Night Mocchis. I then got extremely sick and tired of seeing a Night Mocchi every time I turn around. The first one was a great idea that needed a bit refinement. They refined it, and this is the result. A great game that still needs a bit refinement. I still stand strongly and sternly by my theory of video games: ''There is no perfect game.'' Well, not in my eyes, anyway.

Graphics: Excellent 10/10
Sounds: Nice as well 8/10
Controls: Work just fine. Then again, most of this game is just a menu. There are battle and explorations, but those have good enough graphics as well. 10/10
Plot/Storyline: Nothing you'll want to savor a bowl of ice cream and grab the nearest box of Kleenex over 5/10
Gameplay: Fun fun fun! 9/10
All Together: 9/10

*Great graphics
*Well done sound department
*Monster voices are also well done
*Better than the original
*More monsters

*The challenge seems a bit unbalanced
*Gets tiresome at times
*Still needs just a bit more refinement

If you liked the first Monster Rancher or just like monster breeders in general, then I do suggest picking this one up. Just make sure you're patient enough. If you're an impatient person who really needs immediate action, then this game is best left avoided.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/29/01, Updated 10/15/01

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