Monster Rancher 3 can be tedious and repetitive, but it offers a unique experience that no other game of the PlayStation 2 era can match.
The Monster Rancher series became quite popular during the PlayStation era for allowing players to generate monsters by introducing any CD-ROM from their collection in the 32-bit console. The disc-swapping technique may not be as novel as it used to, but it still seems strange that not many titles have done something as innovative with the PlayStation hardware. Nevertheless, while Monster Rancher 3 doesn’t break away from the series’ tradition, it does incorporate a handful of new features.
In the universe of Monster Rancher, the Tochikan people and monsters live together in harmony. Creatures are trained by Tochikan to participate in different competitions. Monster Battles are a popular sport that take place at festivals and special celebrations. These prestigious competitions allowed for the appearance of “breeders” who learned how to raise the most powerful monsters in the world. With the help of Floria, a member of the Tochikan people and your adviser, you set out to raise the most powerful monster and become the world’s best breeder.
The story is simple enough, but what exactly is new in Monster Rancher 3? First and foremost, the game features a redesigned battle interface that makes use of cel-shaded graphics, providing the characters with a more cartoon-like feel. Then, monsters evolve according to the environments where they train and in a few monsters and skills can only be obtained in some specific regions. Additionally, there are some new tournament options, including the possibility of playing against a friend in the two-player versus mode. Finally and for the first time in the series, Monster Rancher 3 allows the use of DVDs to create new critters.
To those who aren’t intimately familiar with Monster Rancher, these additions may seem trivial. But while the premise may sound awfully familiar, a few additions set Monster Rancher 3 apart from the competition. The process of creating monsters from Saucer Stones (read: CDs and DVDs) is quite simple. The only thing you need to do is go to a place known as the Tochikan Shrine and insert your favorite disc from your collection and that’s it. What’s appealing about this part of the process is that you never know what type of creature you’re going to get. Alternatively, once you generate a monster, this is registered in the game’s Encyclopedia, saving you the unnecessary trouble of tracking down the exact disc you used to create the creature.
Once you have a monster, you need to raise it. The calendar progresses a week at a time and over that period of time, you can train, rest, battle, select and buy items and search. Without a doubt, training is one of the most important elements of the game. The process is easy enough: you select the minigame that you’d like your creature to participate in to level up one of several attributes, including life, power, intelligence, speed and defense. If training is successful, your monster’s statistics increase accordingly. If not, you lose a week.
After training for a few weeks, your monster will get tired which forces you to let it rest for a week. While you can’t do anything in that week, your monster’s energy is completely restored. Eventually, your creature will be tough enough to participate in various battles. The most important ones are tournaments, since winning one of these allows you to move up on the overall rank.
Monster battles are simple affairs. You use the directional buttons to gauge the distance to the opponent and use attacks (called skills in the game.). There are three types of attacks: short, middle and long distance. As their name indicate, each of these moves can be used when you’re at a certain distance from your opponent. Additionally, you need to pay attention to the Guts meter. Using skills depletes your monster’s “Guts,” but when your monster remains idle, it gradually recovers Guts.
Fortunately, raising a monster is more than just training and battling; it’s also about creating a bond with your creature. Although simplistic, bonding represents a nice little touch. Variables such as food, raising process or phrases you say to your monster after certain events, strengthens the bond you have with it. On the other hand, if you’re too strict, your creature may run away. It’s worth pointing out that your monster can even die. If so, they will leave “Monster Hearts” behind, which is a special item with all the experience and knowledge collected so far. Fortunately, this item can be used on another monster to transfer those abilities.
Finally, there are a couple of random events that are triggered over time, including search. In search, you guide your monster through a confined environment where you can find accessories (sunglasses, tiaras, mustaches and ribbons, to name a few) that can be equipped to change your monster’s abilities, items and special monsters. You can search freely in this place until the effect of Ran Ran (a special type of orchid) wears off. Other random events include injury, sickness, run away and in some of the most extreme cases, death.
Although Monster Rancher 3’s core gameplay is extremely compelling, the game isn’t without its fair share of problems. The process of raising monsters and participating in tournaments is extremely time-consuming and tedious. Leveling up your monster’s attributes may be engrossing , but most of the time, your opponents are much stronger, therefore, you’ll have to retry tournaments over and over again until you succeed. Leveling up itself is quite simplistic. The only thing you do is select the attribute that you’d like to level up, but the rest is up to the game and this involves no skill whatsoever. In the end, you watch a dull animation that results in either a “Success” or “Failure” screen.
Participating in battles can be disheartening. Sometimes you have an enemy against the ropes only for it to hit you in the last few seconds of the battle and knock you out. There’s always the possibility of letting the computer play the battle for you, but this is even worse. The AI makes some poor decisions, leaving you yelling at the TV with no control over the course of the battle. Finally, some basic aspects of the game are never overtly explained, such as conditions status or Monster Hearts.
Monster Rancher 3 is a combination of simplistic mechanics, but when all these mechanics come together they make up for a really engaging experience. But while some of the game’s ideas are ambitious, the few ideas that don’t work make the game dull and tedious. It’s hard to recommend Monster Rancher 3 to anyone other than RPG fans who have played (and enjoyed) previous titles in the series. Those who don’t belong to that group may find this game boring, repetitive and way too long.